Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Five Things To Help Get A Job When You Are Not What The Company Is Looking For

What do you do when you have an interview for a job you are able to do, but do not have specific experience?  Maybe a friend got you an interview or it is with someone you know.  I have written numerous times about the bugaboo of category experience.  It is the bane of every advertising and marketing person.  Too many companies demand that new hires have exactly similar experience, which is why so many really good people get stuck in one category.

I have recruited for all categories of advertising and marketing people.  Some of the smartest, most strategic people come out of single categories – tobacco, pharma, automotive, alcoholic beverages, tech, to name a few – and they have a devil of a time transferring their excellent skills into other categories.  The irony is that many of these people are not only qualified by their previous experience, but may be far better marketing and advertising people than others who already have the category experience.

So what do you do if you have an opportunity to get an interview in another category where you have no experience?

Here are several ideas.

You must make connections  
It is imperative that you do your homework.  Telling an interviewer that you would like the job and that you can do it is not enough. It is essential to understand the similarities and differences between what you have done and what you might do. You must communicate and show that understanding. 

You must demonstrate that you can do the job
Once you have explained your understanding of the company’s needs, you must be able to show them that you can do the job.  Giving case histories and explaining how you solved problems and issues which are similar will go a long way.  A good example is a recent new business candidate who made a PowerPoint presentation about himself that demonstrated his ability to sell in a category he had never sold in before. It got him the job against competition who came out of the category.

You must show enthusiasm for the job and the category
Your attitude should be infectious.  You cannot sell yourself by droning on and on.  You have to show genuine interest – even in a preliminary interview with human resources.  HR people generally look for the people they are told to find.  You have to give them the ammunition and strength to go to the hiring manager and tell them to see you.  I can think of one pharma person who was up for a job handling a major brand of liquor.  He spent a weekend doing store checks and made cogent observations about the brand and the category. He presented his findings to the HR manager and did well enough that she tot him a second interview with the hiring manager.  It was clear he wanted and could do the job.

You must communicate your uniqueness and your ability to differentiate yourself
If you can show how what you have done in the past is relevant to this potential new job and you can give examples of what creativity you can bring to the party, you will go a long way towards getting the job.

You must provide the hiring manager with the comfort to tell his client about you
Unfortunately, FOC (Fear Of Client) drives many people.  You must give the people you are talking to enough ammunition to have the confidence to tell their client (or manager) about you.  One thing which works successfully is to ask what you can do that would demonstrate your ability to do the job.  Perhaps it is a continuation and expansion of the initial research you did (store check, perhaps).

Before being passed on to others in the interviewing chain, you should ask if you should adjust your resume.
I can’t promise that if you do these things it will actually get you a job, but if you do them and do them well, it will definitely put you into their consideration set.


  1. Excellent insights, as always.

    However, I might go so far to suggest that any candidate who is forced to deal with "HR people" as a first point of contact should consider disqualify the agency by wrote. In my experience, it's a huge "red flag." The overwhelming majority of HR staffers have never held *any* of the agency positions for which they are recruiting, hence their irrational demands for specific category experience at such an early stage of the hiring process often originate not from the hiring manager himself/herself, but rather from some bizarre corporate script that agency HR people are trained to follow. As always, interfacing directly with hiring managers through the recruiting process will yield a more successful result.

  2. @Anon: There are plenty of very good companies and HR directors out there. Senior HR people often do the screening, even on retained search. But you seem to be suggesting that the "irrational" demand for category experience comes from HR, which isn't true. It often comes from clients and hiring managers. I have written about this many times and, while it is unfortunate, it is a fact of life, even at very senior levels. My point is that no matter who you are interviewing with, no matter what level you or they are, you have to give them the ability to feel comfortable with you if you do not have direct experience. That comfort level will give them the ammunition to pass you along.

  3. Here’s the thing …

    If you’re a “junior” in the agency business and don’t have specific category experience, it doesn’t really matter, because you don’t matter in the short-term scheme of things. You’re being hired for intrinsic potential – to later unfold.

