Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Asking For Typical Writing Samples May Not Accomplish Its Intent: Here Is A Better Idea

Many hiring managers ask candidates to send writing samples.  Some insist on them. They ask for creative briefs, they ask for points of view, they ask for recommendations.  In the days when advertising agency executives wrote whole marketing plans for clients, I had people ask me for a full marketing plan. I always refused because I thought it was unethical to give another agency that kind of document. Even today, if the samples which candidates are for departed clients or are in any way sensitive, I tell my candidates to blank out the client name if possible.

The problem is that asking anyone to provide a writing sample means very little since one never knows who actually wrote or edited the document. Often, anything submitted has been edited by at least one person, possibly even two or three. This is even true  at the most senior levels.  I used to write speeches for an agency chairman and I often wrote his point-of-view documents; he would then edit them, of course, and take all the credit.

Every creative director knows this problem.  Six or eight writers, art directors and producers may all have the same commercials, ads or content on their reels or in their portfolios.  When I was in advertising, my creative partners used to laugh when ads and commercials they created showed up on reels and portfolios sent by people hoping to work for them.  Often, this work came from people they didn’t know and who, to their knowledge, had nothing to do with the work they submitted as their own. 

Asking for a writing sample may not necessarily accomplish what it is supposed to. So here is wonderful way to judge how someone writes and thinks.

Many years ago, I worked with a brilliant account guy named Robert Schrijver.   He had a better idea.  He would still ask for creative briefs, points-of-view and other business documents, because they were necessary and relevant. But then he also asked for a personal letter.  That’s right, a letter.  He wanted someone to send him a letter they wrote to a bank, a store or someone else where they had a complaint or something else they wanted to happen.  He explained to me that there was a 99% chance these were unedited and represented the potential employee’s ability to articulate, persuade and express themselves.

I always thought this was a brilliant solution. It shows an unfettered sample of how someone thinks and articulates.  And it is about 99% unedited.  It is an unusual solution, but it is very accurate and compliments a business writing sample perfectly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

An Advertising Story: How DKG Didn't Get Mexico Tourism

This is a true story.  I was there.  And it was told at the memorial service for Shep Kurnit some fourteen or 15 years ago.  Shep ran a very successful creative agency during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Delehanty, Kurnit & Geller (DKG) was a fabulous agency which did amazing work and had majorly talented people there who went on to great success. This story is the diametric opposite of the story I told about how Carl Ally won Piper Aircraft

Shep Kurnit was one of the most charismatic and funniest people I ever met in advertising.  He had a big voice and a twinkle in his eye.  And he was always quick on his feet.  Always.  The agency, aside from being creative with stunning work, was a fun place. I have many stories from my few years there.

DKG made it into the finals of the Mexican Tourism Board account.  For unknown reasons, the three finalist agencies were to meet in San Antonio (don’t ask) for a final presentation.  We had already presented creative and strategy; this meeting was for the client to meet the full account team.  So a whole bunch of us flew to Texas.

The three finalists (I forget who the other two were, but they were both very big, very straight agencies) drew straws.  We were second.  We assumed we would get the business because our creative was excellent.

As I recall, each person in the room introduced themselves.  We each had a two minute, well-choreographed presentation.  As the account executive, I went first.

The Mexican Minister of Tourism was there with two of his minions; the room was a casual conference room of some sort in the hotel.  I remember all  of us sitting on couches and plush chairs.  When we had finished our presentation, the Tourism Minister looked at Shep and said that he had a question.  Of course, said Shep.

The Minister of Tourism said to us, but to Shep in particular, “If I give you our business, what will you do for me?”  But he said this with the universal gesture, rubbing his thumb against the other four fingers, in a sign of money.  Shep, incredulous, asked him to repeat the question.  He did and again rubbed his fingers against his thumb.  There was no issue as to his meaning.

Well, Shep being Shep, didn’t miss a millisecond.  And with a straight face, he looked at the Mexican Minister and said, “I’ll tell you what.  If you give us your business, we will give you back Texas.”  The entire room broke up. We couldn’t help it. The three officials from across the border didn’t laugh.
We immediately left.

Now, to this day, I cannot remember which agency got the account.  But I do know that whoever got the account did not answer the question in the same way!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How Many Jobs Are Too Many Jobs?

