How to screw up a job interview

I interview a lot of people. On average, I meet at least 2-3 people a week. I meet senior level people. And junior level people. I meet people on the way up. And people on the way down. All of these people are talented. They wouldn’t make it in for an interview if they didn’t have talent. Virtually 100% of the time, I’ve already looked at their work and liked enough of what I saw to have them come in and meet with me.

And yet, I still hire a small percentage of these people.

Why? Because the vast majority of the people I meet mess up the interview. These people make big, huge mistakes that make it hard for me to hire them. So, to make my life easier, I’m going to tell you the questions I will ask during an interview. You will still need to come up with the answers. I will even tell you why I’m asking these questions.

Ready. Here we go.

1) Tell me something about yourself.  Why do I ask this question? I believe an agency should be made up of interesting people. I like people with interesting backgrounds. People who do weird things on weekends. Who have unusual hobbies. Why? Because interesting people bring all of their passions to the office and its reflected in their work. Boring people do boring work. Interesting people do interesting work. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of boring people who do great work. But I play the percentages. I’d rather have an agency of interesting people.  So what does that mean for your answer? Don’t bore me with what I already know. “Hi, my name is Rich, I went to Temple University, I majored in journalism, and I’m hoping to find a job as a copywriter.”  That sentence is on a resume. I knew that already. Tell me something I don’t know. And here’s a trick. I have 107 blog posts on this site. If you read past posts, you’ll know the things I like. Perhaps saying something like “There are three jobs I felt I was born to do:  Be the Pope, be a guitar playing rock star, or be someone who changes the face of healthcare advertising forever.”  That’s a conversation starter. I already like you.  This is selling 101 — know your audience.

2) Why do want to join us?  Why do I ask this? Because you’re interviewing me as much as I’m interviewing you. Do your homework. We’re not the right fit for everyone. Don’t waste my time if you’re not sure you want the job. If you don’t know why you’d want this job, you probably don’t want it. And I probably will be able to tell. Find out as much as you can about us. Read industry publications. Read blogs and websites. Know at least 3 campaigns we’ve created. I love what I do. I’m passionate about what I do. I’m looking for people who are equally passionate. Make sure you know why you’re coming in to see me.

3) What’s your favorite campaign that you’ve created and why? Why do I ask this? To see if you recognize good work. What was the insight that drove the campaign idea. Do you know what the main idea is? Do you go immediately to explaining the execution and not the idea. Can you sell your own work. 90% of the people say “I love everything in my portfolio.” Yet, the moment I challenge something in their book, they say something like “yeah, that wasn’t my favorite campaign.”

4) Do you have any questions? Why do I ask this? I want to know what’s really on your mind. Always have 2-3 questions ready. Write them on a pad if you have to. But ask something. But never ask any of these questions: What’s the starting salary? How many vacation days to I get? What are the office hours? When and if we offer you a job, someone will discuss all these things with you.  When you’re trying to get the job, these don’t matter at all. (And by the way — the answer to those questions are on multiple job sites — so a little research will help you figure those out in advance.)

What are some great questions?  Why did you come here? What is a typical career path? What is your personal creative philosophy? Why type of person succeeds here? Was there a campaign in my portfolio that you loved? Hated? Would immediately remove from my book?  Those are all great. I like those.

At this point in the interview — if things are going well — we’ll have plenty to talk about. If things are not going well — we’ll have nothing else to talk about. If our interview ends long before our time is up – you probably blew it. If our interview goes long – you probably did really well.

That’s it. Now if you’re reading this and you have an interview with me in the next few weeks, you have no excuse. You should nail it. This is like going to take a test and knowing the answers.

Oh, and one last thing. I work for a healthcare agency. Not a general advertising agency. If you’re not interested in doing the best healthcare advertising in the world, please, please don’t come in for the interview. The shortest interview I ever conducted was with someone who told me they were not sure if they ‘wanted to do the healthcare thing.’ The interview lasted less than 5 minutes.

Good luck. I hope you get the job of your dreams.



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