The advertising industry is a crazy scene. It’s a creative environment that welcomes the quirky, the loud, the thoughtful, the dramatic, the artsy, the ditsy, the brave, the loquacious, the pretentious and the oblivious. A little crazy goes a long way, and standing out is a good thing. We expect some eccentric types like writers who blog about dyslexic kittens, designers who add dragons to everything (no matter what), and statisticians who have Rain Man tendencies about sports data and the many different types of kitchen tile. But as accepting as we ad folks are, there are still some boundaries when interviewing for a job. Not just Americom, but any ad agency, design shop or creative boutique. Here are a few simple rules and tips that may help you land the job in the land of the wild ones.
When interviewing for a position at a marketing firm, do not answer every question with a question. That’s just annoying. It’s a good tactic to show how well you listen and do the ego-play, but this is one of the only times you’ll get to talk about the wonder that is you in a situation where it is actually requested. Go for it. Be humble, be confident, and be reasonable on the amount. Also, be creative & fun, but don’t lie. If your resume shows that you have a background in event planning, make sure there is some substance there. If your only event planning is planning to attend the interview, that won’t cut it. On the flipside, just because you haven’t planned a political rally or a White House gala, don’t say you have zero experience. Instead, think about a project or a school assignment or something where you helped an event of some sort of significance. Be honest and be ready to relate it to how it can be of service. Something any business is looking for in an interview is the “what’s in it for us?” element. How would you better the company by your addition to the team? How would you be an important ingredient in an already tasty dish? Don’t start out by saying what you could bring to the team that the team does poorly or doesn’t have, at least not bluntly. That comes across as arrogant and short-sighted. And rude. Don’t insult the firm that has invited you by declaring how bad they are first; instead, offer constructive criticism in the form of an opinion. Be real, use examples and show that you’ve actually read up or done some research on the company. Don’t show up and say things like “what is this place?” and “what do you do here?” or “hey, do you know Jim over at brand X? That guy’s brilliant.”
Another safe play is to not point out bad commercials or ads that you do not like. You never know who was behind that ad or who previously worked on that account or whatever. You may be insulting the person hiring you. Again, be honest and communicate about what you like or don’t like, but don’t kill your chances by saying, “…better than that ABC commercial! That’s awful. Whoever did that is a hack.” Instead, choose words like “I’m afraid that commercial didn’t work for these reasons…” or “I think I would have approached it differently” or something like that. This opens the door to engage in the way you think, your opinion, your handling of the matter and so forth. Also critical – don’t sweat the entire time and then ask “is it over yet?” repeatedly. If you do, that’s not a good move. And certainly don’t say, “Whew! Glad that was over.” Because even though the questions are over, the interview is still going strong. From the moment you step through the doors (if not already before) to the follow up phone call or email, your interview clock is still running. Lance, our creative director, tells the story that at a previous company he worked for, one interviewer kept asking if the interview was over and then spouted out, “Man! This is like the 6th interview I’ve had this summer. No one will hire me. NO ONE!” Guess what – he wasn’t hired there either. If you don’t have a portfolio book or examples of work, make new ones. Just because you may not have work experience, doesn’t mean you should have no experience. Take on little assignments of your own. Re-write printed news articles or press releases in a way that you would have done it. Re-design established ads the way you would have done it. Or add your flair to some. Or pick a couple of industries or brands and create new ads or thumbnail sketch ideas. It helps if you even pick a brand that you know the agency handles. Volunteer to help out a local organization or kids’ sports team for free so you can get experience designing flyers, logos, ads, Facebook posts, etc. that will actually be used or just COULD be used. Don’t lie about it – be honest. Show your work and say that these weren’t “work”, but they were some exercises in layout or in creating tag lines and product descriptions. The effort will surely be noteworthy. Advertising is about creating awareness, drawing attention and getting an audience to consider what you’ve got to share. You’ve got the interview, now give them something to chew on. With any industry, experience is key. Show that you’re into it and that potentially if you weren’t doing marketing for the interviewer, you’d be doing these ideas for someone else – as in, a competitor. The notion that those good ideas could be going to brand X may make the difference for you.
Also, do we need to say it? - don’t show up like a dirt bag. Give some effort. It’s rare these days to see a suit and tie for an interview like Mad Men or a full out pants suit like Working Girl. In fact, that probably sends the wrong message for some agencies who dress down; you may come across as too professorial or stuffy & accountant-like. Instead, ask around or drop by, check out their Facebook page or Instagram to get a feel for how the employees dress for work. If they work in shorts, do NOT show up in shorts. But maybe a more casual look that still looks professional. It’s marketing. Market yourself. Show that you belong, but stand out. Show that you could easily fit in, but help them grow in the way that companies want to grow. Show them that you put thought and method to how you are advertising to them. Above all – be yourself. It’s cliché, but it’s true. Don’t be someone you’re not. Just be the YOU that you want people to see you as. Stand a little taller, speak a little louder, and let the best of your personality show through. After all, interviews are about seeing who’s a good fit and sometimes you’ve got to see if the agency is a right fit for you, too. If you feel less than comfortable, say it. Maybe it plays to your advantage to hear you as honest, forthcoming and bold. Also, don’t curse, cuss or swear. You never know how the employer feels about it. Some words that YOU don’t think are swear words may be considered swear words to others. It’s a politeness factor. And it shows respect for the unknown. If the interviewer or boss curses, don’t assume it’s ok for you to as well. Just be cool and know that it may be a test. Another handy tip, turn your phone off. Unless you want to show an impish side of you and show a photo or something, don’t answer calls and texts. Lastly, all the talent in the world will only get you so far. Be pleasant. Kindness never goes out of style. You can always find talent when you need it, but good, solid people are a rarity these days. You can always improve skill sets with practice and lessons and so forth, but at the age of interviewing you are pretty much a good person or a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. Most firms would rather hire someone kind and respectful and interesting whom they consider “coachable” over someone who is uber talented, but has the decorum and personality of a dagger soaked in vinegar.
Now for the easy ones - Take notes and ask questions. Give good verbal and nonverbal communication. Enunciate. Slow down, err on time than speed. And follow up. An email at the very least, but a handwritten note at the very best. It shows personality. It shows respect, value and time. Many a job has been decided by a thank you or follow up, not at the conference table over a decorated resume. And remember – know your audience. The number one rule for creating attention around here is “know your audience, know who this is for.” If your advertising with a firm, brush up to know who they are and – just as importantly – who they’re not. If the firm’s logo is yellow, wear yellow. If nothing else, it’s a fallback for an ice breaker. If the bio page of the firm’ website shows that they do ads for Coca-Cola, don’t show up with a Pepsi in hand. If they handle Adidas, don’t wear Nikes to the interview.
Attention to detail is what separates the sell from the sale, so give yourself a fighting chance. Good luck and go get ‘em.