interview from hell at o’keeffe & co

Virginia based agency O’Keefe & Co was mildly interesting last week when they invited Buzz Aldrin to their eleventh anniversary celebration, but they got really interesting when a reader e-mailed me to tell me about her interview from hell there.

I love hearing about people’s experiences interviewing at agencies because, while there is a standard for how they go, there are huge extremes out there.

Anything, it seems, can happen.

In the case of the reader in question, she was contacted by a recruiter to work at O’Keefe and was told that it was a fun, creative shop with great people and that, with her qualifications the interview would be more of a chemistry check than anything else.

So she was confident, and felt good walking down the old cobblestone street and into O’Keefe’s offices in a narrow, traditional rowhouse.

Then all hell broke loose.

The interview began with an intern which, if it was not bad enough that the intern was interviewing her, the intern opened by…denigrating her (excellent) college, saying that he hadn’t even bothered to apply there. After fifteen minutes of the intern talking about how great the college he did go to was – as if that mattered to her because she was, you know, actually employed – the intern asked a bunch of inane questions before leaving.

A disastrous start.

The HR woman was supposed to speak with our dear reader next, but hadn’t bothered to come into the office. So our dear reader just sat around for an hour…which might have been a good thing so she could get her composure.

The next interviewer looked at her resume, saw that she had said that she had lived abroad and said “right, so I don’t mean that you got off a plane and touched down in [the foreign country], did you actually stay there for an extended amount of time?” Yes, she said, over five years. It’s written on the resume. “Oh, he said, well do you even know who Donald Rumsfeld is?” She replied that she did and began looking for an emergency exit.

Then they made her take two writing tests…despite relatively senior credentials and the assurance that it was a chemistry check.

She passed the writing tests, which was nice.

Then she got blown off my Mr O’Keefe even though she flew from New York on this day specifically so he could spend some time with her.

The she got another quiz by a “fat douchebag” who, after reviewing her answers, chided her for not getting them all right. At this point, she was ready to massacre everyone there (and would have taken out Buzz Aldrin if he were there) when the guy said that they didn’t think of themselves as a creative shop, but one that was all about results.

I guess that is what happens when you are a PR firm for government lobbyists, you care only about getting vanilla-bland apparatchiks to do what you want them to…creativity isn’t a consideration.

They finally let her go.

She really let them have it by not sending a thank you note…which wasn’t revenge enough until now, when she e-mailed this blog about her bad experience there and let everyone see that they are all douchebags.

Small consolation, but hopefully worth it.

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16 responses to “interview from hell at o’keeffe & co

  1. It’s reassuring to know the prevasive nature of assholery in the communications disciplines.

  2. ah, the power of blogs.

  3. what is the point of treating people like that? I just don’t understand it.

    is it really that tough to treat people with a little respect?

  4. I have a buddy who works at O’Keefe and he sure doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would work with what comes across as a collection of assholes. Of course, maybe he’s updating his resume, but something still doesn’t add up. But still . . . an intern? Wow.

  5. BlakeDriveGirl

    well written! who in god’s name would ever think that was a ‘good’ interview. I am sure they are a good pR shop, but clearly they need work on how they go about attracting qualified people. hmph!

  6. You can’t even spell their name right: it’s O’Keeffe & Company.

  7. @MrMan – Can’t or won’t or made a simple type error?

  8. I had an interview just like that with O’Keefe!!!!! A few years ago, I went in for an interview there and had pretty much the same experience. Junior level person who doesn’t really know my kind of public relations work, long delay waiting for the next interviewer, then a parade of pompous blowhards who loved to drop names. I DID get to meet Mr. O’Keefe himself, and I realized that the pompous blowhards were not unique to the junior ranks. Left the joint thinking I’d never want to work there, no matter what. I’ve worked in communications for a long time, and that shop creeped me out. Sad to hear that they are still putting their worst face forward. Maybe that explains all the O’Keefe ads I see on the job boards…

  9. OMG. Thank so much for this! These people have called me in for an interview as well …. but I had a bad feeling from the start. More so because my old boss, recommended them, and I figured if she raved about them (typical two-faced pr practicioner out to stab you in the back at any cost) I would not be a good fit. Thank you, thank you for this. There should be more sites for PR/Comm professionals like this – that forewarns of the pompous and ridiculous requirements…you can kind of see it in their leadership board pics off their site as well. Pompous and full of it.

