Jeremy Carson is an Associate Creative Director, working in the advertising and design industries for over 15 years.
Your heart's pumping. Adrenaline rushing. Palms are sweaty. Knees weak. (Mom's spaghetti…)
You've spent weeks leading up to this moment. Hundreds of emails sent, and so many fewer of them received. Calendars are coordinated and booked. And now it's time for it all to happen.
Sitting down for an interview.
Are you ready for it? I bet you aren't.
Really, nobody is 100% ready. You'll always forget something you should've brought, think you should've said something you didn't, wish you didn't scratch something you scratched.
There's a lot about the formality of interviewing that people talk about, but there's so much more to it. Things that nobody tells you. But that's why I'm here.
So, let's go over these six secret tips to nailing your interview:
- Pre-Interview Research
- Phone vs. Video vs. In-Person
- How to Present Your Portfolio
- The Right Questions to Ask
- The Wrong Questions to Ask
- Post-Interview Freakouts
1) Pre-Interview Research
So, Nancy from, uh...let's call it "The Big Shot Agency" responded to your email about the job they posted. She says they want to chat.
Time to do some online stalking. But there's a fine balance between informing yourself and being an obsessive, overbearing high schooler with a crush.
- Who are their clients: Usually, this will be on their website, so do your research. Then look up some of the recent work and familiarize yourself with it.
- Who are you talking to: Don't get too stalker-y, but go on LinkedIn, find the Creative Director you're talking to, and at least know how long they've been there, plus where they came from.
2) Phone vs. Video vs. In-Person
Well, Nancy said that they need to do a phone or video call first. No problem. The reality is, most agencies will go through a dozen or so applicants before they bring anybody in for an in-person meeting. Phone calls are their way of deciding who fits on first glance. Just don't get ahead of yourself, bad or good.
- Phone: Find a quiet place to talk. (Not at your current job!) I've found the best place is in your car. Worst place: outside.
- Video: For the love of God, test your video chat service beforehand. Know how it works and have a stable connection.
- In-Person: Make sure you ask how long they plan on having you there, because in-person interviews may include parading you around to the team, or simply a talk with the CD.
- Dress Up: No matter what, dress business casual. Now, this is coming from someone who wears jeans, a t-shirt, and sandals to work every day. But throw on something clean and professional. It's ok to show your style, but don't go overboard. Ease them into the crazy.
3) How to Present Your Portfolio
To put it to you plainly, your portfolio is one of the least important things during an interview. If they didn't think your work was up to par, you wouldn't be talking to them.
- They'll ask about your work: "Tell me about your favorite piece" should trigger a specific project. If you followed my guide to the perfect portfolio, you already have a few featured pieces. They're the ones that let you talk about your specific talents and give some backstory to you as a creative.
- Go beyond what they see: But don't just talk about what's up on screen. Talk about the thinking behind it. How you came to that insight. What's something interesting about the project that they wouldn't get by just looking at it themselves?
- Come with your work ready: You should be prepared for them to not have any computer nor any wifi access. So download your work onto your laptop or tablet. And please, don't try to present it on your phone.
4) The Right Questions to Ask
Somewhere near the end of the interview, they're going to ask if you have any questions. Make sure you have some questions for them! It'll show you're actually interested in the agency and the job, and not just looking to talk.
- Ask about the people & culture: They probably aren't going to outright say the agency sucks, but read in between the lines and see how they respond. The mood of the place and the people you work with are just as important as the work.
- What's it like to work with the CD: If you get to talk to some of your potential teammates, ask about the manager. How they deal with concerns, reviewing work, availability, etc.
- Do they like the area: This is subtle, because if they know the area, it means they're not stuck inside 24/7. And if they explore the area together, that means the team actually enjoys spending time together.
- Are they excited about their recent work: Flip the script on them with this one and see what they're proud of. Plus, you'll get a sense of whether the people enjoy what they're doing.
5) The Wrong Questions to Ask
You want to get some info on the agency, but don't push it. Some things are not meant for the interview.
- Money: Keep the salary/pay conversation for the recruiter. The CD and their team should have nothing to do with that.
- Their future: An applicant actually asked my partner where he saw himself in five years. That's too much script flipping.
- Lost accounts: Don't focus on the agency's failures. Talk about what you could work on, not what happened to a former client.
- How they thought the interview went: Never end an interview asking if you did a good job, it comes off as needy and super awkward, especially if it didn't go well.
- Their contact info: Most people don't want to give out their digits to everyone they interview. Don't make it weird by asking.
6) Post-Interview Freak Outs
If you have a pulse, you'll probably go insane for a few days about the interview you just had. Did it go well? Did you smell bad? Did that thing you said come off as a fetish? Who knows?!?!?
The point is, it's ok to freak out.
Just give it a little time and you'll calm down. However, here are some things you can do:
- Send a thank you: At the very least, you've got the recruiter's email address, maybe the Creative Director's, too. The day after you interview, just send a simple, "It was great meeting you. Thank you for taking the time to talk." It doesn't assume they'll have to follow up with you, but is appreciative of their busy schedule.
- Wait a week before following up again: Just like that scene in the movie "Swingers" (Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn's cult classic), you don't want to call too soon or too late. After sending a quick "thank you," you should give it about 6 or 7 days before following up with the recruiter. They may still be interviewing people, or they might be ready for a decision. If they get back to you, wait another week before calling again.
- Don't be needy: Let's just say they decided not to hire you. It's okay to ask if they had any feedback about the interview. Don't ask what you did wrong or who they picked. But if you ask for feedback, there's a chance you could get it. Not a big chance, of course. And only ask once.
Be Confident and Accept Failure
You're going to go on a lot of interviews. You'll kill some and you'll get killed at some. You'll get great feedback and you'll get ghosted. There are so many different ways they may go.
But beyond the normal formalities and rules, these tips should give you that extra boost of confidence that can help you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Because you've got one shot. One opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment.
So, will you capture it? Or let it slip?
...because you weren't prepared.