To career hopefuls
Free advice possibly worth not quite the price
I am different from most employers on this one: I don’t care if you have a degree. I know brilliant, non-college educated people, and I know PhDs who are dumber than a box of rocks. I have hired two creative directors, one with a master’s degree, the other with no college at all. I have a BA. My son has no college and is an immensely successful businessperson. His secret? A rare combination of talent, tenacity, and, thank goodness, ethics. But no college.
An undergraduate degree is not so much a door-opener as the lack of one is a door-closer. You must bring more than a degree with you if you want an employer to take you on.
Things I look for
I look for how a candidate would fit in with me, my team, and my clients. Dress, grooming, and manners matter, because I want clients not to lose confidence with the first look at my people.
I look for someone who has done a bit of homework on me and my shop. Mine is a different approach. Those who trouble to learn about it start with the advantage.
An over-confident applicant is off-putting; an under-confident one is either wimpy or acting coy, neither of which impresses. A good indicator is whether the applicant is teachable.
I recall a young college graduate who showed up cold, resumé in hand. He wanted to be an account executive. He was bright, eminently qualified, and likable, and he presented well. Unfortunately, our only opening was for a receptionist. He swallowed hard and said, “I’ll take a job scrubbing your floors if it gets me in.” He was the best receptionist we ever had. Not surprisingly, he went on to a great career.
The creative person I seek is hard to find and a far cry from what most agencies are looking for. Too many people go into advertising because at heart they are not marketers but artistes, and it’s easier to break into advertising than into Hollywood. They will create award-winning work, which is a priority to most clients and agencies. Not to me.
If you see “Account Executive” on a RESPONSE Agency employee’s business card, know that internally I call that position “salesperson.” I don’t care that it is counter-cultural. I want someone who can pound the pavement, bring in new clients, and grow the clients we have by taking great care of them. That person is a rare bird. I have been lucky enough to have hired three in the 21 years I’ve had my business.
Some ad agency people tell me that having “salespeople” is unprofessional. I find that not a little ironic.
The folly of “I can help you think up ideas”
Creative work is fun, so it’s no wonder that a lot of people want to do it. It’s not unusual for hopefuls to say, “I can help you think up ideas.” They might as well say, “I have cool concepts for short films where I bet we could work in a product mention.” It betrays naiveté about the advertising business. On-target ideas require up-front homework. Lots of it. The idea is the last step. You cannot walk in off the street and expect to “help think up ideas.”
Moreover, I spend less than one percent of my time thinking up ideas. Advertising is a creative business, but it is more business than art.
In the first interview
Do not ask me about holidays, hours, paid leave, vacation, health care, and other benefits. I offer those things, but in the first interview I look for someone who is more interested in helping me grow my business than in enjoying the next three-day weekend. If holidays et al matter to you, find another way to obtain the information.
I like candidates who know what they want to do, and who understand from my point of view how they’ll prove an asset. An employer does not hire to be nice, but to build a business. Even though deep down one or two of us may actually possess a latent trace of niceness.
A caution about taking my advice
Please note the instances above where I point out that I differ from other employers. I don’t want you someday to blow a real interview in front of someone who doesn’t think like me.