Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Thank You Note Can Help Kill A Job Offer

I am a big proponent of sending thank you notes after an interview.  However, sometimes it is better not to write a thank you note at all than to send a badly worded, misspelled or poorly thought out one.  Those things can kill an offer.

Many people misunderstand the purpose of a thank you note.  It is a polite way to communicate interest in a job.  It should thank the interviewer for his or her time and it should ask for the job.  But it should not be a selling document, per se.

The interview itself was for selling.
I believe that a note should be short and sweet, “Dear So And So, I really enjoyed meeting you and thought we could work together well.  I would very much like this job and look forward to next steps.”  Period.  Nothing more.

The only time more should be written is if the writer feels something was either left out of the interview or if more information has been uncovered (e.g. I just came across this article in the New York Times over the weekend and wanted to pass it on to you in case you missed it.).  

The one thing which a thank you note must be is short. As William Shakespeare   wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

That is why a hand written note is still appropriate.  And today they are so rare that a hand written note may well be remembered.

I recently had a candidate who literally over-wrote his notes to the several people he had met while interviewing.  His thank you notes to each were long and redundant.  He sent me copies and I cringed because each note was five or six long paragraphs, possibly longer than a normal 8.5” x 11” page. I knew without reading that they were way too long.  As another recruiter put it, it wasn’t so much a thank you note, but, rather, a thank you essay.  He explained in detail why he thought he would work well with the person to whom it was sent; then he went on to sell himself - for several paragraphs.  Unfortunately, these notes just reconfirmed the agency’s thoughts about the candidate - he talked too much. (I subsequently learned that most of the people he sent them to did not bother to read the entire email.).  While his candidacy was already pretty much dead, these notes put the nails in the coffin, so to speak.

Over the years I have had many candidates who were doing well on interviews and then the interviewing simply stopped and the process came to a screeching halt with no explanation.  Subsequently, I learned that he or she sent a bad thank you note with typos or misspellings or badly constructed sentences. (For unknown reasons, some HR people and hiring managers are reluctant to tell me about this. I have never quite understood why they did not want to share this information with a recruiter – I, too, would reject them.  Knowing this is important feedback.)

People have a tendency to get wrapped up in the message and forget about the form.  A thank you note, not unlike a résumé, is also an ad for the sender. The form has to be neat and smart. The message is a total reflection of the sender.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Beware of Using Unfamiliar Terms and Brands On Your Resume

Résumés are supposed to communicate what you do and what you have accomplished.  As I have written before, in advertising, when seeing your résumé the first time, all anyone wants to know is where you worked, what you worked on, how long you were there and whether you were promoted.  

I see résumés all the time with what I call “client speak” in them.  People use terms which are meaningful within the context of their own company or client but which have little relevance on the outside.  You must be aware of these terms and the fact that people don't necessarily know what you are talking about.

People from abroad often list unfamiliar brand names in résumés; they may be big and important in their country, but are unknown here and therefore meaningless in terms of a US job. You cannot assume that people who will see your résumé will automatically know what you are talking about.

One of the best examples of this actually happened to me. When I was an account person, I was telling a commuter friend that I was in the process of launching a new product.  He asked me what kind of “module” I was using.  I immediately replied that I didn’t think I should discuss it.  However, the truth was, I didn’t know what a module was. I had never heard the term. I called everyone I knew in the business and no one else seemed to know what a module was.  I finally called a friend at this person’s agency and asked him and he didn’t know either.  He researched it and called me back to tell me that it was a term used on this person’s account – in those days Coca-Cola at McCann-Erickson. It was client-speak.  A module was Coke’s way of describing a marketing roll-out plan; it was a term only used at McCann on Coca-Cola.

This kind of client speak is meaningless outside of that particular client, especially out of context. It does not belong on a résumé. When creating your résumé, you must be sure that it is understood by anyone reading it.

People who have worked abroad should not assume that everyone outside their markets knows their brands.  A lot of educated and sophisticated people do not know that Ariel is Tide in Europe.  I saw a résumé of someone who worked in England on BskyB.  I haven’t a clue what that is.  A small parenthesis explaining it would have been useful.  

That also  goes for smaller companies.  A small hot advertising agency in, say, Seattle, may be unknown outside of the market.  A parenthesis saying, “Seattle’s hottest digital ad agency” could go a long way towards getting you an interview.

In addition to unknown brands or companies, I see initials all the time which have no relevance.
Here are some terms and expressions I commonly see (all picked out of recent résumés I have received).  If you know what they all mean, you are better than I am. I can often figure out the initials in the context of the résumé, but sometimes not.

ATL, BTL, BAL, OCH, LOB, ITDM, SOV, 3BL, LOHAS, SME, ARPU, SOX, LATAM, APAC, Leveraged Marketing, Orgullosa.

I got an email recently from a CEO asking for an NED job.  I had to ask her what that was and when I was told, I am still not sure I know what it really means!

