Tuesday, May 28, 2019

What Interviewing Should Really Be About

This is a post that should be read by everyone at every level of business from junior to very senior executive.

People go on interviews for all kinds of reasons.  I posted that there is no such thing as an informational or networking interview; people who understand that are way ahead of the game.

Let’s start out by saying that when hiring, companies often hire a person who is very different than what their job specs called for and what they had initially conceived of.  Companies often refine their specs as they interview, which is perfectly acceptable.  It is for that reason that I am writing this post. Of course the obvious reason for interviewing is to get a job.  But it goes way beyond that.

The purpose of interviewing, simply put, is for the company and the candidate to gather information about each other. The more information you get, the better informed the decision you can make.

First interviews, generally conducted by human resources professionals, are for the purpose of determining cultural fit (personality and interests) and to make sure that the candidates they see have the skill levels that the job calls for. When a candidate does not get passed on to the hiring manager or next level, it is generally because of a lack of fit or missing skills.  (Rarely does HR rule someone out unless there is a valid reason.In this first interview, candidates should be able to find out a little about the job at hand.  But the real information will develop at the next level of interviews, usually with the hiring manager.  That is why I am always surprised when candidates see HR and announce to me that they are not interested, even if they are being passed on.  It is the wrong time to drop out.

Even after the second interview, if there is interest on the company’s part, candidates should pursue the job and meet successively higher levels of management.  If there are questions or unresolved job issues, those questions may be addressed by more senior people in subsequent interviews. 

Of course the purpose of interviewing is to get a job, but the objective of interviewing is to meet the most senior person you can meet.

The most senior people have the ability to address issues and even change the job to fit a job applicant’s needs if they like the candidate enough.  I recently published a post talking about the fact that résumés only tell part of the story.  I received a comment in which the person said that the senior person saw in him other attributes which were not evident initially and he was hired, probably for jobs he did not apply for.  That is reason enough to meet a senior person.

All business is filled with people who were initially hired for jobs or responsibilities that they did not interview for.  But this can only happen when the process continues to a logical conclusion with the most senior manager.

Besides, the senior person can influence subsequent hires and may even have friends in other companies to send you to if you are actively looking for a job.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

How Unintentional Bad Grammar Can Cost You A Job

We all know that a poorly worded cover letter or thank you note can cost someone a job.  The sad part is that no one will tell you that this is why you were rejected.  Years ago, I sent out a candidate for an interview and received a copy of the thank you note he sent.  In it, the writer made a common error, writing “you're” instead of “your”. In the context of the letter ("I want to join you're team"), this small error stuck out in a huge way.  Until the letter, the candidate had been doing well, but eventually I found out that this caused him to be rejected.

Poor use of language while speaking can also cause rejection.  Sadly, most people don't even know that they are using poor grammar.  I cannot tell you how many people do not realize that media is plural and medium is singular. I hear people say that they work, “in different mediums” or that they are "knowledgeable in all mediums". You never heard of a mediums agency.  It is actually a common error which drives me crazy.  But so many people say this that it has become commonly acceptable. I wrote about this in 2011.

People often misuse that and which in cover letters.  Ditto who and whom. In written communication, errors tend to stand out – unless the reader doesn’t know the difference either. I get many letters and emails addressed, "To who it may concern."

In speaking, people often use nonexistent words.  Irregardless, misunderestimated and anyways are commonly used words that many consider nonexistent.  Or when people misuse among and between when speaking (may be the most common error).  

Would use of these words prevent me from sending a candidate on an interview?  Probably not.  But could use of these words prevent someone from being hired?  Possibly, especially for senior executives.  Managers want their executives to be articulate.  It is shocking to me how educated people can misspeak.  

I would urge everyone to buy and own a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.  It has been on my desk since I first read it in high school. I have given it to dozens of people who have worked for me. And everyone thanks me for it. In my opinion, there has never been a better reference book on language and usage.  The Fourth Edition, updated and published this year, remains a best seller and is in every book store or, of course, Amazon.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Agencies Should Charge Their Clients Overtime

Last week I wrote about the absurdity of the hours ad agency employees work.  This post is an addendum.

