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April 5, 2006
How to hire people when you don't understand what they do

There’s an old one-liner that goes: we wanted to start an anarchistic society, but no one would follow the rules. When we opened the doors of Ignited Minds in 1999, we had 15 people, covering all the traditional and non-traditional creative bases, plus Media. Within a few weeks, it became evident that we needed to start interviewing people across all disciplines. We're now 110 strong, and the interviewing has never stopped.

We interview each other's candidates because we're all working together on most jobs. We look for people who fit for our culture of cross-pollination, have a good sense of humor, and don’t take themselves too seriously. If we don't happen to know what the hell they do, or if they're any good at it, so much the better for a fun interview.

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard hires women who have already had kids because they’re thoughtful, respectful and kind. While those are the qualities we're looking for too, we're usually hiring their kids.

Tony Soprano hires specialists. He knows what he needs to have done and doesn't ask how everyone does their job. Quite the opposite -- he trusts the specialists to know what to do, and to work together to make things happen, or they'll be dealt with accordingly. This is similar to our way of doing things.

How do you know if the resume is real or perfume? Use your nose.

According to a recent study, 40% of all resumes have blatant lies in them. Usually the lie is an inflated level of education or an exaggeration of job duties. Now in our case, these are advertising and marketing people we're talking to. Something says the embellishment quotient might be slightly higher with this bunch.

Across from you sits someone who claims to really want to work for you, and it just so happens you have a position available that matches what their cover letter says they're really good at doing. How do you find out if this supposed Media Coordinator, Flash Developer, Event Manager, Strategist and/or Project Manager is any good when they don’t have a "book?" How do you know if they're going to work well with all your other departments?

Sniff around a little bit.

Turn over the resume and ask some real life, situational questions. Let them know you don't have a clear idea of who they are based on the resume. Tell them you're not even completely sure what they do, or how they do it, much less if they're any good at it. Ask them to explain their skills and how they would fit in with the rest of the company.

You want integrity? Ask how they'd tell you they really screwed something up. You want a good sense of humor? Ask them about their favorite Seinfeld episode. Respect? Ask how they act when someone ticks them off at work.

Then go with your gut. Like Malcolm Gladwell says in Blink -- We all have pretty powerful intuition to act on. If the person is not a perfect fit, you probably knew it within the first 10 minutes. In some rare cases, after you've gotten comfortable with what they say they do, they may actually say something that convinces you your gut is wrong.

Probably not, though.

Tales from the other side of the desk.

In the last six years, I've had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of the most interesting, creative, thought-provoking people. Their skills are often a mystery, and their veneer is sometimes impenetrable. They come from everywhere and do everything. I ask them to understand that Ignited Minds is different, and their difference will make it better.

Candidates have a river of passion flowing somewhere inside them, and you have a very short time to find it. The divining rod is the question. Not the one every other interviewer will ask them, but the one that makes them smile or squirm or laugh out loud or maybe look at you like you're out of your mind.

Look them in the eye, listen to their answers, sniff around for the truth about them and feel your gut. If you don't understand what they do, take a few minutes and let them teach you. The next interview will be better for everyone.

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Ron Gould is a founding member, Senior Vice President, and Executive Creative Director of Ignited Minds.

As SVP, Gould teams up with other senior managers to develop strategies to grow and expand the agency. He is vigilant about maintaining the highest level of creative and continuing IM’s culture of quality and fun, steeped in integrity and mutual respect.

Gould has a rich, 25-year history in advertising, including agencies Chiat/Day, Della Femina, and Saatchi & Saatchi.


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