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The Advertising Interview

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The advertising interview is not like other job interviews. It's special. It's different. …

The advertising interview is not like other job interviews. It's special. It's different.
And often times the importance of it is overlooked, especially by students and juniors.

Over and over again you're told that the only thing that matters is your book so it's not completely surprising that students sometimes neglect the details that would make a good interview great.

The truth is, having a great book is paramount. However, having a good interview will make your work shine that much brighter and a bad interview will have the inverse effect.

The internet is a tad short on resources dedicated to this particular topic though. So even if an eager young creative was savvy enough to look up tips for acing an interview with their dream agency, they would probably come up short. Sure, there are loads of documents out there that'll help you get ready for an interview at a bank. Or an accounting firm. But instances are probably far and few between of Creative Directors asking applicants to list three of their strengths and three of their weaknesses. The advertising interview is a special kind of beast.

Fortunately, some of the brightest in the business agreed to share their tips for acing your next agency interview, beyond just having a great book. So good luck and remember: you've been warned.

More in: Education , Career , Business
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  • 1. THE ADVERTISING INTERVIEW PREPARED BY: Brendan Watson NOVEMBER 2010 CONTRIBUTORS: Ignacio Oreamuno, Jack Neary, Alan Madill, Dré Labre, Mitch Joel, Peter Ignazi, Nancy Vonk, Tom Beakbane, Suzanne Pope, Andrew Simon, Andrew Shortt, Hayes Steinberg, David Rosenberg, Todd Mackie, Arthur Shah, Shawn King, Joe Musicco, Tony Miller, Brent Choi, CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE David Houghton, Ron Tite, Wade Hesson, Heidi Ehlers
  • 2. THE ADVERTISING INTERVIEW IS NOT LIKE OTHER JOB INTERVIEWS. IT'S SPECIAL. IT'S DIFFERENT. And often times the importance of it is overlooked, especially by students and juniors. Over and over again you're told that the only thing that matters is your book so it's not completely surprising that students sometimes neglect FOREWORD the details that would make a good interview great. The truth is, having a great book is paramount. However, having a good interview will make your work shine that much brighter and a bad interview will have the inverse effect. The internet is a tad short on resources dedicated to this particular topic though. So even if an eager young creative was savvy enough to look up tips for acing an interview with their dream agency, they would probably come up short. Sure, there are loads of documents out there that'll help you get ready for an interview at a bank. Or an accounting firm. But instances are probably far and few between of Creative Directors asking applicants to list three of their strengths and three of their weaknesses. The advertising interview is a special kind of beast. Fortunately, some of the brightest in the business agreed to share their tips for acing your next agency interview, beyond just having a great book. So good luck and remember: you've been warned. BRENDAN WATSON Art Director/Instructor, Y&R/Humber College CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 2
  • 3. 23 years after extruding from the womb I hopped my way to one of the big agencies to show off my grand portfolio. A masterpiece of advertising works fabricated by yours truly over the weekend. You see, my portfolio was not ready, I was in the middle of ad school but had surprisingly won a scholarship and had gotten catapulted into an interview with the President of McCann Canada, he had booked an interview with me and the creative director too. I was crapping my pants. Could this be my big break? I spent the entire weekend fabricating a portfolio of out thin air. I was so confident that when they asked me what I wanted to be, Art Director or Copywriter I was ready to say 'Creative Director.' INTRODUCTION To show off the promise of my talent I wore a suit and tie. Not only was this a horrendous mistake, but it was amplified by the fact that I was wearing a tie of Rodin's "The Thinker" (the statue/dude that looks like he's sitting on a toilet thinking". (The runner up for the interview tie was a tie of a Dali painting I still have). I get there, and Mr. Creative Director was there sporting his white pony tail and jean shorts. I remember there was a big sticker on his wall that said 'Vaginas are cool." Hence when I came in á la George Clooney I knew compatibility was a total #FAIL. Whilst I got some feedback (it all sucks!) I walked out with my tie in between my legs. The three nights prior to this event I had spent having wet dreams of my salary negotiations with McCann. "55k? are you joking? I'm solid gold baby. Up it up!" The reality is that not only did I walk away without an internship or a job, I also walked away feeling like an absolute idiot. Advertising is the only job where breaking in is the hardest part of the entire career and there isn't a single Creative Director in the world that doesn't recall every detail from their first interview. Only a week in Guantanamo is more memorable. Fear not, most of these stories end in failure so don't worry if you have bad first interview(s). The irony is the we are all in the business of selling and the first thing we have to sell is ourselves. PS. My second interview landed me a full time job at Ogilvy :) I did not wear the tie. Ignacio Oreamuno President • ihaveanidea CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 3
