Why I Think Zach Canfield's the Zen Master of Advertising Recruiting

I Asked Him Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Job Searches

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Adrienne Waldo
Adrienne Waldo
It didn't take me long after meeting Zach Canfield to realize he's the Zen Master of advertising recruiting. As talent director at Goodby Silverstein, it's his mission to bring the most talented people in the industry to his firm and he takes it very seriously. After an hour or so of picking his brain for my own personal benefit, I knew I had to share his wisdom with the world. So I had the "brilliant" idea to interview him—which, come to find out, Ad Age already did this past summer.

You should read the June interview, in which Zach discusses hiring during the recession and how he goes about recruiting top talent. Then read my interview below, where I asked him some of the questions I always wanted to know during my first job search, but didn't know who to ask. If there's anyone you should take advice from, it's this guy.

What are the most important qualities you look for in an entry-level hire?

The most important qualities I'm looking for are passion and intelligence. Junior talent is incredibly important for shaping the culture and future of this building. While junior people might not have a lot of advertising experience, they bring a fresh perspective and new untainted energy into the building, which is critical for keeping us on our toes. They raise my game and that of all the veteran employees. I selfishly want to be surrounded by the smartest, most passionate people I can find.

In college, we hear a lot (and I mean a lot) about personal branding. How important do you think personal branding is in landing a job?

Honestly, it all comes down to the work for me. I've seen a lot of people who have good personal branding, but their work is painful to look at. Or even worse, their work is okay and the personal branding is way over the top.

I've also seen a lot of people who had amazing work, and they barely know what the word branding means. I'd rather hire that kid. My suggestion would be to focus on the work and have fun with it. If you want to do personal branding because it sounds fun to you, go ahead. But don't because you think you should.

We've all heard the horror stories about people not getting jobs because of inappropriate content they've posted on the internet. Do you Facebook-stalk people before you hire them? If so, what would you have to see—how bad would it have to be—for you to not hire someone because of their Facebook page or Twitter feed?

I do a lot of digging around for people on the internet, but I rarely ever check out people's personal Facebook or MySpace pages. That feels weird to me. But I have introduced myself to people over Facebook or even Instant Messenger if I can't find any other way to contact them. Recently I was looking on a debate forum trying to find some smart junior account management candidates. The forum was for the national debate circuit and most of the people who used it were pretty high-level, nationally ranked debaters. I had been talking with a candidate who I'd recently found and decided to see if I could find him in that forum. I ended up finding all sorts of incredibly shocking and alarming posts by this guy. I was so glad I ran into that site because it saved me a huge headache down the road.

Along those lines, are you more likely to hire someone if they have a strong social-media presence? Do you expect applicants to have a LinkedIn profile, blog, website or online portfolio?

I don't expect candidates to have anything, really. But I will say it's a little weird if you call yourself an interactive art director and you don't have a web page. A strong social-media presence definitely won't hurt—as long as it's not you being a prick in forums.

The most difficult part of finding a job is getting in the door. What makes an application stick out among the countless resumes that go across your desk every day?

I don't think the hardest part is getting in the door. The hardest part is doing great work. That's what we're in the business of doing, so that's what I want to see. If you're a junior copywriter, make sure every word in your cover letter is perfect and you love what you've written. Send me samples of things you've done that you're proud of. If you're a designer or art director, make sure your resume is buttoned up visually. Show me you're good and artistic.

It's cliché to say, but it really is all about the work. I look at dozens of portfolios a day. I look at every single thing sent to me. And ultimately it comes down to the work. Wrap it in a golden foil and have 40 virgins hand-deliver it, or just fold it into a paper airplane and fly it through my window onto my desk: Good work is good work.

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