So you really think it would be cool to live in California?

“Why do you love her?”
“Because she lives in my town.” 

This is one of those posts that makes me worry I’m going to come off as some cranky old coot. But I still think it’s good advice.

If you’re interviewing with an agency, and the person asks you what you’re looking for, as in like a job, or what you’re seeking in life, that’s really another way of asking “why do you want to come work at our agency?” So please don’t let your first answer be, “I really want to live in California.”

That may be true. California has its perks. But there are 1400 ad agencies in California. There are 26,000 creative companies. And there are 12.2 million available jobs, not including couch surfing. So answering that you want to move to California, while it’s a fine lifestyle choice, isn’t what your interviewer wants to hear. It’s one step above a shrug and a mumbled “Dunno.”

Maybe say something work related, for starters. You’re looking to go to a place that does amazing creative? You want to learn and grow? You just want to make cool shit? That at least narrows it down a little. It implies something about the why you and the agency you’re talking to are a good match beyond its physical location.


Q&A with Cecilia Gorman

Cecilia Gorman is Director of Creative Services for Oakley in Orange County, and Creative Career Management where she runs workshops and career development for junior creatives looking to break into the industry. With so many of our readers graduating and entering the job market, we though we’d ask her a few questions.

Q: What are you looking for in junior creatives?
A: Mostly I look for Individuality, Conceptual intelligence (lack of cliches and sameness), strength of design style (art directors/designers). I want juniors to be different from one another and allow me the variety to choose from. When they blend into one another, it is hard to make a choice.

Q: What is the most common mistake junior talent makes?
A: Not being daring enough to take a risk and stand out. Being cocky or presumptuous.

Q: What do you see when you look at the job market today?
A: I see a lot of opportunities for folks who are willing to try a different job market or a slightly left of center position. If you are seeking a junior job in Los Angeles with no openness for anything different, you are up against thousands of others. But, if you are open to other states, other related jobs you have way more choices.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing junior talent?
A: Competition definitely. Portfolio schools are getting stronger every day, graduating very strong candidates every quarter. That is your competition, so juniors need to keep finessing their portfolios and adding new, strong work even after they are graduated.

Q: What advice would you give someone about to take a first job?
A: Be humble. You are new, you are learning, you are at the bottom rung. If you stay humble and remind yourself you are there to learn as much as you can every day, you will climb those rungs quicker than others.

Follow Cecilia on Twitter here

How much should you be paid?

Most of us don’t like to talk about our salaries. We’re afraid we’re making more or less than our co-workers, which could make things awkward. And anyway, we’re more concerned about producing great work, right?

The problem is, the leaves hundreds of portfolio school grads entering the interview and hiring process completely in the dark. Making money a huge focus is a bad idea. But being ignorant to your market value is just as bad. So here are my two recommendations to anyone in this business:

1. Check out the salary monitor at It’s not complete, and it can be fairly general at times, but it’s about as accurate a tool as I’ve come across.

2. Continue to interview throughout your career. Even if you’re not interested in leaving your current job, this will help you be aware of what you’re worth. So when you finally do want a new job, and HR asks you, “What kind of salary are you looking for?” you can answer with confidence, and not just say, “Um…However much you can give me.”

Thank You

You probably know this (hopefully) and you hopefully already do it (probably) but, if not, this is something you need to know and do.

If you interview at an agency, write thank-you notes to everyone who interviewed you. 

Just a simple card or email (cards are nicer, emails work) that thanks them for taking the time. Maybe you mention something you talked about. It goes a long way, and it reminds them of you.

This means that when you interview with people, you might ask if you can have a business card or at least write down their name (spelled correctly).

Three Intangibles

Aside from a great portfolio, here are three things I look for when I’m interviewing someone:

1. A curious mind. I get suspicious if the person I’m interviewing doesn’t ask any questions. Our most recent hire, when he interviewed, asked me about our strategies, wanted to see a strategy, asked about the worst part of my job, wanted to know about the structure of the place, the process. He asked me about our client relationships. He asked me what was my favorite work out there. He talked about the kinds of classes he likes to take and his philosophy of always trying new things once. It said he was interested in growing and learning as much as he could.
2. Drive. I like to know that the person has had to work really hard at something. Maybe there’s a project that the client killed but they executed anyway because they loved it. Or a side project. Maybe they run a successful website or have started a business or invented an app. Maybe they run marathons or wrote and directed a full-length film. All of those things tell me that this person has the will power to accomplish things. 
3. Enthusiasm. Some people are more low-key than others, but occasionally I’ll have someone sitting in my office for an interview and I’ll want to reach over the table and feel their neck for a pulse. Creative businesses run on the energy of the people. You don’t have to be loopy, but it’s nice to, as my little league baseball coach used to shout at the outfielders, “look alive.” 

Are You Part of the Talent Crisis?

I think the interviews coming out of Cannes are just as interesting as the winners. They might be more important, too.

Here’s an interview with Ali Ali, the CD at Elephant Cairo. You’ve probably seen his “Never Say No to Panda” work.

He’s got some interesting things to say on talent. Granted, it’s an Egyptian view. Not everything he says will translate to job markets in Chicago or New York or LA. Or will it? Here’s one of his more interesting quotes:

“Agencies need to downsize…You can’t have a creative department of 40 people. I think that immediately means that 30 of them are not good.”

What do you think of that?

Interview Questions to Ask

Yesterday, Ad Age reported that BBDO Detroit will be closing in January, and is laying off 485 employees. Yikes. I don’t know any of them. But I feel for them.

Yes, the economy’s bad. But here’s the thing: BBDO Detroit is closing because is lost Chrysler. And that was its sole account. 485 jobs. Poof.
So when you start interviewing, remember: make sure you ask about the agency’s current, paying clients. Not just the fun pro-bono accounts and side projects they use to enter award shows. Ask everyone who the most important clients are and why.
Even if you’re winning Gold Lions, anyone who feels comfortable in a one-client shop is delusional. Even Wieden has lost part of Nike on more than one occasion.

Don’t Be That Guy (or Gal) #2

I feel like I shouldn’t even have to post this. Maybe it’s not a lack of common sense but just naive misunderstanding of how “laid back” and “cool” the ad industry is. When you’re looking for a job, or applying for a job, or interviewing for a job, or heck, anytime–don’t be an idiot online. Almost every company will do a background check on you, by which I mean Google your name. And while ad agencies might be more forgiving of those wild party pics on your Facebook profile, why chance it?

If you’re going to blow a job opportunity, do it the old fashioned way–in the interview. Set your profiles to private while you’re looking. Or better yet, don’t put anything on any site ever that makes you seem like an idiot. If a friend of yours tags a photo of your bare ass hanging out in their “Fun Times At Albany Bowl Sat Night” album, kindly ask them to pull it down. This goes for interns too. When you work at an agency and become BFF on FB with all the folks there, then return to school, a year’s worth of drunken photos and mobile status updates about how wasted you are at In ‘n Out can start to undo a summer of responsible hard work. Just the way it is.

Here’s a fine example. Job offer –> Stupid Tweet –> Poof! No job offer anymore.