Monday, 13 August 2012

Guest Post: 'Getting In & Knowing Stuff'

This could be you...

Hi all.

As part of the start of a new influx of AdGrads writers, below is an account about how to prepare for interviews by Jen Meyerson Dubbin. Take it away, Jen:

“They aren’t going to expect us to know stuff, right?”
by Jen Meyerson Dubbin

Your blood is pumping. You are hopefully not sweating through your suit. You nervously tap your foot against your leg while sitting on a modern chair that was clearly chosen for design instead of comfort. After having applied to every grad scheme and junior position under the sun, you have landed an interview.

You’re an ad grad who knows their stuff. Your lecturers and professors have prepared you. You brought your portfolio of your previous work to show, and yesterday you reviewed pertinent materials from your lectures to refresh yourself.

You start talking to and sizing up the competition whilst you all wait for a chance to break into Adland. There's someone with a BSc in Biology from Edinburgh, BA in Medieval History from Cambridge, BA in English from Sheffield, and then there's you; an ad grad. When the group finds out you are an ad grad the whole dynamic changes to you versus everyone else. The guy from Cambridge anxiously asks, “They aren’t going to expect us to know stuff, right?” While the girl from Edinburgh reassures him by saying, “They know we aren’t ad people.”

This should be obvious, but make sure you prepare for your interview. When I went on interviews, I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t seem to think they needed to do anything to prepare. Yes, ad agencies do expect you to know about advertising. You aren’t being hired as an account manager or planner for your ability to make a decent cuppa - especially in this economy. There is nothing wrong with never having taken an advertising course, but that’s not a valid excuse to not know about advertising. You wouldn’t expect a lorry driver not to know how to operate a vehicle. No-one expects you to know everything and it's okay to be wrong. However, it’s essential to have an opinion - make sure you're more knowledgeable than a general consumer. 

There are several things you can do to prepare for an advertising interview. It might take a bit of work to get there, but knowledge is empowering and a confidence booster too. Obviously, I can’t cover everything in this post - those who've gotten in, please feel free to post additional recommendations in the comment section.

Knowing how an advertising concept works and having knowledge of a little bit of history is essential; especially if there is a team task involved in the interview process. Sometimes you will be lucky by being informed before the interview the type of task you will be given. Use that information to focus your preparation - for instance, I was in a team where one of members was trying to explain to the team that the target market should be as broad as possible when it should actually be narrow and specific to be optimally targeted. He obviously didn’t do his prep work and it hurt the team. In these situations, you don’t want to be the weak link in your group.

What's more, you should try to find out what the person in the position you are applying for does. There are a lot of websites and blogs that should have the information available (Linkedin, for example). If you can’t find anything, note that some agencies do have quirky job titles, so be sure to ask in the interview. Use what you learned to sell yourself by connecting your skills and experience to the position - most things you've done can be related to advertising in some way - you've just got to know what the job entails.

When it comes to research, look at the agency you are applying to online. You can learn about their agency culture, clients, current & past work, people, and history. You can also find information in trade publications and websites such as (e.g., IPA, Brand Republic).

Learn about other agencies. Agencies are brands with communication products just like Coca-Cola is a brand with soft drink products. Other agencies are the competitors of the agency you are applying for. You don’t need to do SWOT analyses for each, but basics like what they offer, who their current & past clients are, current & past work, and agency culture should have you well covered. In the end, you should be able to talk about what differentiates Agency A from Agency B.

Finally, when I set off in advertising school I thought Planners & Account Managers went to college and Creatives went to portfolio school, but the ad world isn’t like that. There are no extra points for having a communications and business background. No specific mold of what makes an ad person exists. 

Advertising is incredibly diverse. Some people have degrees while others don’t. Those who do have degrees come from a variety of disciplines. Regardless of their discipline, ad people are willing to put in the work to stay current and knowledgeable because they genuinely like what they do.