Avoid These Ad Agency Interview Mistakes

Ace a Creative Interview by Avoiding These Traps

Interview between man and woman

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When the time comes for you to interview for a new advertising job, you need to be prepared. Knowing what not to say is just as important as knowing what to say at the interview. In addition, tailor your portfolio to align with each specific role for which you are applying and research the specific agency, so you appear well-prepared and knowledgeable about the agency and the industry.

Show Agency Loyalty

If asked where you see yourself in five years, don't say "with another company." This is insulting and lets an employer think you're biding your time until you can leave for something better. Rather, you want to give the impression that you expect to work there for a long time.

In five years, you see yourself as being "a strong member of the agency, helping to steer and shape its direction and doing great work." Keep your eye on the prize, not the future. Never talk about divorce before you're even married.

Update Your Portfolio

If you work in the creative department, your portfolio is a key representation of your past and present work. It should contain your current work, past work, any awards, and printed or broadcast content. Think of it as your career in one portable case or handy website.

In the hectic world of advertising, it's very easy to overlook a portfolio, but it needs to be updated often. That great campaign you created 15 years ago may not be as impressive as it was at the time. Unless it's something classic like the 1984 spot, keep changing the content so it stays relevant, which lets your future employer know you've been busy and have recent work.

Keep your portfolio organized. That means having a logical progression throughout, even on your website, split into campaigns, with examples of each part of the campaign. Spec work is fine if it's great. Start strong, finish with your best work, and put everything else in the middle. But, everything else should still be good work. Remember, a portfolio is only as strong as the weakest piece of work. Be tough and cut the weak pieces.

Also, people's opinions differ—some will love your work, and others will hate it. While you should always be ready to take criticism, don't change your portfolio after every interview, and don't be afraid to defend your work. Sometimes, you will meet creative directors who take shots at you just to see how well you defend yourself. Remain confident about your work. 

Do Your Homework

Walking into an agency with little knowledge of their business is a terrible idea. Regardless of your busy work life and impressive portfolio, you must have current knowledge about the agency doing the hiring.

The interviewer is most likely going to ask questions directly related to the state of the agency. From current clients to award news and the makeup of the executive staff, your answers will show the interviewer how serious you are about getting a job with their agency.

You're not expected to know every last detail, but you should know the key players, what they've been up to over the last few months, recent headlines they have made, their major accounts, any other wins they've had, and anything else that could be brought up in an interview.

Study hard, pay attention, and be proactive in the interview. Be the one to bring up topics such as an account win, a new creative director or planner, and any big awards.

Dress Appropriately

Advertising is a creative profession where the dress code is likely to vary among departments. For example, if you work in the accounts, production, sales, or finance departments, you'll probably be fine wearing your best formal clothes, but you should try and add a touch of flair to be remembered. A noticeable tie, a cool accessory or hairstyle, something that says you mean business but also know what it takes to stand out. Advertising is all about presentation, and you need to make a memorable impression.

When it comes to the creative department, there are no rules. Some art directors and writers turn up looking like they've been on tour with a rock band for three months. It's fine, they're creative, they get to dress that way. Other creatives turn up in matching red suits. Again, no problem. This all depends on the department, and that relates directly to doing your homework about the agency. 

However, as a creative, turning up looking like an accountant with no personality will not do you any favors. Unless your research tells you otherwise, your creativity should shine through and not be disguised by a bland wardrobe. And yes, jeans and T-shirts are usually fine. But if in doubt, get feedback from creatives who already work at the agency.

Team Player

You may be asked why you left your last agency. Although you may be tempted, avoid all negative comments. First, it is unprofessional to badmouth a previous employer. Also, the hiring agency may feel that you could speak negatively about them as well.

Also, the industry changes quickly due to account losses, wins, mergers, and changes in the economy. Keeping a good relationship with your current employer, including the appearance of liking them, is vital, as you may easily cross paths again.

If anyone asks you why you want to leave the agency, reply with a positive answer, like that you want to expand your portfolio and experiences by working on different accounts; you want to expand you skill set at an agency that has different disciplines; or you want a change of scenery to stay fresh. 

Humble but Confident

Some people think there are tricks to use that get an ad agency to pay attention. The biggest misnomer is that egos are welcomed, even applauded, which is not true. Even if you are the best copywriter or art director in the country, you shouldn't be walking into the interview with that chip on your shoulder. Be confident in your abilities, but also know that you have more to learn. A little humility goes a long way.

Looking bored, yawning, or making any other gesture that suggests you want to be somewhere else will be regarded negatively. You want to be excited about the interview, even if your sole purpose is to network and not get the job. Also, don't suggest or assume that you already have the job. Maybe you are the best candidate and you know it. But you should always act like you are hopeful and confident, without expecting to succeed. 

Turn Off Devices

Human resource representatives often list answering a cellphone as the most infuriating aspect of a bad interview. If you're in advertising, you will rely on your phone more than many other professions. Many of your campaigns will be targeted digitally, and you will also have a long list of contacts, social media colleagues, and other avenues to explore through your phone. But disable your phone before you get to your interview.

Also, you may think that by answering an urgent call, or responding to an urgent text, you are projecting importance. However, an employer will view accepting the call as rude and poor judgement, which is likely disqualifying. The only suitable time to bring out your phone is if the interviewer asks for online work samples that you can show using your phone.

Practice interviewing tactics until you know them well. And in addition to watching your words and actions, organize your portfolio so it represents your career in the most favorable light possible, and research the agency and its people prior to the interview.