  • 4. 1. The interview is your chance to impress, don't squander the opportunity. 2. Prepare, prepare, prepare: research the company you are going to visit, and everything you can find out about the person you will meet. You should be able to talk knowledgeably about both. 3. An good interview is all about storytelling. Tell you story. Make it interesting. 4. Be active, not passive. Don't just sit there and let the CD go through your book. Guide him or her. Talk about your thinking behind the work, how you came to execute the ideas, how the work performed in the market. Present your work as if you were presenting to a client. Make it easy to understand. 5. Ask questions of the CD. Make it a conversation. Jack Neary Executive Creative Director, TBWAToronto Attitude goes a long way in an interview. I’m interested in creatives that are eager to work for me. So, do your homework on the agency and the people you are interviewing with before you go for your interview. Don’t act like you’re hot shit in the interview, I’m not interested in how cool you think you are. And don’t chew gum. Alan Madill Partner, Executive Creative Director, Juniper Park CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 4
  • 5. Present more than just ads in your book. Be prolific. Show off ideas from your other portfolio. You know, the stuff you do outside of work. The extra-curricular creative activities that keep you always-on. Some creative directors will insist on only reviewing ads. Ignore them. They don’t get it. If you’re good at photography, music, robotics, what-have-you; make sure it’s being represented. You are more than just your advertising work. Dré Labre Creative Director, Rethink Toronto Start a Blog. Share your ideas, thoughts and inspiration. Update it frequently with great stories. Not just about your work, but about you. Make it personal. Make it real. Nothing will impress someone else more than really getting a sense of who you are. A Blog will do more for you than any 8 1/2 x 11 piece of white paper ever can/will. Trust me. Don't wait for the last minute. Start one now. When you set-up your interview, make sure to let them know that they can check out your Blog beforehand. When you're in the interview, re-enforce that if they really want to learn more about you, that they should go online and check out your Blog. Mitch Joel President, Twist Image Get noticed. Peter Ignazi Senior Vice President, Executive Creative Director, BBDO Toronto CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 5
  • 6. The CD is looking at you with a critical eye along with your portfolio. It sounds trite but it's true: be yourself. Dress the way you dress. Talk the way you talk. Don't try to turn yourself into someone else that's somehow better. Show up with knowledge about where you are. Be conversant on that agency's work and the CD's reputation. Approaching shops in a way that's generic doesn't send a signal you are really interested in their place. In fact, everywhere you go you should have a case for why you'd fit in and why you're excited about them. Most grads fail to take advantage of this simple strategy. The CD is looking for people who are passionate about the industry. They're looking for people with a strong work ethic, and as newcomers, are happy to do virtually anything to help. You should say as much. CD's have healthy egos and it won't hurt your case to stroke it. Know their claims to fame and share some admiration. Let them know in your perfect world you would be learning from them. (If that's not true, why are you there?) Finally, the people who leap out at us have often made something specifically for us. It sounds super cheese but one grad wrote a funny song about us and she was so hired when she played it. Key: it was really good. A real demonstration of her ability and personality. Nancy Vonk Co-Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy & Mather Toronto We are in the business of communications so when you present your portfolio don't assume that your work speaks for itself. Sell it! Describe the story behind it in a way that is entertaining. Show through the manner you interact with the person interviewing you that you logical and well as creative and that you can explain & listen & interact & play as a member of a team. Tom Beakbane President, Beakbane Marketing CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 6
  • 7. The single most important advice I can give about interviews is to be unfailingly good-natured in your response to criticism. If you push back, you won’t change the creative director’s opinion; you’ll only show that you’re unable to tolerate the pain that is part of growth and learning. It’s quite okay to ask clarifying questions about the feedback. Just make sure you’re gracious about it – even if it kills you inside. But none of the above will matter if you can’t get the interview in the first place. Ours is a business of grabbing people’s attention, of inspiring them to take action in ways they might not have considered before. Because of that, I’m always a little surprised by the students who do nothing more than leave a voice mail with their name and number. Those students are giving the creative director no reason to call back, apart from the desire to be nice. And since creative directors are busy people, those calls often don’t get returned. If you understand that every good ad answers the question “What’s in it for me?”, you should demonstrate that understanding in all your communications. So before you call, drop off a mailer that is so smart and clever and fun that the CD will be afraid of losing your talent to another agency. Creative directors want juniors who are hungry for success, and the worst mailer shows that hunger better than the best voice mail. Suzanne Pope Associate Creative Director, john st. Show real passion for your work and the business. Enthusiasm is infectious and agencies want “can-do” kind of talent. Ability to take constructive criticism. Stand by your work and thinking but listen and respond to how work can be even stronger. Don’t cling to work like it’s your last great idea. Andrew Simon Chief Creative Officer, GJP Advertising CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 7