Ad agencies charge their clients what is called a “blended rate”  (This is the combined average salary of everyone working on an account.)  It includes the salaries of administrative help, back office people, account managers, planners and strategic people and all levels of creative executives as well as management.  From my conversations with people in the know, this rate actually may cause agencies to lose money, since, ultimately, clients dictate the amount they are willing to pay; if senior people spend more time than estimated or agreed, clients do not pay accordingly.  Agencies accept the blended rate, even at a loss, because they are desperate for new business, especially the network-owned ad agencies. Under this system of compensation, there is always another agency that is willing to accept lower pay.

If a significant number of ad agency executives are working long hours on a constant basis, they should be paid overtime and/or given a bonus and their clients should be charged accordingly.  When I was discussing this concept with a senior executive, he reminded me that most executives are considered “exempt”.  Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), exempt employees are not entitled to overtime.  However, in reading the law, a company may pay exempt employees overtime or bonuses, at their discretion. 

If collected, this money should be passed on to employees who work long hours, either in the form of frequent bonuses or as pure overtime pay.

If ad agencies did this several things would happen.  Most important, clients would insist that their agency people work fewer hours so that they pay less to the agency. Paying overtime to agencies would result in happier employees and might reduce turnover significantly. In last week’s post, I told the story of one creative director who resigned over her long hours.  If agencies and their clients paid overtime and limited the amount of time that people had to work, it might attract more talented employees.  Which means that It might generate better work (contrary to some popular belief, when people are tired, they cannot do their best work). 

When I wrote this post last week, I received many comments from people who had left the advertising business for exactly this reason.  Long hours and low pay are not compatible.  I know that paying overtime or consistent bonuses for long work is only a pipe dream, but I wish it would happen.

When agencies were paid by commissions, profit margins were higher so agencies could afford to take care of employees who worked long and hard.  Not so much anymore.  Pity. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ad Agency Working Hours Are Absurd

Typically, most service companies – lawyers, accountants and ad agencies of all kinds – do not charge their clients overtime for executives. But in advertising, agencies and their clients (through their procurement departments) have abused this practice.  It doesn't matter if it is digital or traditional, they are all the same. There is no reason for agency people to regularly work ten or twelve hours a day – or more. Seventy hour weeks are not uncommon - that is the equivalent to holding down two jobs.

Traditionally, ad agency creative departments have worked long hours.  This is nothing new.  But today it has gotten worse. (This is also true of account people, planners and media executives.)
Clients pay their agencies what is called a “blended rate”.  This is an average amount of the estimated time for all people at all levels who work on an account.  It has almost nothing to do with real time costs, but by senior people working long hours agencies can bill more time; unfortunately employees do not share in this windfall.  It is an absurd system.

I know at least one senior creative director who was making $300k a year who left the business after working for one agency (for over seven years), but typically worked from 9:30 in the morning until close to midnight (or later) four to six days a week.  Prior to presentations, she worked seven days a week, often just napping in the office.  This is how agencies and the procurement people from their clients have gotten around proper staffing; On paper one person looks better than two or three.  In other words, one senior person working late and long is perceived to be more efficient than two people working normal hours.  The creative director mentioned above should actually have been making more money since she was doing the work of two or three people.  But ad agencies don’t pay that way since their clients dictate how they can staff and, essentially, compensate their employees. 

The way client fees are now managed means that clients are in charge of and actually manage their own agencies.  I wonder if they do this with their legal firms or accountants.

Law firms are legendary for paying people right out of law school $100k or more. Those people work impossible hours but the reward for long work is the possibility of partnership and big bucks.  Ad agencies, on the other hand, pay entry level executives $40-60k with the possibility of getting a 5-10% raise each year, if that.  That is one of the reasons why so many advertising people change jobs frequently – with each change they can boost their salary by a significant percent, an amount higher than if they stayed.  Since advertising, despite all the changes in the business, is still about creativity – at all levels and from all employees – not paying well and not offering incentives to stay makes absolutely no sense.

Creativity cannot be quantified or output measured by hours worked.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Yet that is the way that time sheets are analyzed; agency people are not paid for the ideas developed in the shower or while raking leaves.  Rather, it is almost as if the employee who works longest in the office gets the most accolades.  

In the Mad Men era, it was not uncommon for strange, fun things to happen at ad agencies.  There were many water fights in the creative department where everyone got soaked.  I remember one head of account services who took his account group to the movies during lunch on a frequent basis.  On shoots, the creative people would sneak in an extra day or two to relax, especially if they had to work for many days away from home.  Lunches could be long, with or without alcohol.  

 All this to promote and nurture creativity, relaxation and job enjoyment.  Can you imagine these things happening today?

I would love to hear your comments.
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