Turn that creative job interview into a job

If you’ve been invited for a job interview by a creative director, you know they like your work and style enough to want to talk to you. Now they want to see if you’re a person they’re be excited to work with every day.

Give yourself the best chance of joining the creative department. Thoroughly research the advertising agency, their work and their clients, and prepare some intelligent questions to ask in the interview.If

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You're a graduate copywriter or art director. Now what?

Here’s the ideal situation. You’ve had your portfolio review. Perhaps a senior creative thought your book showed promise. They’re looking at adding a junior team to their creative department, so they pass on your portfolio to their creative director. Or, for a larger agency, their hiring manager. (If they like you, you’ll probably meet the creative director next time). The creative director gets his assistant to give you a call to arrange a meeting.

Don’t pour yourself a glass of Stella Artois just yet. You’re not the only copywriter or art director they’re talking to. An invitation to an interview is the first hurdle of many.

You might be doing the hard yards of making contact with hiring managers and creative directors yourself to try and get your portfolio in front of them. (Of course, use your ad school to help you get you in contact with agencies they have relationships with. Oh, and if you haven’t gone to ad school yet, our Ad School Buddy is the best way to decide where to go). You might not be given an job interview. Instead, they might ask you to freelance for a week or two. Many agencies like to try before they buy.

Some creatives even offer to intern after they have graduated as well. Creative departments, particularly prestigious ones, are difficult cliques to enter. You’re going to have a lot of work to do.

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What about creative recruiters and headhunters?

Creative recruiters and headhunters are important, but you’d be a fool to put your complete faith in them. They make their money by charging the agency a percentage of the first year salary as commission. 

You alone are responsible for your career. A recruiter can sometimes help, but only when it is in their interests. 

As a graduate that has never worked before, you are not a lucrative sale to a headhunter. Your salary is miniscule compared to creatives with more experience. Most likely, the recruiter is doing a favor to an agency they have an existing relationship with. 

If they get a great junior creative for the agency, they’ll get the call from HR when a more lucrative position comes about. An ACD, or a management position such as head of social for example. This advertising job interview they are setting you up for isn’t for the money they’ll get from you today. It’s for the future of their relationship with the agency. You have zero power in this transaction. Accept it for what it is.

By all means, talk to recruiters and learn as much about the hiring process from them as you can. But do not expect full concierge service from the recruiter as a junior. They are not in the business of helping you reach your dreams. You are only worth their time if they sell you and your portfolio quickly. And that is probably not going to be at the agency you were dreaming of working at.

As a rule, the best agencies don’t see the need to pay a creative recruiter or headhunter for an advertising graduate. They can send their senior guys out to visit all the major portfolio reviews and pick the cream of the bunch. But if you don’t find yourself picked in that first round of portfolio reviews, you got some hustlin’ to do.

A Creative Director will judge you from the first email you send.

You have to assume that every single thing that you send will be seen by someone important at some stage. So SPELL CHECK, goddammit! Make sure there are no clumsy double spaces or misplaced apos’trophes. And if you are writing to someone with a name like ‘Alex’ or ‘Jamie’, do a quick google search to make sure you’ve written to the correct gender.

Every piece of communication has to be professional, polished and well written. Do not waffle unnecessarily. Be punchy and succinct. Get to the point quickly and charmingly. If you have the ability to write with a gentle twinkle in your eye, do it. But don’t be a creative show pony at this point. It stinks of desperation.

More than anything, personalise every email. Don’t send out a form letter with names swapped out. 

There are plenty of other advertising graduates out there looking for the same job. Don’t be the one denied an interview because of a typo.

Research the agency (or creative business)

This might sound obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many advertising graduates ignore this step. More than a simple courtesy, it’s an important demonstration of how you approach your work. Are you the kind of creative who flies by the seat of your pants? Or are you a serious player prepared to interrogate the brief and learn everything you can about your client before the job interview?

At a minimum, you need to know in advance:

• How many people work at the advertising agency
• The size of the creative department
• How many offices there are globally
• The major clients that pay the bills
• The smaller clients that are the creative opportunities
The most recent awards won at the agency, and who wrote and art directed the campaigns
• The most recent pitches they’ve competed in and which pieces of work they won.

Go all the way back and find out what you can.

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Research the Creative Director

You also need to learn everything you can about the person you are talking to. First of all, ask your creative recruiter if they can give you some insight into who they are. Find out how they got to where they are. Did they produce an iconic piece of work at some stage of their career perhaps? Every creative person in the world is flattered when their work is remembered by someone. If you can say to the creative director “I’ve always loved ‘x’ campaign that you worked on” during an interview, you’re on your way to making an impression.

Also, see if you can find a photo of the Creative Director before you go. First of all, it guarantees that you aren’t going to mistake them for someone else. But it can also give you an idea of how they dress and present themselves. Now of course, you should always be true to who you are – but you would be smart to dial it up or down according to who they are. 