  10. That place should be in the Top 10 of some international list of where NOT to work. Mr. O’Keeffe and his ego can barely fit through the door… many of us know from whence he came… small-time DC advertising. Their business model is to hire junior everything, suck them dry, not pay them and move on to the next stable of recent grads. They then pay a handful of “senior” staff whose main role is to simply agree w/his highness Monsieur O’Keeffe lest they be banished from the manor. The place is a complete joke. They empower no one to do actually do their job. Run like the wind from this joke of an agency… Can’t we start a site that would help other workers avoid the pitfalls of such places? We could post good AND bad references for these soul-sucking environments and help people avoid getting trapped. And just MAYBE help rid the world of these negative hell-holes…

  11. I’m really shocked by all this. Mr. O’Keeffe did PR work for my previous company (Candle Corporation) and it was all very well done & quite professional. I never though he had a massive ego, indeed he was always quite humble, polite & professional. And the results he attained for us were fantastic.
    I think this interviewer had a bad experiece there for sure, but I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
    O’Keeffe is still a top notch PR firm and has the client list to prove it.

  12. After working at O’Keeffe & Company (OKCO), I would agree that the staff produces results and media hits. However, I would challenge Mary Hall and the media to more closely analyze the info from the company.

    EXAMPLE 1: O’Keeffe produces surveys (aka “Disruptive Programs”) that would violate most of the ethic standards in the PRSA handbook – these surveys usually include altered results and dramatically reframing information to increase the newsworthiness.

    EXAMPLE 2: O’Keeffe uses funding from its client base to fund side organizations, such as PRSourcode. PRSourcecode sells information about upcoming media opportunities (which were found while researching info for current OKCO clients) to other PR companies. Other PR companies don’t get all the updates though — its strategically selective to make sure no one has more information than OKCO, the (hidden) parent company. PS. I love how OKCO is always on the “Top Tech Communicators” awards list for PRSourcecode.

    Things may have changed since I left, but all-in-all the means never seemed 100% ethical to achieve the ends of more media hits.

  13. I wish I could say I was surprised, but am not. They drink their own kool-aid at that shop.

    Have the young lady contact me. I can find her a job at a reputable agency, not a house full of arrogant buttwinkles. If she is interested in IT and/or government, I can help and would be happy to do so.

  14. Former Client

    As a former client, I am relieved for the sanity check from the voices of dissent: OK & Co. is one of the most unethical, unfriendly, lazy and arrogant firms I have ever experienced. Unethical from the standpoint that they were taking unauthorized media-buy “pass-throughs” from their clients; Lazy from their lack of ability to provide proper strategic council and delivery of results; Arrogant and unfriendly due to Mr. O’Keeffe’s patronizing silly “sir” and “ma’am” introductions at the start and end of every defense. Finally, Monsieur OK is one of the most condescending DBs I’ve ever encountered. Long live the “googlization” of consumer feedback and I’ll keep telling you how I really feel!

  15. What I love is the creative laziness that Mr. O’Keeffe seems to be infatuated with. Look at his agency’s annual patting itself on the back parties… 10th Anniversary? I know… Bo Derek in “10.” 11th Anniversary? Wait… I’ve got it… Apollo 11! 12th? I dunno… The Dirty Dozen? This is what “creative” is in SOK’s megalomaniacal head… a 10-15 minute meeting where the first “idea” in virtually everyone’s head is the “concept.” Clients beware… this dude just smells his own exhaust 24-7. What a prick.

  16. Former Employee

    Factchecker was right – O’Keeffe is shady. I know because I also used to work there.

    There are great things about the company – You will learn a lot working there…but for the most part, the negatives outweigh the positives.

    The pay is shit. Most mid-level employees make less than $50K. They’re expected to work 50-60 hours a week (part of the culture), but they don’t get paid overtime.

    Also, OKCO is worse than a VH1 reality show when it comes to drama. You can’t trust anyone – not even senior staff. There is WAY too much gossip.

    The good news is that they enable alcoholism. If you like to drink, you’ll fit it. They frequently foot the hootch bill for employees. And M. O’Keeffe can be found boozing it up until 2 – 3 a.m. most nights.

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