four interview tips for creatives

We are in desperate need of quality art directors here at the House of Biz and have been interviewing candidates non-stop all week. So far, to no avail.

Yesterday afternoon I was asked to sit with a candidate who had been referred by a friend of one of the partners. Though he came from a promotions background and his work was only so-so, we need hands on deck. And he was recommended.

God knows why.

The first tip for interviewing: do NOT passionately tell your interviewer about all of the people who have fucked you in your career.

Sure, we have all had people along the way on whose evil ways we could discourse for hours (like Jane Sample). But that is for your own personal time, not for an interview. Not only does it make me think that you have no self-control, do not know what is appropriate in a business setting and that you are overly-emotional, I also start to think, as the number of people you are listing piles up, that maybe the issue is with you.

The second tip for interviewing: if you have been fired by your last agency, say only what you have to about what happened.

Fifteen minutes spent discoursing about how the account team didn’t fight for your work hard enough and management didn’t support you and the client was an idiot is not making me think that you would be a good addition to this team. It makes me think that you need some sort of medication.

The third tip for interviewing: when asked about difficult clients you have had to deal with, tell me about one that turned out okay, not the one that got you fired.

Interestingly, this guy had worked on (at the promotions agency) the same QSR client that I had worked on a while back (at the ad agency). This QSR client was extremely challenging and was the worst work experience of my life. But I didn’t get fired because I couldn’t handle it. And anyway, I want to know that you can handle a difficult client since, sorry, you are going to have more than one in your life. I don’t want to know that you couldn’t stand the heat while I could. Not a good way to sell yourself.

The fourth tip for interviewing: be ready to talk about ads and campaigns that you like.

The key here is things that YOU like. Do not repeat back to me ads and campaigns that I may have mentioned earlier in the interview. Do not blow smoke up my ass by mentioning things that you saw in the lobby and know that I worked on. It will not overcome the fact that you freaked out and word vomited your anger at past employers all over me.

This guy broke these four key rules so badly that it makes me question the quality of the shops that employed him.

I wonder if he was on drugs.


13 responses to “four interview tips for creatives

  1. Good post!
    This advice is for ANYONE in advertising … us suits too. You NEVER and I mean NEVER say anything bad about a place you are leaving – even if it is fully justified (like in my case). It makes you look like an idiot, a soar loser or “a problem employee”. If I’m bad mouthing an ex-employer in an interview then the only thing my potential employer will think about is “what will she say about me?”. Also you want to show that you can handle difficult situations, be they client related or co-worker related.

  2. Also, when you send a thank you note make sure that you personalize it, both in content and, yes, in addressee. Sending a group e-mail just makes me think that you half-ass things and cut corners.

    I am surprised that this guy got hired anywhere. Ever.

  3. It’s easier than you’d think to fall into the trap of thinking that the person who is interviewin you is your new friend and that you are confiding in him/her, especially if they are the same age as you: I’ve been in DB’s place more than a few times.

    I’ve also had the reverse happen: I’ve been interviewing for a job and had someone tell me how much the last place they worked at was; I’ve had people be lukewarm about the place I was interviewing at; and I’ve had people tell me how they didn’t like my current employer.

    But like you, DB, I am always amazed at the level of ineptitude of so many people working in the biz. Like I’ll see books filled with ads that I’d be embarrassed to admit to reading, let alone writing, and yet the person’s been freelancing steadily for 15 years, with bits of full-time employment at recognizable shops.

  4. PS: What’s “QSR”?

  5. This guy sounds like a winner. But the one question that I disagree with is asking about the ads someone likes. While anyone SHOULD be able to answer that question, that question is s horrible interview question. No offense, but as an interviewee, it’s a red flag to me about the interviewer and the agency. I think I was asked it once, and yes, it was at a mediocre shop. It should be about their book and their attitude and their desire to ability to do new work. It’s an amateur interviewer question.

  6. @ Whome – I completely disagree with you. The point of that question is to find out whether the candidate cares about what is going on in the industry, to make sure that they know about other work that is out there, that they are on the cutting edge, engaged and that they CARE about what they do.

    The inability to answer that question well shows me that you lack curiosity. No, you don’t have to name drop or be encyclopedic in your knowledge, but you damn well better know what is going on in your own industry because if you don’t, you haven’t a chance to do work that breaks through. You have no reference point!

    Not asking that question is short-sighted.

    And yes, I have been asked that question in interviews. And the question was asked at “name” shops. Not that it matters.

  7. Sure, any qualified creative SHOULD be able to answer the question. My point still stands that it’s a litmus test as much for and good interviewee as it is for an interviewer. To me, it says, this place is not for me. And I know I’m not alone in this regard.

    Maybe for non-creative positions, this is an appropriate question. But for creatives, you should be able to tell from their book and their overall attitude and personality if they’re what you’re looking for.

    Anyone agency that asks me this question gives me a heebie-jeebies. I’m sorry, but this question is the interview equivalent to a pun.

  8. @DB & Whome: You boys just settle down now.

    I usually take a hybrid approach- I’ll ask about a specific campaign and see how the interviewee critiques it, prodding (e.g. “is there anything you’d have done differently?”) to gauge the response. To me it shows how good they are at critiquing work and also their thought process.
    Sometimes, just to mix it up, I’ll ask them to tell me their favorite ad in their own book and a little bit about it.

    You see, Whome?, I’ve found over the years that a good book is no guarantee of anything. Lots of guys walking around with books filled with ads that they just happened to be in the same room for. (My friends and I call them “Ringos” after Mr. Starr)

    And every so often the reverse it true: I’ll bring in someone for a not-very-challenging freelance assignment because we need a body that day and they have the least awful book of the 5 I’ve seen. And they’ll surprise me by being way better than their book. (It’s usually people who have gotten into the biz through some back door and never went to the traditional ad schools or anything, but still…)

    But more importantly, DB, you haven’t told me WTF “QSR” stands for.

  9. @ Whome?: I get your point and feel like the approach that Toad brought up is closer to my purpose and reason for asking the question than just asking what work they like. Though I do think that it is critical that interviewees show curiosity about and interest in the industry at large because, as Toad says, the book is not everything. Unfortunately.

    @ DB: QSR is Quick Service Restaurant. I put it that way in a weak attempt to hide the actual client even though I hate business acronyms as a general rule.

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  11. You’re DB, I’m TT.
    Get your damn acronyms right kid.

    And QSR is hilarious. I’m adopting it for all my road trip pit stops.

  12. @ TT: I am an idiot. 🙂

  13. Pingback: interview q & a « the daily (ad) biz

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