  • 8. 1. Research a bit about the agency who's CD you're talking to. Nothing pisses people off more than if you don't know their agency at, and it makes you look like you're just after anything. Which you should be, but you gotta learn how to hide that fact. 2. Don't put on an air of entitlement. Too many kids coming out of ad schools have this idea that because they went to ad school, they're entitled to a job at a top agency right away. Zak Mroueh started at Sears writing catalogue stuff. 3. Be insatiably curious. Ask lots of questions. Make them good ones. Make a list of questions beforehand. Asking good questions shows that you're smart and prepared. 4. Ask for feedback on every single piece in your book. You've managed to get a CD's time so make the best use of it. And don't get defensive about their feedback if it isn't good. They're only trying to help. 5. Come armed with a new technology tidbit, or new media idea to show. It doesn't have to be something you've done, but something you found that is cool. That way, you've imparted some knowledge on the person you're meeting with an they'll remember you. Andrew Shortt Partner, Creative Director, Huxley Quayle von Bismark 1. Listen. 2. Listen. 3. Listen. (All too often students try to explain / talk / defend their work. Don't.) 4. Take notes. 5. Always ask if they can follow-up and share new stuff when they have it. Politely. 6. Make no assumptions. 7. Be incredibly appreciative of the time you've been given by the person you've just interviewed with. Hayes Steinberg Associate Creative Director, Bensimon Byrne CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 8
  • 9. What I look for in the interview process (in no particular order) 1. First, I look for the work. that spark of originality in at least ONE PIECE that tells me you think differently than anyone else ever has before. Really. I want to see something in your book that tells me you, (fill in you name here), have ideas about soap/ swedish furniture/kitchen knives that nobody has ever thought of in the whole history of the planet. Oh, and that those ideas don't suck. (Typically, I see less than 10 books a year that fulfills this criteria.) 2. I look for candidates who will look me in the eye and tell me what their idea is about and why they think it's right. Confidence. Passion. Commitment. Not boastfulness. 3. I look for humility. (this relates to the end of the last point.) You CAN be confident and humble at the same time. Humility tells me you can be taught. Humility tells me your best ad is NOT the one you did yesterday, but the one you'll do tomorrow. 4. Finally, I look for curiosity. The compulsive need to know more. A questioning spirit. The passion to delve into material as seemingly dry as a rubber stopper in a bathtub, and explain to me why that rubber stopper is a better rubber stopper. David Rosenberg Chief Creative Officer, Bensimon Byrne Share your personality and just be yourself as much as possible. I would say a nervous person with a great book stands just as good of a chance as a person with a great personality and just a good book. We can teach interesting people how to be better creatives, and it can be tough to pull turtles out of the shell. That said, great ideas always rules. Todd Mackie Creative Director, DDB Canada CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 9
  • 10. Be punctual. If you can't make it or going to be late, let me know. I'm always happy to reschedule. But if I'm sitting around waiting for someone I'll be pissed. Don't bring a corny gift as a thank you for my time. An email will suffice. There's more potential for the gift to erase any good feelings that were created during the interview. Try and have some good questions. Like, what agency life is all about. Ask me what I would expect from an intern/ junior starting out. Do some research about the agency the work they do. Also do some research about te person you are meeting. Check out their work. If there was something you particularly admired tell them that. Ask how that idea came about. Be ready to have your feelings hurt. There's a chance not everything in your book will be brilliant. Don't be defensive. Try and explain why you did what you did and get a discussion going so you can learn why something in your book isn't working. Do keep in contact. I see so many people it's hard to keep track of who did what and who's work I liked. Don't suck up to me in an interview. If you get a job at my agency you'll have plenty of time to do that. Arthur Shah Vice President, Associate Creative Director, BBDO Toronto Show up with confidence that says you're not afraid to work in the industry and humility that says you're not afraid to learn. And keep in mind, respect and credibility doesn't come with your first day on the job. You need to earn that. Finally, be real. Common sense and the ability to simply think are way more important to me than your portfolio. I want to hire great people, not a great portfolio. Shawn King Chief Creative Officer, Extreme Group CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 10
