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Working With Great People Starts Before You Hire Them

Five Things to Look for in an Interview

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Over the past 25 years, I've interviewed (and hired) scores of ad folk. I don't think I'm naturally good at this, and I'm not sure anyone is. But active listening helps.

Perhaps planners such as myself have an advantage from their early qualitative-research training. But the biggest lesson from meeting with so many potential candidates over the years is the extent to which successful interviewing is a two-way process. The best hires are often people you feel you're working with already, just halfway into an interview, or less.

Here are five things I look for in an interview:

1. SHUTTLING FROM LEFT-BRAIN LOGIC TO RIGHT-BRAIN CREATIVITY AND BACK
People who can do this seamlessly can work well with great account people, great media people and great creative people. Of course sometimes we need to focus on one side of our brains -- and stay there for an extended period of time -- to brainstorm without judgment, for example, or to make a presentation's story arc so rigorously clear that a disparate roomful of people will track with it. But if you can incite a left-brained thinker to build new ideas out of his own logic -- or persuade a right-brained ideator to frame her ideas to inspire the most skeptical clients -- then you've got a clearer sense of how you can work with either.

2. CONSTRUCTIVE DISAGREEMENT
People are more comfortable agreeing than disagreeing; shared beliefs, passions and cultural context can help your team work together. However, we all know that the best people don't necessarily agree enthusiastically about everything all of the time. The best thinking is more often stimulated by the spark of disagreement. That's how I justify an interview obsession of mine: finding something strategic to disagree about. Will he just cave -- and agree with me? Or will he argue for his thinking? Will she be persuasive -- or lackluster? Will disagreement be constructive -- building on each other's ideas and getting to a more interesting place. Or will it be unproductive -- verging on the awkward or even the obnoxious?

3. CREATING A NEW PERSPECTIVE TOGETHER
Learning doesn't have to be the result of a disagreement of course. Do you find it easy to build on his ideas, and vice-versa? It should feel like you've already started working together. And if it doesn't feel that way immediately, try sharing a problem you're trying to solve and determine whether he approaches it differently than you. If you spend an hour with someone without learning anything, without creating anything interesting together, without looking forward to the next time you meet him -- do you want him on your team?

4. ADVOCACY OVER COMPLIANCE, EVEN WHEN CIRCUMSTANCES ARE CHALLENGING
Everyone in our business has been in a situation where circumstances dictated a less-than-optimal outcome. But how does your prospective hire describe that situation? Will he bring your company a spirit of passionate advocacy or of cynical compliance?

5. FRIENDSHIP
When I started in the business, a key hiring criterion was "Is this someone you want to have a beer with?" Now I work at a firm that believes "the brand with the most friends wins." Enduring, mutually-valued friendships are central to everything we do. So it's important to hire, and to work with, people whose company you'll enjoy. And especially people you'll enjoy having a drink with. After all, how can you make friends for brands if you're not good at making friends for yourself?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nigel Carr is senior VP-director of brand planning at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago.
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