An Ad Agency Interview Primer. For Non-Agency Types.

Posted by Kate Jurras on Mon, Apr 4, 2011

Guest post by John Wolfarth, EVP, Director of Digital Operations, Mullen. When he's not interviewing candidates, John is helping multiple agency teams deliver the best digital work possible.This post is part of our Digital Works: Careers in Digital Marketing, Technology, and Media Series. This series profiles the skills and experiences that make careers in this industry exciting, and provides advice to job seekers from the area’s foremost employers and experts.

I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing lately. Not as the candidate, mind you. (In case any of my colleagues are reading this.) As the interviewer. Talking to folks about some of the many roles currently open at the ad agency where I work.

don draper resized 600As shops like ours become increasingly more digital, those open positions are increasingly more diverse.

We still need creative, account, and media people, of course. But we’re also looking for data analysts, game developers, and mobile strategists. Just to name a few.

These are the jobs that are helping to revolutionize what we used to call “advertising.” Yet many of these folks have never worked in an agency. Which is a good thing. We want and need these new experiences and perspectives in order to drive real industry change.

But to be a change agent, you first have to get the job. And that’s where I’ve noticed candidates without agency experience can stumble. They have all the intellectual knowledge needed. It’s the interpersonal nuances of agency life that sometimes escape them.

So, if you’re considering joining an agency, and your agency exposure has been limited to “Mad Men,” here are five things you should know.

  1. We think we’re funny. So we laugh. A lot. It can be at ourselves, at each other and at the ridiculousness of our business. (Does the world really need another Facebook app?) Most of the time, we think we’re more funny than we actually are. And we’re willing to laugh at that, too.
  2. We expect the unexpected. A guy in a bear suit walks through the office? No biggie. Need to figure out how to make a work boot lift weights? Bring it on. We thrive on the new and are addicted to the exhilaration that comes with making it happen.
  3. We wear our creativity casually. So don’t be shocked if, during your interview, you’re the only person in a suit. Or even with your shirt tucked in. Don’t get me wrong. Dressing up for the interview is important. But aim for “going out to dinner” not “going to court.”
  4. We’re proud of our work. Yes, sometimes too proud. (Have you counted the number of industry award shows lately?) That’s because we pour our hearts and souls into our craft. Doing some research into the agency’s portfolio goes a long way toward understanding our business, our culture and, yes, our egos.
  5. We’re jealous of other work. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to other agencies and their output. Fine, some of that is insecurity. But it’s also in an effort to stay on top of the latest thing. Be prepared to talk about marketing you think is cool, smart, and effective. Just please don’t reference Apple. Or Old Spice.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course. And our idiosyncrasies are certainly laughable. (See above.) But they’re ours. We’re proud of them, even when we shouldn’t be. And we’re eager to share them with a new generation of agency types.

Just think twice before wearing a suit to the interview. Unless you look like Don Draper.