So you want a job in a creative field. Who better to ask for advice than the people who have reached the top echelons of their respective industries?
A dozen leaders at a variety of agencies shared their best stories from the career trenches, and their advice pretty much boils down to this: If you really want the job, forget the standard resume-and-LinkedIn route and get, well, creative about it.
“Invent or design something fucking remarkable,” says Pete Favat, chief creative officer of Deutsch, the ad agency that made this year’s Mophie Super Bowl ad. “It’s about getting out and inventing and doing something. Start making immediately,” added his colleague Winston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch.
To one extent or another, everyone who participated echoed that sentiment: It’s about making good stuff. But then what? Below, we’ve compiled tips from top agency executives and recruiters for how to land your dream job in fields where creativity is at a premium.
“Anyone who can communicate and illustrate their abilities and an understanding of the value of creating something unique will always grab my attention,” says Richard Christiansen, the founder and creative director at the ad agency Chandelier. “I once sent a creative agency in London a rotary phone in a box and successfully landed an interview,” he added. To this day, he appreciates a good stunt. A prospective art director candidate knew Chandelier had worked on some Barbie projects with Mattel and sent a customized Barbie along with her resume; she now works at the firm. Christiansen has also received a T-shirt with a resume printed on it that read “just the right fit,” a model airplane, and an ice sculpture.
Even if a stunt doesn’t get you the job, it can help land an interview, at least. Glenn Cole, chief creative officer at 72andSunny, the agency he founded, wrote a letter to Dan Wieden every two days for four months while trying to get a job at Wieden+Kennedy. He also challenged Wieden to a one-on-one basketball tournament. “That didn’t work, but maybe it helped,” he said. “My point is, if you want it, show it.”
Now in the hiring chair, Cole appreciates bold gambits. “I’ve had a couple of people hack personal accounts to get my attention, which I find really clever,” he said. Some prospective candidates hacked into the file-sharing service WeTransfer and sent an email to every creative director at 72andSunny. The message looked like it came from Cole and had a link to the potential hire’s work. “I get you guys can do shock and awe, that definitely shocked me,” he said. Ultimately, the candidate didn’t get the job, but they’re on his radar.
For Chris Lange, creative co-chair at the creative agency Mono, gimmicks don’t work. “Show up with your 10 best things,” he says. Even for Cole, the stunts only go so far. “Getting the respect while you’re getting the attention is key.” Those guys who hacked his WeShare didn’t get the job because the work wasn’t great.
Of course, good stuff that nobody sees doesn’t really exist, does it? So how do you get it in someone’s face without a contrived scheme? John Patroulis, the creative chairman at ad agency BBH, suggests an aggressive approach. “You know how, on your first day in prison, you’re supposed to go up to the toughest dude in the exercise yard and punch him in the nose?” he says. Do that. “I’d figure out who was the most talented, most accomplished creative in my discipline at the agency, and send them my work. Tell them how much I want to work there. Beg them to look at my stuff. It’s risky, because like punching the toughest fighter in the nose, you’re asking for it. And you could go down. Hard.”
But if it works, it really works: “If you’re that good, and you knock him out, then you’ve got the best writer in the agency walking into the creative director’s office saying they’ve just seen an amazing writer’s book (or best designer saying they’ve seen an amazing design portfolio, etc).”
People who have worked hard to get to the top like to see people below them work hard. It’s partly a hazing tactic, but more ideas mean more good ideas. “Working with some of the top creatives in the industry over the last several years, I’ve learned that the best things don’t happen by chance; they happen by endless hard work,” says Jay Haines, CEO of Grace Blue, a recruiting agency for communications, media, and creative talent. “There’s nothing that annoys creative leaders more than people who vaguely, on a whim, decide they want to be a creative. To get your foot in the door at any creative company around the globe, you need to spend time building a body of work that you’re really proud of and one that demonstrates your desire and attitude for the position–you need to show blood, sweat, and tears.”
“A lot of times ad agencies make up problems that don’t exist and they execute against them–that’s a good way to drive us out of our fucking minds,” said Favat of Deutsch. One of Deutsch’s most recent hires is a man from Mumbai who put together an LED light installation to get men to stop peeing on a public wall. When men would pee on the wall, lights would flash and music would start playing. The public humiliation of the wall started to decrease public urination on the walls. “Just that there’s somebody thinking that way is something we’re attracted to.”
Here’s a quick and easy way to get a job interview at the branding agency Havas: “Anyone who contacts me on social media via Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr gets an interview,” says chief creative officer Jason Peterson. “I hire based on Klout score. If you can’t do it for yourself, you can’t do it for my clients.”
That seems a bit strict, but Peterson wasn’t the only one to emphasize keeping up with your personal brand. Izzy DeBellis, the chief creative and strategy officer at creative agency Naked, echoed Peterson’s general sentiment: “Start treating yourself like a ‘brand’ because you are a ‘brand,'” he said. “You have a new product launch: your career. You know the objective: getting your dream job. You know the audience: time starved, attention-challenged executives who make quick assessments. You know the single-minded proposition: you are awesome and will make any agency even more awesome.”