Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Everyone Needs A Story

This post is for anyone who will ever go on an interview.  It is also for people who do the interviewing in terms of what to look for in candidates.

Knowing why you are interviewing is a vital component of every interview situation.  It isn’t enough to just be unhappy in your current situation. You have to be able to articulate what brings you to be looking.  Beyond that, you must also be able to articulate two other aspects of your work life: you have to position yourself and you have to be able to explain what you are looking for.  These three elements form what I call, "your story".  Your stories need to be true, totally understandable, believable and compelling.  When you leave an interview, even if the job isn't right for you, the interviewer needs to know who you are and what would be right for you.  Your story should make them want to hire you.

Everyone must have a story.  In short, you need to be able to answer one simple question:  Why should you be hired?

Knowing who you are is really important.  Understanding your own experience and putting it into an understandable context so that the people talking to you know what you bring to their party is a critical component of the interviewing process.  You should be able to articulate who you are and what you do in one or two succinct sentences. 

The first rule in interviewing is to know yourself and your own limitations.  Messrs. Jack  Traut and Al Reis in their seminal book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (mandatory reading for all advertising practitioners, no matter what your discipline)  have always lectured that the essence of positioning is sacrifice - their supposition is that no marketer can be all things to all people.  And no person looking for a job can be everything to everybody they interview with.  It is better to not be considered for a wrong job than not be considered for a right job if you cannot articulate why they need to hire you.  It isn't just about your experience, but it is about what you can do with that experience.  Just because you have handled a competitive brand does not necessarily mean that you can resolve the issues that a competitor faces.

I see lots of résumés with headlines or self descriptions which read something like: “World class sales and marketing leader”.  I just got one which said, "Driving revenue growth through development of high volume growth..."  Huh? That isn't even understandable English.  And while I am sure that people have worked hard and thought long in order to generate such a self description, it really offers very little unique information. In fact, when I see résumés with statements like this, I often skip over them.  Far better would be, “World class sales leader who resolves serious selling obstacles”.  Then you need to be able to explain those obstacles during your interview.

When I was an account manager at ad agencies, I used to position myself by saying that I was a “fireman” who could resolve serious client relationship issues by generating trust.  It was simple and accurate and allowed me to go on to explain what I did and how I worked.  I rarely didn't get offered a job I wanted.

Everyone at one time or another has been asked about their strengths and weaknesses.  And while I think these are poor questions by asked by inexperienced interviewers, you must be prepared to answer them.  But what I am talking about here goes way beyond that.  You have to be able to explain yourself and, at the same time, you have to be able to give specific examples of how you have accomplished your achievements.

In interviewing, past achievements are indicative of future potential (I will expand on this concept in future posts).

Beyond that, whatever you say has to be true – it is too easy to reference check someone’s claimed accomplishments.  Do not exaggerate your role in your achievements. But take credit for what you have legitimately accomplished.  At the same time, don’t underrate yourself – I have had many candidates tell me that what they had accomplished  was a team effort.  This response could be the kiss of death in an interview.

But most important, your story has to be believable and understandable.  Over the years I have had many senior (and some junior) executives come in and tell me convoluted and complicated stories about how and why they left a company.  The best rule of thumb when giving bad news is to keep it short and simple.  It is much easier to say that your account cut its billings and you were cut than to give a long, woeful explanation about how the account dried up and how your client wanted to keep you but your boss needed to make cuts.  Complicated explanations of agency and client politics are not only irrelevant, but confusing.  First, no one cares, but second, in the words of Shakespeare, “he doth protest too much.’  Why cast doubts when none are necessary?

The best way to determine if your story works is to practice with an objective professional or a friend who is uninvolved with work.  I have no issue with candidates asking me how their positioning and explanations work prior to an interview.  An essential part of my personal interviewing process is to brief candidates about who they will be seeing and how to position themselves.  I am sure that many other recruiters do the same.  This briefing is a perfect time to bounce your story off a the recruiter. And, if you are a candidate of mine and you have networked your way into an interview, I would also be happy to have you share your story with me prior to the meeting.