In this day and age, with a “rent-an-employee” corporate mentality, many candidates have résumés with what some interpret as too many jobs.  In fact, many good candidates often get rejected because a company believes that someone with, say, four jobs in six years, cannot be a long-term hire.

It just isn’t so.

No candidate should be outright rejected for this reason, at least not without a simple phone screening, especially if that candidate has been vetted and screened by a reputable outside recruiter or by a reliable friend or trusted employee.

Many companies, particularly advertising agencies, find it easier to simply lop off an entire account group - creative, media, account managers, planners, etc. - if an account is lost.  That is easier and less time consuming than actually evaluating people and keeping the best as once was done.  Consequently, many really good people find themselves on the short end of the stick - often multiple  times.

Also, there are some good candidates who get on a carrousel of failing companies or companies which run into trouble or companies that lose business or which are constantly in flux and reorganizing.  It happens. There are too many advertising agencies and other marketing companies who hire employees for a specific account or for a specific situation. If the account leaves or the situation is resolved, the candidate is often asked to leave through no fault of their own.  And their candidacy should not be judged based on this.

There is no question that some employees are job-hoppers.  Or they are perpetually a “consultant” which is often a cue that someone has been hired frequently and does not work out.  This can be evident from reading the résumé carefully or it can be easily checked during a routine pre-screening reference.

No question that a 35 year old with twelve or fourteen years of experience who has had eight jobs, has some issue which is indicative of, perhaps, instability.  But on the other hand, someone who worked at a company for eight or ten years and then has had three jobs in five or six years should be looked at more carefully. Perhaps those companies have or had issues, not of the candidate’s fault.  Perhaps their reasons for taking and losing those jobs are very valid and indicate nothing more than bad luck.

Contrary to some thinking, long-term employment at one or two companies is not indicative that they will stay at a new company for a long period.  It just may mean that the timing was right for them and the situations in those jobs aligned making sense that the employee should stay.  It behooves an interviewer to determine why that person remained at previous employment and to assess whether the new company can provide a similar experience. 

Many potential employers tell me that they are looking for long-term new people, but they have not really put into place either the opportunity, or the program to keep those new people motivated to stay.

(There is an opposite issue which I would like to mention.  Someone who has stayed at a company for twenty or thirty years may have stayed too long to be able to adapt to a new environment or culture.  That, too, needs to be carefully evaluated and explored.)

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that an average worker will have about 11 or twelve jobs in a lifetime.  Average tenure is 4.7 years. I am sure that in advertising and marketing the number may be higher and, more often than not, candidates are not responsible for jobs coming to an end.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Getting To A Four-Day Work-Week

Like all recruiters, I am often asked if I can find someone a four-day work-week; or five days but with one day working from home.  This is a very tall order and, unfortunately, it almost never happens.  At least not through a recruiter.  And generally not when someone is first hired.

Jobs in advertising and marketing, which work from home one or two days a week or which are part time, rarely happen with new and untried employees.  Ad agencies and consumer goods marketers seriously believe that their jobs and workloads require full-time attendance at the office. I have never had an assignment specifically for a four day week although I have very occasionally had a client tell me they were open to someone working from home one day a week.  But it is really rare.

In fact, once upon a time about twenty years ago, I remember a recruiter who hired someone to do nothing but work on part time placements for ad agencies. They were specifically interested in placing women who were on the “mommy track”.   It was during a period of full employment. Unfortunately, that I know of, the recruiter did not make a single placement or, to my memory, did not get a single assignment during the entire year that she tried.

In fact, over the years, I have had a number of candidates who have done well interviewing and come close to getting an offer when they drop the one-day-a-week-from-home bomb on a potential employer (and on me).  Employers universally react negatively to this suggestion. And it costs most of these people the offer.

Ironically, full-time jobs that work from home, one or two days a week, are not uncommon. Neither are four-day a week jobs.  However, they are reserved for women (particularly) who are fully trusted and are usually reserved for employees who have worked for the company long enough to build personal equity; where the employer knows and trusts that they will do whatever is necessary from home. As an aside, the women I know who have done a four day week, agree to work for four-fifths of their salary. However, many of them complain that on their day off, they tend to be working anyway.

I have no real advice as to how to obtain this kind of position.  What I believe is the best scenario, is to take a full-time job, work for long enough (perhaps four or five months) to the point where you are known, respected and trusted, and then try to gradually fade into the part time work, perhaps even starting with half a day home.  Once someone has proven his/herself, companies are more open to the idea.
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