    But if you’re a “senior”, you’d better have it! Because no client wants to have to bring their agency’s top execs up-to-speed on the basics of their business.

    And then the question, whether junior or senior, is what kind of agency person. A Creative? Account Manager? Strategic Planner? Media, digital, or social talent? Project Manager? Whatever.

    Fresh and untainted (inexperienced) perspectives are always welcomed, but not really!

    Bill Crandall

  4. I am a senior and I moved to the US and I am having a hard time convincing the agencies that my skill set is transferable. I knew it was going to be an issue and an uphill battle. From my experience in Europe, and working closely with UK offices, I find it that US agencies are a lot more conservative in their hiring practices.

    I do get lots of calls... and at this level I can tell whether and interview goes well or not. However, I am then told they just couldn't take the risk of hiring someone with no US agency experience (btw, I have US client side experience, and I lived in the US for 10 years)... So since I am getting lots of calls, it tells me that there are not many candidates with my skill set, mainly leading integrated teams, digital teams and across many categories. Since in Europe the hiring is not based on category, we have the luxury to work on many categories which helps in senior level management. But, I find it rather odd, that while it is very clear on my resume that I do not have US experience, that I get the call, I move up the interview chain, but then probably a "safer" candidate beats me.

    From my experience I found that, the agencies who are known to be at the top of their game are calling me more, which shows that they are keeping their minds open to new types of candidates. But I still haven't found the one who is willing to take the risk. Like Bill mentioned yes, all of us are looking for fresh and different talent, but not really :)

    1. GB - Thanks for your nice response. You may want to look at my previous post on why foreigners have a hard time getting jobs in the US. Unfortunately, because the USA is so isolated geographically from the rest of the world, many Americans don't understand that people everywhere in advertising do the same things.

      Perhaps you need to do a short PowerPoint presentation on issues you have faced and how you solved the problems. These should be relevant to the people and problems you are talking to here. It may help to overcome the issue.

      Frankly, I think the lack of US experience is an excuse, not a real reason. But I am not sure what the problem is.

      If you require a visa, that can be a huge part of the problem.

      Good luck.

    2. Paul- Thanks for your suggestion. I will prepare a PowerPoint presentation that is relevant to the problems/issues here. As you pointed, it is almost identical to what we dealt with in our market. I do have work authorization so it is probably not that. Some of my interviews were through friends who already work at the agencies I applied. I also suspected "lack of US experience" is an excuse. So I asked for feedback from them.
      It was mentioned they needed someone to deliver immediately and it will take some time for me to understand the market. And they were afraid the client might not buy into it. We have all done it. Agency hiring is based on finding solutions to short term problems. With client and time pressures it is understandable.. However, that is the very reason of almost 30% turnover rate. I could tell there is a checklist when I am interviewing. Usually I am being asked "what" I have done. Very very few people ask "why' I do what I do. Why I am a good leader? Why I am a good client lead? Why I like advertising business? The good old, "my favorite movie, book, what else I do in life" is not asked. At the senior level I find this very very odd. I personally never hired before understanding what intrinsic value the candidate finds in this industry. Why and how are they motivated to do the job... I was more concerned about who they are, rather than what category experience they had. Some things cannot be taught... Everyone hires differently, I apparently need to find someone who thinks like me. Hiring is very much like dating they say :)
      Thanks again for your suggestion. I will let you know how it is received.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Dear "gb" commentator ... Unless the position you're seeking is global, you'd better know the U.S. market! That means knowing the differences between cities like NYC, LA, CHI. Or to states like to Florida, Texas, Oregon, North Dakota, Maine, or New Jersey. Or then, to Peoria, IL or Blackfoot, ID. Been there; done that too.

