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April 19, 2006
Your Book is Fine, It's Your Breath That's Bad.

(A Few Things to Consider for Juniors on the Job Hunt)

The process of shopping your book and interviewing for your first job is exciting. It's exhilarating. It's like navigating your way through a booby-trapped mine field with one leg tied behind your back. Having a decent book is not enough. You've got to have mojo, good manners, and curb appeal. If you want to increase your chances for leaving a great impression and getting the job, here are few points to consider.

Your shoes are saying nasty things about you. What you wear says a mouthful about you. Malcolm Gladwell noted that a potential employer can learn more in a 15-minute visit to a candidate’s home than through a series of interviews. Since CD’s usually don’t snoop through your apartment, they’re more likely to judge who you are by your presentation. I like to ask candidates to wear something to the interview that communicates about them, creatively. Think of it this way: You are your own brand. And you have the opportunity to sit across the table from your target audience. Everything communicates. How are you going to package yourself? Take pride in your shoes. Get a manicure. Clean your teeth. And ladies, what you wear to the interview is the same as creating an effective communication piece—too much information is not a good idea.

Do some reconnaissance. Know absolutely everything you can about the place you’re interviewing, and about the person interviewing you. Start by googling. Carefully review the agency's website. While I think this seems ridiculously obvious, it's interesting how many candidates don’t actually do this. If case studies are posted, read them. Fully digest the work, and remember who the clients are. The news section of any agency website is a gold mine. You can find out what accomplishments the agency may currently be proud of. Being well versed shows your true interest in the agency, and person, you’re interviewing with. It shows that you do your homework. You're about to enter an extraordinarily information- and ego-driven world. Opportunity favors the prepared.

Have a life. I ask candidates to bring something that demonstrates their creativity outside of the ad world. Short stories, screenplays, paintings, stand-up comedy—whatever you do, there is a place for it in your creative representation. Interesting people always have higher currency. If you’re not interesting—I would suggest fixing it. I interviewed a copywriter just a few days ago, and 20 minutes of the interview was spent with me on drums, the CCO on bass, and the candidate on guitar. It didn't say a lot about his writing ability and the music certainly wasn’t good. But someone who is spontaneous, interesting, fun, and adaptable, as well as having a nice book, was exactly what we were looking for. Yes, he got the job.

Write thank you notes. According to Emily Post, proper business etiquette calls for a thank you note sent on the day of the interview—for every interview, not just the ones you liked the most. I received my first set of engraved note cards and sealing wax when I was seven years old. I also learned how to curtsy correctly. While I haven't found much use for curtsies in the advertising world, I have certainly applied the value of a personal, handwritten note. Simply stated, a note is a gift. It is the embodiment of thoughtfulness and respect, captured with a pen. On paper. (You'll notice I didn’t say anything about typing and hitting the send button.) Like most CD's, I've given a good bit of time to portfolio reviews, phone interviews, and meetings with potential candidates. Sadly, over the past year I’ve received a proper thank you note from only one person. I did get a typewritten half-paragraph from another candidate, but since it was addressed to the entire agency, I dismissed it.

Everyone has genitalia. Everyone also has a brain. Why not show work that focuses on the latter? When I was in ad school, one instructor devoted an hour of class to, as she put it, "(not a very nice word for male body part) jokes." "Do them now," she advised. "Get them out of your system. Trust me, the sooner you can get beyond it, the better." When I review portfolios today, I file a mental X on the ones containing work that stopped at waist-level. The ad industry seems to be at capacity for butt crack, boobs, and poo-poo references. Smart is the new cool, in my opinion. If you must fill your book with allusions and innuendo, please-- make it toward something cerebral.

It's tough to make a good impression when your breath smells like a dead groundhog. A slice of lemon squeezed into a glass of water is fabulous for killing bacteria that cause halitosis. A Listerine strip works well, too, and fits in your pocket.

I once interviewed an unfortunate young man who told me I was a "peach." I did not hire him. On your quest for a job, you're likely to encounter many wonderful Creative Directors. Some could be so great that they make you feel comfortable enough to put your feet up on the desk. Do yourself a favor, and don't. No matter what, your interviewer is not a sugar, baby, honey, muchacho, or your brother from another mother. Be friendly, but it's a good rule of thumb to remember that your interviewer is not your peer or your new buddy. (And if you’re smart, you’ll keep it that way after you get the job.)

You've invested blood, sweat, and tears into your book. You've agonized over which pieces to include, and how best to package it. To be certain, it's what will ultimately be the key to your success. But it's equally important to make sure the indelible impression you leave on your interviewer is purely about your work and your charisma. And not because you had a hair sticking out of your nose, you didn’t know their clients, or because of that chunk of spinach in your teeth. Good luck!

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Buffy McCoy Kelly is creative director at Tattoo Projects in Charlotte, North Carolina. She's directed more than 60 commercials, won One Show gold and bronze, and was named one of 2005’s Top 25 Advertising Working Mothers of the Year and one of the “Up and Comers” under the age of 35 by Working Mother magazine and AWNY. She kickboxes, plays the drums, grows a mean peony, and always expects to have the door held for her.
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