Monday, 9 November 2009

Five First Round Interview Tips...

Try to look less like an illustration than this guy. Via country_boy_shane. Usual rules apply.

We're right in the thick of advertising interview season. By now, first round acceptance emails and letters will be winging their way to those lucky few.

And it suddenly hits you; shit, this is all a bit real.

Well, as someone who's had more than a few grad interviews, I thought i'd share a few first round interview tips. Read on, Macduff:

1) It's likely to be pretty formulaic.

For all of the challenging questions you received in the grad application form, most of the real life interviews will follow a set routine. They sort of have to; you've still got hundreds of grads at this stage, and you need to have something straightforward to judge them on. How they usually go is to talk about you and your achievements/CV/answers in the first half, then talk about some ads (usually print), and what you think the message behind them is. There may be a few lateral thinking questions thrown in at the end (what product would you invent being a favourite), but many don't even do this. It depends on the mood of your interviewer/how engaged they are with you.

2) Good Cop, Bad Cop exists.

Now, normally, you'll be interviewed by a planner and an account handler. Sometimes these are in the same room, other times they are in separate rooms. Every now and then you might have two account handlers, or (rarely), a account handler and a HR person. Though the latter is fairly rare.

In the most conventional (planner/account man) situation, there will definitely be a good cop and bad cop. And, to be honest, usually the planner's the nice one, and the suit's the more tricky. (Of course, sometimes both are lovely). Why? Well, planners are interested in people who are lateral thinkers, and got into the job to find out about people. Don't be surprised if they just let you talk, then get excited, and you find yourself talking about something else entirely. Account handlers on the other hand - they want to make sure you can do the job, and will be looking for obvious reasons as to why and how you can do it. You're a raw material to both, but in the case of the latter, you're one they don't want to have to refine much.

3) You don't have to fill the silence.

I speak with real conviction on this point, because it's something I (still) struggle with. It's especially hard when speaking a lot and having a point of view about an intangible book or theory in University is positively encouraged. And, while there are rarely concrete 'right' answers in advertising, there are those which are nearer to right than wrong. You can easily go the other way if you talk too much. Feel free to ask questions too - let people talk, tell you what it's like to work at agency x or y. They won't mind.

If you find yourself talking, and wonder just what point you're making - it happens to all of us now and then - then shut up, or re-direct the conversation.

4) Know your ideas.

Most candidates won't know the difference between executional and campaign ideas. Most won't have a point of view which bears in mind why or how crap work comes to be made - a lot just like the ads on the telly. So know this stuff. Don't get me wrong, post-rationalising why an ad is a certain way isn't an exact science, but you should have an idea about just why an ad turned out a as it did.

Just don't do what I did, and slag off a very well known campaign, then get told 'you're not strategic'. Don't let your prejudices stop you getting through to the next round - christ, i'm a planner now, but just speaking my mind without thinking things through when I was a grad did for me. (You'll also end up working with those people whose ad you spoke about at some stage. It's sod's law).

5) Relax.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood had it right. Relax, don't open your mouth without thinking about what you've got to say. And, for God's sake, let your personality out. It's the only way you'll know for sure about whether (at this stage) you'll fit into an agency. Yes, it's just a first round interview, but if you can't be yourself/feel trapped, then the place probably isn't for you.

You'll just know this, I think. An interview situation is always artificial, and you may just not get on with your interviewer (Lord knows it happens - you're probably the 50th person who's made the same comment about the work). Despite this, you can usually tell whether you'd like working in a place - you can sometimes tell from the worried looks on the faces of the account execs hurrying around the agency.

Letting your personality has another advantage too - you may not think it, but I bet your interviewer is wondering what you'd be like to be stuck on a train with, or on a very boring conference call. Will you be someone who's interesting and interested, or will you be someone who bores the bejesus out of most people?

Best of luck to everyone going for their first rounders...


George said...

Great advice Will!

I wish you had written this post 3 years ago when I was a graduate.. would have saved me from a lot of angst and time.

Rich Clay said...

Very useful. Thank you.

Slightly off topic but I see RKCR have opened up their grad scheme. Deadline is 29th of Nov.

Thanks again for all the advice.

Will said...

Thanks chaps. I have put up two more grad schemes for your perusal..

BDY said...

Nice one Will. Good stuff.

Erika Vee said...

I've been to 3 pretty good agency interviews and THIS POST HAS REALLY HIT HOME FOR ME! I wish i googled this before my three interviews, and i wouldn't have wasted so much time figuring out WHAT exactly it is i was doing wrong. I know i'm not on the NO pile as of yet, but i'm sure i'm not in the DEFINITELY pile.. It's the casual manner and the good cop bad cop situation that throws me off! I JUST WAFFLE SO MUCH because i'm so used to structured interviews, that the the casual way about the advertising interview process always throws me off!

Kathy said...

Really great advice. Having questions to ask is always a plus as it demonstrates curiosity about the firm - rather than pure babbling of nonsense. :):)

Unknown said...

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Lauren said...

@Erika Vee

Know what you mean about the casual manner, I ended up inviting the heads of account management to a party I was going to that night! Obviously they didn't come to the party, but yes I'm starting to think I was a little too relaxed in my interview. Oops!

big suit said...

Good looking man! maybe someone could prove that mensitaly suits is good product for men..

Anonymous said...

I have a question. Every time I ask an agency what sort of dress code is required for the interview they always say . . . normal interview attire or 'smart casual'! Last time I went in a suit and tie, I was told I came across too 'businessy', though I don't know if it was completely because of the suit. So what should be worn to an interview at a marketing/branding agency first round interview for an account handler role? Thanks in advance.

Kenny Tee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

All this is well and good, but what happens if I have no American degree/ Job Experience; or even a degree in advertising? I just moved to USA from India and am trying to break into the industry.

I started writing when SEO had just begun and people used to generate articles that were just keyword dumps. It's been 7 years now. And I still need to start from scratch. I know things work differently here and you are literally 10 years ahead of us [We are still BIG on Print and OOH; just latched on to video], but I know I can bring a lot to the table. What advice would you give someone in my situation?

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