When Looking for Talent, Don't Trust the Portfolio

I Once Hired a Guy Based Solely on His Music Playlist

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I don't hire people based on their portfolios. To be honest, most of them tell only part of the story of the candidate -- plain and simple. People have come in and out of our agency's doors with past work they think is standout, but more often than not I end up not hiring them. This is because they usually think they already know how to create great pieces of work, and they might want to copy what they've already done, rather than concepting and executing original work. I like to hire people who are hungry, instead -- people who may not have that much experience but are interesting, passionate and just want to do great work.

I once hired a guy based solely on his playlist. His portfolio was not great (it was actually really bad) but I asked him what else he was interested in, and he said he liked to make playlists. So I asked him to show them to me, and I loved them. Every one of them. He had a brilliant "Shitty Music" playlist divided into categories like Christian Rock, Chinese Pop, etc. I was impressed with what he put together, which showed a lot about him -- about his potential, his creativity, his unique look at the world. It was fresh and unpretentious, so I decided to give him a shot. He's now one of our executive creative directors.

Our industry already has a problem recruiting and hiring great talent, especially those who are truly passionate about advertising. We're losing them to what could be considered more alluring places, like Silicon Valley and the tech sector overall. This is an issue for the entire industry, and we're constantly asking ourselves: How do we continue to find the people who really love this industry as much as the Ogilvys, Hegartys, Wiedens and Drogas before them? And in lieu of enticing candidates in our world today, some agencies like R/GA already have a plan in place to invest in future talent so they're ready to hire entry-level professionals specifically for future needs, even if that job hasn't been created yet.

So, especially in this day and age, we must look at all of our individual agencies and see who are the standouts that would fit in best with our company's culture and ideas. Here are four questions you should ask yourself during the hiring process to help you look beyond the portfolio to determine if that person will be the right fit for the agency now and in the future:

1. Are they a cultural fit? This doesn't have to mean just within your office culture. Are they as culturally savvy as the rest of your staff? Do they have a good view of the cultural landscape, past and present? Do they bring knowledge of an area of culture your team is lacking? This will not only help determine if they're the right fit for your agency, but if they will also bring in some fresh ideas along with a new way of thinking.

2. Are they hungry? Drill down in the interview about what they will create, not what they did create. What do they hope to learn, technically and creatively? Are they willing to put in the work to become the best? What and who inspires them? This will determine who is ready to learn, grow and become your most passionate fan and team player, and it will give them a chance to show you what they're made of.

3. Are they fearless? I want someone with ideas who will scare me, possibly offend me, and show me new ways of looking at problems. Is this person going to hold back, or can they hold their own in an agency environment? Brands increasingly want to take risks, so as the agency, we'll need to be their motivators but we'll need the brave talent that will help us do that.

4. Are they interesting? What does this person have going on besides their portfolio? What else have they accomplished, where have they been, what are their hobbies and outside talents? Having those different interests and perspectives will help bring diverse ideas and personalities into your company, building a truly unique agency culture.

Asking these questions will help you determine who will be the right fit for your company and your company's culture. Measuring how great a person will be should not be solely based on their portfolio. It can be a good assessment of someone's talent, but a great portfolio doesn't mean they will fit perfectly at the agency. Similarly, a bad portfolio doesn't mean that they aren't capable of doing great work.

When you think about who we in the ad industry should be hiring, it's not always the people with the greatest resume or even a Lion under their belt. The people we should be hiring are the people who aren't afraid to take on challenging projects. They are the people who have no idea what they're getting into but dive in anyway -- that's when our best work comes alive. If you have great people, great work will simply follow.

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