Everyone needs a story and, with practice, it should come out easily and persuasively.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Adventures in Recruiting: My First Conflict with A Millenial Mother

Last August I posted about parents not doing their childrens’ bidding.  It is nothing new.  As long as I have been recruiting, well meaning parents have contacted me on behalf of their children, usually to help them get jobs or internships.  I always tell them that if their children are really interested, they should call or email me themselves to set up an appointment.  Most do.  Some do not.  But that is as much as I ever deal with the parents.  They generally get it and defer to their son or daughter.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted on one of the social network sites to "friend" someone.  The person was a retired client of mine.  We had lost touch years ago.  Her friend invitation came as a surprise, but I was happy to hear from her and “friended” her immediately.  Little did I realize she had an ulterior motive.

Several emails later she asked me to see her son.  As I always do, I told her to have him contact me.  I automatically assumed he was a recent graduate.  I was wrong.  I received a nice email and résumé from him.  I was surprised to learn that he was in his late twenties or early thirties and had been in the business for a while.  OK, I thought, so his mother is being aggressive.  No matter. 

Then, three days before our appointment, he emailed and apologized for the need to change the date because of a conflict.  Not a problem; it happens all the time.  We arranged a new appointment.

That same evening  I received a lengthy email from the mother.  She went into detail asking to change the appointment (obviously not knowing that it was already handled).  She explained the agony her son went through because he was committed to seeing me, but this other company could only see him at the very time of our interview.  And so on.

Frankly, I was taken aback.  An email from a mother like this was a first. Once contact is made with the son or daughter, I never hear from the parent, except an occasional thank you email.  But then I remembered Marion Salzman’s  wonderful 60 Minutes interview in which she talked about the millennials and how their parents do much of their dirty work (if you go to the link, stay to the end).

I wrote back to the mother and suggested, as tactfully as I could, that her son was a grownup and it was not appropriate for her to interfere.   I assumed that was the end.  Instead, she responded to me that she was just trying to make sure I understood and, in essence, did not hold the cancellation against her son.  She went into great detail.  I didn't respond.  Oh, boy!

By the way, the son, on his own, seemed perfectly OK, but the question is, how do I evaluate him?  If his mother would do this to me, what might she do with him at work? Is this amusing, sad or just something to be ignored?

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Want to Brag

Most of you don’t know it, but both my kids are successful advertising practitioners.  Both are winners.  (I guess it runs in the family!  They are third generation advertising professionals.)  Both have received amazing recognition for their work.

Jeff Gumbinner runs a political consulting firm, Gumbinner and Davies.  Liz Gumbinner is a Creative Director at Deutsch and she is the publisher and editor in chief of a successful blog, Mom-101 and she is partners in two successful web sites, www.coolmompicks.com and www.coolmomtech.com.  They both have received amazing recognition for their work.  I an addition to all this, they are both full time parents, each with two girls.

Jeff’s firm won 13 prestigious Pollie Awards Friday evening, more than any other firm in the country.  Pollies are given out by the American Association of Political Consultants for excellence in political advertising.  If you want to see really good work, go to www.gdwins.com.  His firm is one of the top firms in the country for democratic campaigns and progressive institutions.  He is the creative genius behind their work.

Liz Gumbinner is being honored by AWNY at a luncheon on April 14.  The luncheon is called, “Game Changers” and she is receiving an award called “No Apologies”.  This award is great recognition for her work.  She will be with some rather impressive company at the lunch.  Liz really works four jobs.  She works full time at Deutsch, and she has her blog and two websites.

I  just wanted everyone to know how proud I am.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Training Programs Don't Teach Advertising

There are two kinds of training programs prevalent at ad agencies.  There are senior management programs which deal with advanced training, relationships and management issues.   This post deals with the other programs which are intended to deal with molding and shaping young talent.

A mid-level account supervisor called me and asked if she could come over to talk to me.  She wanted twenty minutes of my time to explain something that she was afraid to ask at her agency.  When she came to my office she told me that she was going on her first “shoot” the following week and she had no idea what her role was. 

She is a fabulous account person, well paid for her level and moving ahead quickly. I questioned her at length about her training and why she came to me for this issue.  Among other things she told me was that her immediate supervisor always complained to her about how boring shoots were and how she didn’t like going on them.  My candidate told me that she was told by her management rep/account director that the only job of an account person on a shoot was to baby sit the client.  Her intuition was that there was a greater role. And, of course, she was right.  Then it occurred to me that most people learn by the example of the people they work for. Too bad, because that is how people get into bad habits and the ones who don't have fabulous mentors may top out prematurely.