    The bottom line is that you have to get into the "weeds" of America to know the nuances of the consumer market(s). And that's why you're having no luck. Bill Crandall

  7. BC, You are obviously quite angry and it shows in your responses. I am not so sure you should be giving advice on this post.
    GB has had a run of bad luck and it has nothing to do with not knowing Blackfoot, ID et al.
    Thousands of foreigners get hired here every year, who may not know what the differences are among various cities, states and regions. And you are assuming they do not know, when they may well. In either case, this is not relevant to the post. I am an American with twenty seven years experience and have never been to Peoria or Blackfoot, which has nothing to do with my ability (or GB's) ability to get a job. A good marketer has transferable skills, which, I believe, is Mr. Gumbinner's point, and those skills need to be communicated while interviewing. Anything is possible. Take the case of Chairperson and CEO Indra Nooyi of Pepsico.

  8. Dear Anonymous (above) ... I am not angry. In fact, I'm a very happy guy and anyone who knows me would tell you so. Was just trying to help "gb" with a reality check. Any U.S. recruiter, especially a pro like Paul Gumbinner, will tell you that if their client wants heavy knowledge of and experience with the U.S. market and a candidate doesn't have it, their chances of getting an interview (much less the position) are pretty remote. It's not personal; it's just business. BC

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. GB: No need to remove your comment. I read it and agree with you. Please repost it.

      The reason why CEO's receive you better is because they have a breadth of vision and don't get hung up on immaterial and irrelevant facts. Keep at it. You will find a champion.

    2. actually, it is my laptop playing tricks this morning :) I reposted it!!! thank you Paul for all your support and compassion... People like you give me hope!!

  10. Hello again... it is actually great that we are having this discussion, although not related to specific "category" hiring. This is a live presentation the way most people think. I believe a smart person with the right fundamentals can do the job. Bill obviously thinks otherwise. And many people would agree with him. There are also lots of people especially way up that think US agencies are having major issues because of conservative hiring practices. Go to an agency in Hong Kong, there are lots of foreign nationals... UK, which to me is the leader in this business is again filled with foreign nationals. It is actually funny, you think that unless the job is "global" I cannot be hired, that I need a reality check. So how can someone sitting in an agency in London, or New York can run a global campaign over 20 countries, and that same someone cannot run a campaign over the US. I find it quite interesting that I get more answers to my emails from CEOs than anybody else. It might be that CEO level knows very well, other skills are more important in senior roles like mine. It might also be that any agency with a big brand has worked for or with a foreign national, or the client might very well be a foreign national . Please tell Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca Cola a Turkish national that he does not know the US market. (who is from my high school, btw)
    Also take a look at CEO and partner replacements at some agencies in New York. At least 30% are foreign nationals. I refuse to accept I have nothing to offer in an industry I worked in 17 years, with a US MBA degree. I have client, media and agency side experience. I just have to find someone who values other skills over market knowledge. If what you thought was true, McDonalds wouldn’t be sold in other countries. Good marketers can learn about new markets, because they always start from zero and assume they know nothing about the consumer. Consumers change and adapt and hopefully US agencies will also catch up with the times. This will be my last comment out of respect to Paul. Thank you again for your responses and your honest opinion. It helps to know that lack of market knowledge or category knowledge is a mental block that I have to address the most in my presentation.

  11. I forgot to add, I lived in the south for 10 years. I know more about Blytheville AR, Cape Girardeau MO-you should go to Lamberts there, they have great fried okras and throw rolls at customers-, Jackson TN, Oxford MS compared to some account manager in New York who only lived in big cities. I started my own business, import/export to support my MBA degree only to be told I didn't know about imports. Well, it was a multi million dollar business in 2 years. In that company owner position, I traveled the US with our sales reps. But that is NOT on my resume and has nothing to do with advertising. Maybe I should put my knowledge of small towns on there? It is an important point in this exercise though, there is a world outside Madison avenue...

    1. GB - I doubt that it belongs on your resume, but I would have to look at it. Why not send me a resume and I will look at it.

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