  • 11. 1) Be patient. If your calls or emails aren’t being returned right away, that’s normal. The interviewing and hiring process has a tendency to be excruciatingly long at every level of seniority, and it’s probably going to take more time than you’d like. So my first recommendation is to channel your inner Zen and get good at waiting. 2) Hope for pointed criticism. Some Creative Directors will treat you with kid gloves and say nothing but nice things about your book, but the real learning comes from those who are willing to be honest and forthright in their appraisal. If someone is generous enough to give you candid and constructive advice, heed it. 3) Don’t take rejection personally. If you get the meeting but don’t get the job, it’s not necessarily a reflection on you. There are countless reasons you may not land an offer, and very few of them hinge on how you ‘performed’ in the interview. More often than not, it’s about timing and money. 4) Don’t get discouraged. You should expect to sit through upwards of a dozen interviews before you land a job or an internship. Maybe more. This is standard. The ad business requires a lot of intestinal fortitude, and this is your first taste. Grab the Pepto-Bismol and try to keep your cookies down. Joe Musicco Associate Creative Director, Bensimon Byrne Of course, the book is the primary thing, but if you come across as a deviant personality, an immature lout or prickly about any hint of criticism, then you are pretty much dead in the water. Another tip: Don't tell the Creative Director that you want his or her job one day. That's a sure fire mood killer. Do some research on the agency, find out about the CD and what he or she has done. Be aware of the shop's client list and show up about 10 minutes early. Oh, and be articulate. CDs want to know that they can put you in front of clients. Maybe not on Day 1, but at some point. If you sound like Rob Ford, you're in trouble. You might be Mayor one day, but you won't go far in advertising. Tony Miller Executive Creative Director, Anderson DDB CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 11
  • 12. While it is an idea business, people skills and culture fit are nearly as critical for me. I'll start with the energy level. The role you're filling in my department is to bring youth, new thinking and energy. I don't want you to be unauthentic about it and be annoyingly positive, but you should be excited about advertising, ideas, and have a desire to learn and do whatever it takes to contribute. Be humble. Also, you have to feel out your interviewer but I like when the prospects shows some strategic thinking ability and can set up each campaign in their book and give some rationale on why they took a certain approach. Finally (and for something little different), I think the black leather porfolio case has some baggage of old school and traditional thinking. I can't help but think of 50 year old art directors from the 90's. Laptops and iPads allow you to show some animation or at least frame the work in a way that feels more modern - ideally on their own website. Brent Choi Chief Creative Officer, Cundari Get to know the agency. What's their culture and their work ethic? What makes them unique? Do some research online and on their website to find out what makes them tick. That background information will likely be very handy during the interview, and demonstrates that you take a genuine interest in them. Go with the flow. Some interviews will be shorter than you expect, and some will be longer. Let the person who's interviewing you set the pace. Don't try to tell them every detail about your work, and don't try to turn every page in your portfolio. Relax. It's difficult not to be nervous, but the best way for the person who's interviewing you to see how funny, smart and wonderful you are is just to take a deep breath and be yourself. Go beyond the ads. If you find a common connection with the person who's interviewing you, like perhaps the fact that you both collect Mongolian camels, take a few minutes to talk about it. Look for every opportunity to create a relationship, to open a dialogue, to build some common bonds. Let them get to know you better - beyond just the ads in your book. David Houghton Freelance Creative Director CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 12
  • 13. By the time someone gets to the interview stage, it's because I loved their work. Either it was refreshing and unique or admittedly, they simply filled a specific need I had. At that point, I just want to see if they would be a good cultural fit with the department, agency and clients. And what does that mean? Be confident but not cocky. Be fun but don't show up looking like you've slept in your clothes. Be engaged but not desperate. Be open to working on any client but also speak to work you'd love to sink your teeth into. Be professional but remember that you're not applying for a job at an accounting firm. Be passionate but don't be a diva. But most importantly, be yourself. If the fake you gets the job, the real you may get the pink slip. I'd rather find out that someone isn't right for the agency 10 minutes into the interview than 2 weeks into the job. Ron Tite Vice President, Creative Director, Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG Aside from being polite, on time, and knowledgeable about the agency and CD, an applicant likely just needs to stay loose and reveal his or her opinions, interests, and personality. Wade Hesson Group Creative Director, MacLaren McCann CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 13
  • 14. The best way to prepare for an interview is to think of it as an hour that can change your life. If you pay it that much respect, it probably will. Heidi Ehlers Founder, BLACK BAG creative recruitment + career management inc. CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE BLOG UPDATES 14
  • 15. CHOCOLATE MICROSCOPE • Since 2009 • chocolate-microscope.blogspot.com