Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Ideal Job Candidate

When I posted a couple of weeks ago about a candidate who was uncooperative, I received an anonymous comment that I should post about an ideal candidate as an object lesson for other people. And while I responded that there is no such thing as an ideal candidate, it is a very good idea for a post.  Thanks, Anonymous.

The best candidates for every job have certain traits in common.  They exude a love and enthusiasm for what they do.  They exude self-confidence (not to be mistaken as arrogance).  They have a genuine passion for what they do..  They are leaders and can demonstrate their ability to get people to follow them.  There are many more traits for great candidates but, for the most part, these traits cannot be learned; they are inherent in a person’s personality.

However, unfortunately, there is no such person as an ideal candidate.  One size does not fit all. 

Every job is different.  Every company is different.  A person who is right for a job at one company may be wrong for the same or similar job at a different company.  This by reason of background, interest, passion.  And a person who is ideal for one job at a company may be all wrong for another spot, even in the same group.  It is the reason why it takes weeks, sometimes months to fill a job.  Finding the right person is rarely an easy job.

Once upon a time in advertising, one could identify traits common with employees at certain ad agencies.  There were agencies which were strong in strategy, there were agencies where creative dominated.  There were agencies where media triumphed.  There were people who, when interviewed, exuded a certain aura which enabled a good recruiter to know where they should or should not be.  For instance, pre-TBWA, there was an ideal person for Chiat/Day; that person, no matter what his or her discipline (account, creative, media, planning), exuded passion for the business and an absolute belief that successful advertising was dependent on great creative work.  This was also true of those who worked at other creative agencies – Wells, Rich, Greene; Scali, McCabe, Sloves; Levine, Huntley Schmidt and Beaver; Goodby, Silverstein and many, many others.  In fact, there was a good deal of employee exchange among these shops.  I remember that there was a time when Deutsch had to make a deal with Kirschenbaum & Bond to stop poaching from each other because there were so many executive moves between these two agencies.

There were highly strategic-driven executives who could work at Ted Bates, Grey or J. Walter Thompson.  There was considerable movement from one to another.  But all these agencies are now mostly gone or have changed considerably. There were many agencies that were balanced between creative and strategy; Ogilvy & Mather was one.  

But now, for the most part, the big agencies have become homogenized by the holding companies through mergers.

The point is that up until about a decade or two ago, agencies had distinct personalities.  Those distinctions were the result of their unique cultures and management.  But, to use the term again, the holding companies have merged and submerged and homogenized their agencies to the point where one big agency is pretty much like another.  This is less true for smaller, independent shops, which tend to have maintained their distinct cultures.

Today, most large agencies hire first for their accounts and only secondarily for their agency.  Sure, there is a culture check for candidates, but it is less important than the account they are being hired for.  For instance, the ideal account person at Publicis on the Citi business is probably a very different person than the executive who would work on Swiffer. In fact, because Citibank/Citicorp is so huge, the person who works on the brokerage/investment part of the account is probably very different than the person working on corporate or retail.  And the person who works on Swiffer (P&G) may be very different than the person who works on Crest or Vicks or Bounty, all P&G.  They may share some common attributes like confidence and passion, but they may be different by training, experience and temperament. 

It also means that the culture of most of the big agencies is more muddled.  Per my examples above, there are just too many personality types within many of the large agencies for the culture to be consistent.  Every agency now says it has strengths in both creative and in strategy.  In fact, not surprising, agencies tend to try to be all things to all clients, which is why there is no such thing as an ideal candidate; someone who is right for one account may be totally wrong for another.

When I was an account guy, I loved working on different businesses.  At every agency I worked for, I was rotated on to multiple businesses over the course of a couple of years. My strength was that I was a problem solver. Unfortunately, I am afraid that is happening less and less today.


  1. This sentence sums up the biggest issue with most agencies these days: Today, most large agencies hire first for their accounts and only secondarily for their agency.
    Agencies have become churn and burn due to hiring practices along with client relationship choices. It's terribly unfortunate.

    1. Creative: If you read my posts, you know that I fully agree with you.m But maybe if all of us make the point often enough, agency management(s) will start to listen.fe

  2. Ah, yes. The Deutsch/K&B wars. When I was a wee planner at K&B, my boss once asked me, "do you know [name redacted]?" I said that I didn't know her. She said "good. She's the director of planning at Deutsch and I don't want her poaching you."

  3. Hey Pauly ... Just for fun and so you should know ... I was the "anonymous" guy who suggested you post a positive post about an ideal candidate. We need all the good and uplifting counsel you can provide in this negative environment of naysayers and doomsday scenarios. Bill

    1. Agency hiring culture pulls it's direction from the macro US corporate climate and sentiment: everyone is replaceable, don't treat candidates with TOO MUCH respect and there should be no tolerance for anyone that has an imperfect work record (and of course often times the hiring managers are hypocritical on this one).


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