After my discussion with this account supervisor, I started doing a survey of some of the account people I regularly talk to. I was not surprised at what I discovered. It is not unusual that an account manager should be in the business for eight or ten years and not have gone on a shoot or even supervised print production. Worse, I hear from creative people that account people don't know how to sell or even how to effectively deal with clients.  Training programs have been cut to the bare bones and one thing is for sure, most agencies are not training their people in the essentials of the business. 

No wonder there is enmity between agencies and their clients.

Yes, there are training programs, but they don’t teach advertising or even proper behavior with clients. Many are merely lectures about things like digital, direct, some even show creative, but rarely discuss what makes it effective.. Training programs for account people largely deal with marketing problems, not with advertising. From what I can determine, most training programs are essentially either lectures or case histories – account people are paired with creatives, given a client marketing situation and then are asked to develop a strategy and executions. I am not sure what this really teaches

The case history method doesn’t teach about advertising and how to be an effective and successful account or creative person.  Agency people need to be taught how to function in their jobs.  They have to be taught what their jobs are.  They have to be taught the essentials of effective advertising.  And they have to be taught the difference between effective advertising (based largely on test scores) and good advertising.

One of my favorite stories is one that illustrates the issue of training.  It was told to me by a copywriter at a mid-size shop.  An account supervisor gave an assignment for the creation of a coupon FSI for a cereal.  The writer did a simple ”25¢ off….”  The client bought it, but just before production, the account person told the writer that the client wanted to flag the improved taste in the headline.  So it was changed to “25¢ off great new taste…”  Then the account person said the client wished to add that there was a new size.  The writer refused, telling the AS that they were asking the ad to do too much, even for an FSI.  It was one of those issues that blew up out of proportion and ended up in the creative director’s office – every account and creative person has been through this.  When the account person was summoned, the creative director said to her, “Don’t you know that there is too much being asked?  A good ad has only one thought.”  The account person’s response was telling, “How am I supposed to know that?”

This was not an inexperienced account person – she was in her mid-thirties and had been in the business more than ten years.  She didn’t know anything about advertising and what makes an ad communicate and sell. The creative director made a fabulous decision and changed their training program to cover the principles of advertising.  This problem exists today throughout the industry - we are not training our people in advertising.  I don’t think it is any different with creative people than with account people.  I know senior creative directors who have a devil of a time dealing with their writers and art directors who do not understand tonality and brand essence.

I recently heard a story about an account person who, at the end of a creative presentation said to the client, "Is there anything here you didn't like or that made you uncomfortable?"  OMG, that is some way to sell and it certainly showed no understanding of the business.  Imagine an account person saying that in the presentation when Bill Bernbach presented the famous Volkswagen "Lemon?" ad!

This is a problem which the business must solve.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Making Your eMails and Voice Mails Work Harder

Last week I posted about the evils of email.  But there are benefits.  I am surprised at how many people don’t really understand how to make email and voice mail work for them.

This is a short and simple post.

I hear all the time from candidates who are trying to set up appointments that they have been exchanging messages with a prospective interviewer.  They tell me that sometimes they go back and forth four and five times, just returning calls and leaving messages.  But they are not making any progress. 

Their messages simply say they are calling to make appointment.  And the return message simply says I am returning your call.

In order to make your voice mails and emails work harder, there is a very simple solution.  Leave a message with alternative dates and times.  The person you are trying to connect with will  return your call simply choosing a date or leave you alternatives when they call back.  It saves so much time and effort.

This doesn’t just apply to setting up appointments; it works with all your daily commerce. Be sure to tell people why you are contacting them and what you want to accomplish and provide them with the information they need to contact you, including all your contact information.

I include my phone number on every voice mail no matter how well I know the person I am calling.  That way they don’t have to look it up.  And it is always on the bottom of my email in my auto signature (everyone should have an auto signature).  When leaving a message or signing an email leave your full name.  You should not assume that, even if you have an unusual name, you are the only one that someone is dealing with (right now I am dealing with three candidates named Karen, but a few months ago, I was dealing with two different people named Keisha.).

This simple advice will improve communications between you and others and make your life much easier. 
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