Assuming that your job search is going at the same pace as this week's Advice for Newbies series, you've rehabbed your resume, built an entire professional network and have been invited into the Greener Grass agency to interview for your dream job.
Now, what do you do when the hiring manager pauses and says: DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR ME?
You know, questions that make you sound smart, savvy and incredibly in-touch, all while also soliciting meaningful answers that help you decide if this gig is the right fit for you.
My favorite agency leaders from around the country weighed in with what they ask and what they want to hear. Start scribbling these great questions down next to your notes on what you want to do in five years!
Melissa Harbin, Account Director, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
- What's the agency's real
agenda? To win awards? To get noticed in the industry? To advance
the client's business? To change consumer behavior?
Melissa's point of view: a 'yes' answer to all of the above would be lame and untruthful
percentage of the agency's employees are superstars?
Melissa's point of view: if it's less than 75%, maybe you should look elsewhere
Advergirl's point of view: This is my absolute favorite question of the bunch
Dirk Defenbaugh, Executive Director, Fitch
- How does your firm add value to clients in a very competitive agency marketplace?
- How will your agency be different in 5 years? How will you manage the creative process differently? How will you engage with clients differently?
- Where are the revenue growth areas for your agency over the next
18 months? What is the new business strategy to capitalize on it?
Dirk's point of view: I always think that strategic questions like these would be a bit of a surprise for a creative type or even new account people. It would set them apart from other candidates.
Pete Scantland, President, Orange Barrel Media
At OBM, we have employees ranging from graphic designers to guys
willing to repel down the side of a 20-story building to install a car
on the wall. So while the skills we look for are diverse, the attitude
we look for isn’t.
We want people who are passionate about what they are doing. I think good follow-up questions are generally inspired by the dialogue of the interview. Questions that demonstrate that you were listening (and comprehending) the interviewer show that you pay attention, are interested in the business, and can grasp concepts that will be important in your new job.
The best interviewees (and interviewers, for that matter) treat the interview as a conversation. Always a good question: how can I help? Always a bad question: If I get the job, can I take off next Friday? We’ll take enthusiasm over experience any day.
Gordon Robertson, Creative Director, MARC
- Can one person make a difference here? Can you tell me about someone who’s been hired in the past year that’s made the biggest difference?
- I know there will be curveballs on the job. What kind can I expect? From where might they come?
- Here’s one they probably should ask: I’m interested in continuing my
training, especially in (interactive, strategy development,
presentation skills, etc). Does the agency encourage people to
participate in training outside the agency?
Gordon's point of view: This is a good way to sniff out if training budgets have been slashed, and you’ll be expected to learn through osmosis
- My favorite one someone asked me was, at the holiday party, do people talk about what sucks about the agency, or who’s hot at the agency? (The uncomfortable truth was that we had cancelled the party that year – so that really sucked)
John Reid, formerly associate creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, currently footloose freelancer about to start a month at Chiat / Day
What accounts would I be working on?
John's point of view: If they say "everything," they mean "I don't know," or, even more likely, "the big, gnarly one that will probably torpedo your career," unless the agency has a reputation for chaotic gunslingery, in which case you very well may get to work on all of the clients.
- How's the department structured?
John's point of view: As a junior, you want a very "flat" structure--lots of creatives on one level and then just the CD above you. As a more senior person, you want a few layers so you can progress, get promoted and get more responsibility.
- What's your review process like?
John's point of view: Some agencies are very structured; they'll only do a review once per year, and give you a 0 - 7% raise. This is a bad situation. What you want is more along the lines of "no formal process" where you can go in and get feedback any time, spend the next few months working on that feedback, and then ask for more money. It's puts the onus on you, but it's worth it if you're an ass-kicker.
- I also like to ask "What are the account people like?" If you're an
account person, you should ask about the creatives, etc.
John's point of view: If people immediately badmouth the other department, that's a terrible sign that the agency is locked in an lame mindset.
- Okay, so those are the mature adult questions ad people should ask so the interviewer knows they have a head for the business. I have one other stock question I would always ask—and still do when I meet people I respect: What do you wish you knew when you were at my level? I figure, if all else fails and you totally bomb the interview, at least you can get some free advice.
- A little extra John point of view: One more thing: People get nervous in interviews. Often, that nervousness makes people talk and talk and talk. Don't do that. When you ask a question, wait for the answer. Give people time to think about the question. Don't "save" them when they don't reply right away by talking more. Learn to be comfortable with the silences that invariably happen in interviews.
- Why are you still here?
- What is your favorite piece of work or project that this company has executed in the last __ years?
- I'm curious... what did you think of 'Sony Foam City?' or whatever the latest cool campaign is... ---
- Are there any current campaigns that you feel are just stupid?
- I'm curious about your opinion on where you see the industry headed and how you see this agency fitting in...
- What would be your dream brand / project?
Joe's point of view: I really think it's just a matter of getting people to talk about themselves. Creatives and Advertisers ALL have opinions and if you can get them chatting about them then 50% of your work is done... now you just have to have smart somewhat relevant comments to keep the conversation going.
- What are two current projects you're working on that could really use this opening?
Ross' point of view: I ask this to get a sense of the work I'd do. Then I immediately follow their answer with explaining how I'd approach those two projects. It requires on the feet thinking, but I get to show them my thought process, which is key.
- How did you choose to come to XYZ Inc?
- Can I follow up with you via email?
- What are your plans for working with (CLIENT NAME)?
- Not a question, but important: GOOGLE THEM before the interview
Ross' point of view: Find out their past work history, personal interests, read their blog -- something to make a connection and understand them before the interview. Use what you find to fuel the conversation and make a personal connection. Just never admit you Googled them -- that can be creepy.
Julie Hamlin, Public Relations Director, Burkholder Flint & Associates
- I like to ask questions that tell me about the strategic direction and stability of the company, especially if it's an agency. Like, what types of new business are you pursuing?
- Or, what do you see as your core
Julie's point of view: It also helps you see where you will fit into the organization 5 years from now and what the company's growth plan looks like.
- Then there's always the ever popular, how would you describe
your company's culture?
Julie's point of view: It's perhaps a bit cliche, but still really important, especially if you're not a ties and heels kind of person or you don't work well in an organization with a lot of red tape.
Emily Peterson, Account Supervisor, engauge
- I like to ask what project they had the most fun working on (to date) and why. Once they start talking about something work-related yet personal, you'll feel more comfortable (as will they) about asking more specific questions.
Patti Cullen, Account Supervisor, engauge
- How long they have worked at the agency/company? If it is more than just a couple of years, the interviewer will likely expand on why they enjoy working there (the interviewee gets the positives).
- Another one would be…what keeps you up at night? Hopefully, they will respond from a work perspective which would give the interviewee the nitty-gritty side as well
Len Damico, Art Director, The Star Group
- What little thing(s) are you most proud of here?
Len's point of view: The big things an agency's proud of are usually pretty obvious: every agency's got the shelves of awards and accolades in the lobby, their client list prominently displayed on their website, etc.
But I think the small things they savor can be much more telling about the day-to-day life there. Maybe the employee softball team won their city's Ad Club softball league. Maybe they put together an amazing fundraiser for an employee's sick son. These things don't usually show up on the website or in the official recruiting banter, but each tells you a little something about the soul of a place
Advergirl's point of view: This is my second favorite. Working at an agency that prioritizes taking care of the planet, giving back through greater good, and, heck, sharing a free healthy lunch every day ... well, let's just say the details make all the difference
- How are you staying relevant?