Does he have a smart haircut and a suit jacket? You might not wear trainers to the interview. Or does she have full sleeve tattoos and a nose ring? Perhaps you might let some of your inner rock ‘n rolla come out. I’m not saying to mirror them. That would be creepy. Just make sure that you look like you are going to belong in a creative department that they are running. 

Finally, see if you can find out where they studied. They were an advertising graduate once too, and they will have fond memories of that time of their career when they were just starting out. Talking about their portfolio school or graduate program, and how they got their start in the advertising industry is a great conversation starter.

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Pre-meet the Creative Director on LinkedIn

Don’t make a big deal of it. You are going to be looking at their LinkedIn profile at some stage of your research, so they might see that you have visited their profile.

It’s a good idea to request a connection with a simple note along the lines of “Hi (Creative Director), I’m (Your Name), a Junior Art Director. I’m coming for an advertising job interview in your office next Thursday. I’m looking forward to meeting you!”

That’s it. Maybe they’ll connect with you, maybe they won’t. But they’ll see that you have written, and will appreciate the professionalism. Perhaps they will visit your profile out of curiosity. On that point – make sure your profile is complete, active and engaging as well. This is a perfect chance to pre-impress the Creative Director with what you have been creating outside of your portfolio.

Word of warning: Don’t do this on Instagram, Facebook or any other social channel. That would be creepy. But since LinkedIn is business focused, it’s ok.

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Research the Creative Department

For an industry with hundreds of thousands of employees, the advertising industry is incredibly small. It’s worth looking through the creative department to see firstly if there is anyone you know, but also to see if there is someone who is a friend of a friend. This is the beauty of researching creative agencies on LinkedIn. You can see if any writers or art directors are connected to someone you are connected with.

Talk to your creative recruiter to see if they have placed anyone at the advertising agency before in a similar role. Also reach out to your portfolio school teachers to see if any of their past students are in the creative department.

You might be able to reach out with a short message asking what it’s like working there. If they write back and engage with you, perfect. Often during a talk with the creative director, you might be given a quick walk around of the agency. In this case if you happen to see that creative person you were communicating with, make a point of saying hello and shaking their hand. Don’t linger or start a long conversation. Just say hello and thanks for your advice, I really appreciate it.

You’re demonstrating initiative, confidence and enthusiasm. How could they not hire you?

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Questions to ask a creative director in your advertising job interview

There are some questions where the answer you get back doesn’t really matter. Rather, the questions you ask during the interview can reinforce your positive attributes to the person you are talking to. As you progress in your advertising career, you’ll find that colleagues are more impressed by smart questions than smart answers. 

Questions that demonstrate passion and ambition:

• Does everyone get a chance on the biggest briefs?
• What clients do you see as having the best creative opportunity

Questions that demonstrate a growth mindset:

• What skills do you think junior creatives typically need to work on?
• Who’s the best person for me to learn from in the creative department?
• How have previous advertising graduates performed in the agency?

Questions that demonstrate collaboration and team-effort:

• What’s the creative department’s relationship with account management like?
• Is there a good energy in the agency when a pitch is on?

Questions that demonstrate an eagerness to succeed in advertising:

• What do you look for in a junior creative?
• If you do indeed hire me, what goals should I set for my first year?

Questions that hint at your positive energy:

• Does the creative department hang out and laugh often?
• What can I bring to the culture of the agency?

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Strike the right balance between humility and confidence

If you’ve ticked all the boxes, you can still blow the interview with your personality. How an advertising graduate “fits” in an agency is incredibly important consideration. You are being judged on two competing attributes: humility and confidence.

Whoever is hiring you wants to know that you have the self-confidence to come up with a great solution to every brief. Having confidence in your own abilities is important in any field, and creative is no different. But without humility, your confidence can be interpreted as arrogance.

You are entering the creative department on the lowest rung of the ladder. You have learnt a lot while building your student portfolio. But you still have a lot to learn. 

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Say goodbye properly

Your time is up. The creative director says “We’ll be in touch”. Don’t blow it now. Don’t gush. Don’t act desperate. 

Be professional, and understand that they need to get back to their day. Nice firm handshake. A warm smile. “Thanks for the opportunity to visit your advertising agency. Hope to hear from you soon.”

That’s it. Let them go back to work with a positive impression of you as a person.

Can you pull this all off and get yourself the job? Yes you can.

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The final 1%

Just like any advertising campaign, it’s the final 1% that lifts a good impression at an interview into a great one.

Once you get back home from the interview, remember to write a sincere thank-you note to the person who set up the interview (if it is a creative recruiter), or the person who introduced you to the agency (your portfolio school teacher, or a mentor perhaps).

Give them a run-down on how the interview went. Tell them you think the creative director seems like a person you could learn a lot from. Describe the energy of the creative department and so on. 

It is far more likely that the person that set up the interview will speak to the creative director before you do. Give them some conversation starters to discuss about you. Make them feel that setting you up with the interview was a smart move. 

Not to mention that it’s just plain good manners to say thanks.

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