The issue here is that these terms and words are so familiar at work that everyone assumes everyone else knows them.  The best thing you can do is show your résumé to a friend or neighbor who is not in your business and ask them if they understand every term you have used. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Six Lies Told To Candidates While They Are Interviewing

Companies and hiring managers often don’t tell the whole truth to candidates while they are interviewing.  Often the lies are unintentional, merely a convenience.  For instance, when a person resigns and gives two weeks’ notice; the easiest thing to do is to dust off the old job description and use it without thinking of how the job (or the company) may have changed and evolved since the job was last filled. 

Sometimes the lies are told to try to quickly attract people to an open job.  Sometimes companies believe their own B.S. They really do. Like the president of a well-known sweat shop who told me, with a very straight face, that people at his agency were so turned on and happy that they actually wanted to work late and on weekends.

Here are some of the common lies I have heard. I am sure you can add to the list.

 Our clients loves us
We have heard this story too many times.   We can only guess that it is said because the hiring company or hiring manager likes the candidate and does not want to scare him or her off.

The truth is often quite the opposite.  Corporately, the client management  may love the agency, but it turns out that the brand or day-to-day people really do not like the agency or the work.  This clash between corporate and operations is very common and makes the account difficult.

We rarely work too late and we have summer Fridays off
I had one candidate tell me that a noted sweat shop actually said this.  The truth was people rarely left before 9pm, often worked in the office on the weekends and, while the office closed on summer Friday’s at 1pm, they were still there most Fridays at dinner time. And on the rare occasions when someone wanted totake the afternoon off, it was discouraged.

We are like a family here
Oh, yes, we all know that family. It is the one where no one talks to each other.

We have several candidates interviewing for this job
This is a favorite ploy of many hiring managers and human resources people when the candidate it is said to is the only one interviewing.  I suspect the reasons are two-fold.  First, they don’t want the candidate to know that they may have salary negotiating leverage and second, they think it gives the agency the upper hand when making an offer.

Business is really good
This has been said to many a candidate immediately following massive layoffs due to loss of business.  Worse still, many candidates have been hired to work on an account which is practically out of the door.  Often, people are hired to try to shore up a weak piece of business, but the new person is not told that the account is on shaky ground.

There is about 20-40% Travel
I once placed a candidate who was a newlywed on one of the largest accounts in the world. As an account supervisor she was told there would be a lot of production, which she loved, accompanied by twenty percent travel.  Once she was hired, she discovered that the account was in production virtually all year and she was expected to travel at least three to five days a week.  She left at the end of six weeks when she had not been home for a single weekend.

The truth is that there are lots of people who love difficult situations. They actually thrive on the adversity.  If a recruiter knows, they can screen for it.  If there is no recruiter, candidates should be told the situation on the first interview.  It saves a lot of aggravation later on. 

Being honest with candidates up front, saves a lot of problems down the road.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Creative People Are The Soul Of Advertising

I am shocked at the number of account people I see who never mention creative work or creative people they have been involved with.  I guess it is very easy to forget that the engine that runs all of advertising – traditional, digital, media, planning, etc. – is the creative department. Without them, the business doesn’t work. 

With few exceptions, creative people work longer hours than others in the business.  It is your friendly creative director, who, under deadline pressure, edits commercials until four in the morning.  It is the creative team who must have the work done for tomorrow’s presentation and they haven’t gotten enough input from their account group. Consequently, they are on their own.  As a result, and I am not supposed to be saying this, they create their own strategy to fit the brief and then they do the work.  And it is usually the creative team that presents the work to the client.

It is they who are standing in front of the room, naked, so to speak.

Writers and art directors are demanding, because, sadly, few account people fully understand what information the creative department needs to do their work. I once had a creative partner, who couldn’t do  anything until he fully understood every nuance about the company and the assignment.  Sometimes the smallest detail would affect his ability to do the work well.  But once he understood, the work was magic.  (I wrote a Tribute to Ned Viseltear several months ago.)  He really taught me, after many years in the business. how to motivate and work with good creative talent.

Creative people take pride in their work.  After all, the results of their work is the public face of the business.  It doesn’t matter if they can’t work without proper input. It doesn’t matter if the planner’s insight and direction is slightly off.  It doesn’t matter if the client pushes them to do less than perfect work. It is still their work.

Some creative people are more difficult than others.  Some are totally committed to winning awards at the expense of selling.  Some are just pig headed and some are both pig headed and brilliant.  

The rest of us feed the engine.  Our feelings matter less. I remember once working at a highly creatively driven agency.  The ECD (executive creative director) once said to me as I was going out the door with a portfolio of photographs from a shoot, “Don’t come back unless you get the client to buy our recommended choice.”  It was a really great comment because that portfolio contained his soul.

Media people just don’t feel the same attachment to their media plans.  Few account planners care as much about their insights. And account people learn not to have big egos attached to what they do.

Once upon a time, and it was a long time ago, the creative department was loaded with eccentricities.  Creative people had water fights.  They had dartboards in their offices. Creative people came in late to the consternation of clients (it still happens).  But all the while they were thinking about their craft and trying to make great work for their clients.

It may not be what the rest of us do, but it is the most essential part of the business.
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