Thursday, 18 February 2010

Interview Aftermath...

Pretty good advice, to be honest.

I've been quite remiss of late, so sorry for the delay on this post.

I think there's a need to talk about the fallout of an unsuccessful interview. Now, with every process, there have to be candidates who don't get through. That's natural, and inevitable - there have to be winners and losers in this sort of thing.

No, what prompted this post was a post AdlandCreative wrote on his blog, detailing his experiences interviewing for an account executive position at Euro RSCG.

I'd like to claim that his feeling of not doing himself justice won't be shared by many. But that'd be bullshit, and not doing anyone any favours. I liken interviews to taking an exam. It's a one time shot; you do your research, you try to perform with some degree of fluidity and knowledge - but it really comes down to the day. You could always 'have done better' (whatever that looks like).

Now, not preparing is one thing, and you're right to feel a bit shit about that. But if you've put the effort in, you can't really criticise much more than chemistry between you and your interviewer, and your potential suitability for the agency. Like it or loathe it, but some agencies do naturally 'fit' people. It sounds a bit odd, and possibly a bit arrogant, but someone who works at AMV say may not get on half as well at a Mother or Saatchis.

What's more frustrating is when you feel you haven't done yourself justice, which was the nub of AC's post. When the words just don't come. When you blank. Again, i'd like to be able to say this won't ever happen again...but it does. The only solution is practice. Now, there are a host of mock interview techniques which might work for you. They never worked for me - I needed the real thing.

And, believe me (though, I imagine, most people are probably far better at interviewing than yours truly), there isn't a set process to guarantee a successful interview. There are far too many chaos factors for that, which i'll go through below:

1) Your interviewers

Planner? Account handler? HR? Each person's job role will entirely influence how he/she views you, and what sort of skills they want (regardless of the job that's advertised). Say it's an AE position - as a planner, i'd want to think that the person who's eventually given the job has the capacity to be strategic, to discuss client issues with me. I'm less bothered about your ability to get shit done - but for the account handler interviewing you, it'll undoubtedly be the first thing they look for.

And, of course, there's no way of knowing someone's mood. The seemingly cuddly planner could get shirky with you, and the old 'bad cop/good cop' approach that most account handler/planner interviewer combinations tend to go in for may not apply.

It's great if you can get your interviewers to like you, but it's not the be all and end all - some people, in a more professional capacity as an interviewer, like to be straight and serious all the time.

My suggestion to combat this is to not simply to learn the ads by rote, or try to stick to a script, or say a certain word/phrase in the hope it'll make you sound more intelligent. If you can demonstrate what you've learned and know in a different way, don't hesitate to keep it fluid and roll with the punches. You are, after all, a prospective junior in the industry. You don't know much - yet.

2) Thinking vs Feeling

A bit of an odd topic, but people do react in strange ways when asked to do things; just look at how unsuccessful many are when it comes to driving tests. You know what's coming up, but you can still bugger it up. A part of that often has a lot to do with wanting to impress. You want to show how much you you either do one of two things. Clam up, or gush uncontrollably. I was always in the more emotional, slightly gushy side of things.

And this approach leads your interviewer (particularly if you're going for a planning job) to think you've got no quality control, and will drum your clients into a corner of unmarshalled bullshit. Hell, it happens to me now and then.

The other, more stage frighty situation, often caused by not knowing what to say first, is also a bit of a problem. One thing to bear in mind, and of some consolation, is that your interviewer isn't accusing you of a crime or anything so serious. You're a graduate who's being drilled by some thirtysomething who DOESN'T have a handle on all of the issues. No-one knows the procedure, really. This isn't a scripted interview for a job at PWC, say - it's undoubtedly been thrust upon them by their superiors and they really aren't sure of the best candidate or just how to assess people.

It's made even harder by the ever-quickening pace of technology - what do people/new candidates have to know? Why? They are JUST as likely as you to not know what to ask - so why should you cram on every topic? There's no way of knowing, so know your basics and say what you believe to be true. There really aren't that many wrong answers in this situation.

3) The nature of the role

Whisper it quietly, but not all grad jobs are created equal. Some are advertised to fulfil a VERY specific client need (whether it's being 100% on a massive client or just providing more support) and others are more general than that, with an eye on the future of the agency.

Now, this will inevitably colour the sort of responses and candidates the agency's looking for. If some of the questions have a more category specific bent than the other, there's a fair old chance (if they've not told you already) they are recruiting for a very specific position in mind, even at grad level.

A word on the more specific job roles - the agency definitely needs someone who can slot in and hit the ground running, far more so than the atypical graduate job, which is part of the regular intake, and people slot into different parts of the business.

There's absolutely no harm in asking when you first sit down just what the role will entail, and on which client/s it'll be. Yet a lot of grads don't do this when it's a one off job that's been advertised, and I find it very peculiar. Perhaps it's just nerves again. Don't let those get the better of you - you'll have to ask questions of your clients in similar pressured situations, and this allows you to better 'control' how the interview's going to go.

I hope those three were helpful. Ultimately, if you've gotten to interview, you are undoubtedly good enough to work in the business. You just need to practice those interviews, go to as many as you can, and keep learning - there are often a lot of rejections before someone says yes, and I know - it's hard to hear when you've just come out of university with a good degree. Just keep plugging away.


Brian said...

Great post! Lots of great tips! I was wondering if you could give me some advice. I'm almost a year out of college and I'm currently working for small (very small) marketing group as an "account executive". However, my goals is to start working with a bigger agency. I have done schooling in account planning (and LOVE it) but I know it's hard to get planning positions at entry level. Should I apply as an account exec and try to work my way into planning? Or are there such positions as "account exec/junior planner"? Have you heard of such a position? Thanks for the tips!

Anonymous said...

Any insight for creatives at all please..? The best ways to get in or noticed? Or about forming a team? Or whether that's a necessity or not?


Rhea O'Connor said...

good post, Will.

JIM - Creative/Marketing/Creative. said...

Just stumbled upon this blog since while researching a proposal to overhaul a university's curriculum in advertising design.

I've hired (and fired) a lot of people and interviewed 10x more.
Here's my advice:
Every agency and every job is unique. Some openings are to do grunt work and never see the light of day. Some are for the next Messiah of Creativity to help save careers. Some have crappy clients and want to know your tolerance for putting up with crap. Others have a hugh quota of fantastic ideas to fill. Some need client contact. Some don't. Many hats...or specialist.

Not every job is right for every person. So, figure out what you are exceptional at and ask them what they are looking for. If they! If not, move on.

They will appreciate the honesty and guts. And less time will be wasted.

Know your audience. Know your benefit. Deliver it in a unique and compelling way.

Best of luck

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Lara said...

I had the opposite situation. I had an iris grad assessment day and thought it went really well. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I was really pleased with the day, and thought I was far more knowledgeable about the industry, had an advertising degree and relevant work experience than most of the others I was against. This obviously didn't work in my favour. The only criticism I got was "too creative" and "too quiet" in a group assessment. I've noticed that agencies go for people with different backgrounds and degrees, as it makes them 'interesting'. That's fine, but what about the people that are actually studying for it? I'm tempted to get a completely different career, then come back to advertising, so it makes me 'interesting'.

Lara said...

Also, found a good link for CV, cover letter, interviews etc on the recent Ogilvy Fellowship 2010...

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Creative thinking.. great post..