Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Great Lottery...

A possibility.

Quite a few of you will already have had, or will be beginning to have, second round interviews. Congratulations are in order. You're past the first round stage, which is a massive achievement in itself.

And I thought it'd be a good idea to write some second round tips and tricks, whilst underlining the most important thing to take away from the whole experience.

The most important (and honest) thing to say is that it's all a bit of a lottery, really. If you've gotten this far, you'll be good enough to work in this business. You have the qualifications to prosper, you undoubtedly write well, and know what you're talking about. But the second round is ultimately like preparing for an exam. You prepare for ages, try to second guess what you'll be asked to do, but it comes down to on the day. You can think you've done incredibly well and still not get through.

Depressing? Perhaps, but it's not meant to be. You're in a situation which has many chaos elements, and i'll outline them. These points should hopefully help.

1) Other Candidates

You're surrounded by the sort of people who only have two things in common with you. Firstly, that they want a career in advertising (for the most part - some are dabbling), and secondly, that they impressed your interviewers well enough to be there. But they won't be the same as you. Oh no. Some will be loud. Some will be quiet. Many will have done vastly different degrees and have had very different experiences. I remember one of my second round interviews; one of the blokes there was a very promising acoustic guitarist, and preceded to sing a song half way through the day. Never found out if he got through.

But again, don't worry about it. What you can learn from the other candidates is a little about the sort of people the agency is looking for. Do you think everyone else in the room is a bit of a ball-breaker? Well, that might tell you a little bit about the agency's culture. Maybe they like the sort of people who'd sell their own grandmothers to make an ad. Or, are they all the sort of people who've taken up knitting at 22? Again, it'll help you learn what the agency wants. And this is useful when trying to understand whether you'd fit in - because, God knows, this is just as much about you as it is the place. There's nothing worse than forcing yourself to like a place and hating it from the outset.

2) The Tasks

Hopefully, this won't be like The Apprentice. But if it is, don't panic; again, it tells you something about the sort of place you might work at. I remember being asked at one agency to try and make something (out of selected materials) to stop an egg from smashing. Wacky, a bit mad, but interesting.

Now, this might seem very trivial, much like some of the more spurious and odd questions you were asked in round one. And it can piss some people off. I mean, who gives a flying fuck about keeping an egg alive? Well, there are two points to this. One is the crux of the matter - there's always a question behind this sort of thing. Why, in God's name, would you be asked about something like that? It's really to see how you react and how you think. It's a lateral thinking exercise; only in this instance, you're in a room full of people who're keeping an eye on you, and assessing your response and how you work with others.

Throwing your arms up in the arm and saying 'it's fucked', while possibly the correct response if this was an everyday situation, won't endear you to your team or the people having a look at you. That said, being entirely po-faced about the situation isn't realistic either. Having a chuckle and a laugh with the people who're in your team is the right sort of response. The second (but no less important) point is that you get asked all sorts of strange things in advertising. Things that make you wonder why you need a degree to have gotten onto the grad scheme, that your client is potentially nuts, and that bond you and your team together. That's just advertising, and the second round tasks are the start of realising that.

3) The Presentation

I'm not going to go as far as saying 'it's like a pitch', because you usually have something ressembling a series of facts to go from in a pitch. But, it is just as much a 'on the day' thing as a pitch. That really confident, brassy Brummie girl, who claimed to love presenting? Her freezing on the spot might happen, and often does. That quiet Swedish bloke? He'll come up with the goods when it looked like a stiff breeze might blow him over.

Don't rely, or expect the presentation to go as planned. Also, those people who 'win' the presentation don't always get jobs. It'll be a combination of how you work with your team, and what you've contributed to the whole day. There won't be one moment where you think you've suddenly cracked it. You never truly know. You can have an idea of just what the individual judges are after (based on their job role - the planner will be interested in the sort of insights you've come up with, the account handler will want to know how you promise to deliver it, and how it'll work moving forward), but there's always room for someone to charm the room with a captivating presentation.

4) Your Judges

Already alluded to in point three, the people popping in to see you are a funny bunch. You can't really second guess them. Is asking for help, or for their opinion a good thing? Do they expect you to be self-sufficient? (Well, in truth, nobody expects you to do it on your own, so don't be afraid to ask them what they think).

And that friendly planner who's been giving you advice all day? He may just turn into an absolute bastard when assessing your presentation, just to see how you react. And what of agency management, who (if my experiences are reliable) swan in towards the end of the day - not having been able to give up the whole day - and decide just who they like during the presentations? What's worse...they have the ability to overrule people who have spent the whole day with you. The best won't, mind.

How the whole bunch are with you will give you an insight into that mysterious thing, 'agency culture' too. No matter how friendly, shiny or spangly the website or rumour about them in Campaign might seem, this is where you begin to have an idea about them. Would you, in truth, like to work for them? Respect is key in this situation. Sure, you want a job in advertising; you don't want to work for a bunch of fuckwits who mistreat you and have egos the size of small planets. Don't go in with those kind of preconceptions. People are those who make agencies - they may once, for example, have been a great agency, but the people you meet on the day are those partially responsible for improving it and winning business. Do you trust them to help train you and make you better?

Some Final Words...

If rumour is to be believed, Sorrell, Bullmore and Steel (the owner, ex-JWT ECD/Chairman and WPP special consultant and the man who runs the WPP Fellowship) were all rejected by JWT on their graduate recruitment scheme. One now owns the entire network, the other was Chairman, the last is still called upon by JWT to help with pitches.

Personally, I was rejected by Lowe when I applied for a graduate job with them in 2005. I've just finished two happy years there. Being rejected from the graduate scheme doesn't mean you can never work in a place, or ever work in advertising. Sure, it's hard to take when you're used to achieving academically - but that's real life, i'm afraid. Keep trying, and you'll get in. Grad schemes aren't always the way in. Getting in is by far the hardest thing to do though.

If you're one of the lucky few who got through; congratulations. It'll be a helluva ride.


Rob Moore said...

Great post Will - very honest.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel as though I'm making great headway with the grad schemes. Can you suggest other routes of entry into advertising which I can look into?

Great posts by the way :)

Will said...

Rob - thanks mate.

Anon - I'll put up a post in January about other ways in. Until then, Merry Christmas.

It's worth noting that neither Sam or I got in through a grad scheme (though I started on the S&S Summer Scholarship).

Have a good one.

thomas said...

cheers for the info, didnt get through in any grad scheme, but will be applying for publicis in the next 24 hours!

Sarah said...

Thanks, as ever, for great advice.

I've got the second round for an agency coming up on Friday, and we've been told that it will involve a case study and an 'ad forum'- any enlightening words on either of those topics would be gratefully received! said...