20 intern interviews later …

Over the past three weeks, I’ve interviewed 20 intern candidates for our Spring creative internship program.  The maximum number of interns I will hire is 5. That means you had a 25% chance of getting an offer letter from my agency to work here and learn from some of the best creative people in the industry.

But the odds decreased with every interview mistake.  So after meeting students from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, The University of Delaware, Temple University and the School of Visual Arts, I’ve identified 5 mistakes that most of the students made and have to correct.

Mistake #1 – The portfolios are not ready for prime time.  The most common line I heard from the students I was interviewing was “I’m still working on my portfolio.” That line was closely followed by “I plan to work on my portfolio over the break.” I find these statements incredible.  You’re an advertising student. The entire purpose of going to school is to create campaigns and ideas to fill a portfolio. Have you not noticed that you’re graduating in a few months? When were you going to put something together? After all your interviews are finished?  The best portfolio had 1 or 2 good campaigns. The worst had none. Some had no campaigns at all, but a collection of images that were supposed to be ideas.  My advice: Get to work. Now.

Mistake #2 – The ideas seemed small. In many of the portfolios, I saw ads. From time to time I saw an app or a website. Once in a while there would be an environmental idea.  But the ideas seemed confined by the page.  There was nothing that was huge.  Actually, that’s a lie – I saw one HUGE idea but the creative team that worked on it never understood how big it was, and made it very small. Instead of a movement that could change the world, they made an app. But that was the exception. Most times I saw well-crafted executions without the hint of an idea.  My advice: Know why you’re doing something, not just what you’re creating.

 Mistake #3 – Typos, typos and more typos. Virtually everyone had mistakes in their work. Resumes with really bad typos. Campaigns that spelled the name of the product incorrectly. I even saw a resume that had the name of the college misspelled. I don’t know how many times I have to say this – hire a proofreader.  You can’t see your own spelling mistakes. Trust me, I know. I’m the KING of typos. Read virtually any of my blog posts and you’ll find a typo. That’s because I don’t follow my own advice. I don’t have these posts proofread before I add them to my blog.  But I’m not looking for a job. You are.  My advice: Everything needs to be proofread. Twice.

Mistake #4 – The work lacks passion.  This was the most surprising. These students get to choose what they create – yet there wasn’t a single campaign about something they were personally passionate about. I met dancers, photographers, custom sneaker artists, improv actors, horseback riders, competitive swimmers, and women’s rights advocates. And guess how many of them created campaigns about these passions. That’s correct, zero. I told them all to create a campaign for these passions. That’s because only they could create them. Nobody else has that point of view. Nobody else knew the subject matter as well. That campaign would not (and could not) appear in any other portfolio.  My advice: dig deep inside yourself and find that campaign that only you can create.

Mistake #5 – Bad Interviews. 50% of the interviews were awful. 25% were bad. 20% were just OK. 5% were good.  Do the math, 5% of 20 people.  Yes, 1 good interview. What made these interviews so bad?  Asking no questions. Asking really dumb questions. Wearing something completely inappropriate. Not knowing anything about the agency or the work we do. Pulling a folded resume (with typos) out of a backpack as if you’re handing in a homework assignment. Having nothing interesting to say. Being bored. Being boring.  The good interview was very different. We had plenty to talk about. I gave some advice about his portfolio, and by the time he sent a follow up e-mail, he had made the corrections. Great attitude. Great work ethic.  My advice: Practice interviewing. Do research. Don’t be boring.

I am making my decisions today on who to offer and internship. I may offer 1. I may offer 2. I may offer none. I feel really torn. The teacher in me wants to take the least prepared students so I can work with them. But should I be rewarding them? This is very hard.  You would think that it was easy, but its not.

If you interviewed for an internship, good luck. If you’re thinking about a career in advertising – please pay attention to these tips. It could really help you get the job of your dreams.

Happy Wednesday,



One thought on “20 intern interviews later …

  1. Hi stranger – Rudy forwarded the info re: the blog – great advice for the interns. I’m seeing the Mistakes as an infographic (get to work interns!).

    your ex-Chief



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