There's this guy walking by me right now. Aimless, hands in the pockets of shorts that are too short and too tight for a woman, much less a man, to wear in public. His posture tells me he's not sure why he's walking the direction he's going. Just killing time. Now that's a star employee if I've ever seen one. See how I made judgments about this guy based on very little information? This is how people get hired in this business everyday. I don't know who that guy in the too-tight shorts really is. I just know I don't want to see that much male thigh, so he can't be too bright.
So how do we figure out in a small amount of time without really working with someone if they're brilliant or a bust? I think over time I discovered people that can present problems and people that can help you succeed fall into very definite categories.
1. Dorothy: This person usually lives in a bit more of a fantasy world than most. They're on a journey to some magical place that is going to make all of their advertising wishes come true (fame and fortune). The irony is that the Dorothy type has another personality beneath that is quite reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West. They're idealistic about how easy it will be to achieve fame and fortune. After all, they deserve it. Hard work and self-examination is not high on the list. They tend to become a little flustered when you tell them they need to work harder or maybe something they think is brilliant has been done several times over the last 20 years.
So listen to them when they talk about themselves and their work to find out if you're dealing with a “Dorothy”. She'll say things that make it apparent she has unrealistic expectations. That's not necessarily a reason not to hire this person, however. If she doesn't hand you a list of her “demands” before she will take a position with your agency (actually happened) she may make a good employee. But let someone else break her in. Dorothy's can make good employees after a job or two. Like the original Dorothy, she may come to realize success in this business is not a magical gift, from a little black bag. So let others break the news to Dorothy that she is still in Kansas.
2. The King of the World!: Many of the candidates I see from the ad schools are in their late 20's. Their story goes something like this: They got out of college. Got a job in advertising. After a couple of years they realized they really hated being in media, or account service or the production studio. They borrowed 40 grand, went to one of the portfolio schools and put a book together. (This is not the “king” type. I'm getting there). These people are under a huge amount of pressure. They feel behind and they are now in serious debt. Their parents probably have made more than one comment on their career choices. They need to hit pay dirt and feel good about themselves again. Most make very good employees.
Within this group lies the “king.” The person that believes they are much further along than they actually are in their new capability. The ad schools have a steady stream of “kings” flowing toward us. They want to pick up where they left their career even if they may have been an account executive before they decided to come to the dark side. They believe their salary, should pick up where it left off. I even encountered one “king” who asked for a salary based upon what they would be making if they had never taken their hiatus. Unlike “Dorothy” I don't think “kings” have much potential. I find most are “kings” because they've always been “kings”. Blame the parents.
3. The Retiree. The “Retiree” is transparent about his intention to take a load off. His first statement usually goes something like: “I'm really interested in relocating to (your city, as long as it isn't New York).” This statement is almost always followed by, “I've been in the business a long time and I've done it all: write, art direct, direct commercials, plan, etc.” They always have awards in The One Show, or similarly respected competitions. When I open the portfolio that can literally smell of mothballs, I discover those awards happened too long ago to matter. The scary part is the “Retiree” isn't always long in the tooth. Sometimes they're just someone who's ready to cash in. Somewhere along the line they decided that life in advertising is much easier in a small, slower-paced market. Little do they realize they'll have to work harder. No longer will they have the support team to do everything for them including making sure there is toilet paper in the restroom. If you're looking for a CD beware of the “Retiree.” They can hurt your business by not wanting to work very hard. Not to mention all of the stories of their glory years you and yours will likely here. Unfortunately many of us that are getting longer in the tooth get lumped in with the “Retiree”. So remember old guys: It's not about your resume, your awards, your experience, or that pencil you won 1988. It's about what you do today and want to do tomorrow.
4. The P.O.W. I'm always sympathetic to the young creative who is stuck in an agency that is the equivalent of a creative black hole. Some suffer through and find their way out fairly unscathed. Some crack under the torture of the hack-loving agency and become angry. That anger is something you want to discover before you hire them. POW's come across very passionate and motivated, so you are initially very excited about them. Then some anger comes out about their present situation. If you do pick up on the anger you should be honest with them that it's showing. Sometimes POW's just need to be shaken awake, not rejected. They may not even know they're angry. However, take care and be thorough. A ticking time bomb is not something you want to inherit. You don't need to have someone venting pent up rage on your undeserving staff.
5. The Lamprey I once had a summer intern who was a bloodhound when it came to find the juiciest project in the agency. Like a lamprey who finds a salmon, he quickly attached himself to the creative team working on it. Before they knew it, he was on their ad show credits.
The lamprey seems like a really good employee. They interview well. They are very passionate about the work. They have a great book. But once hired, they will suck the life out of creative people very quickly. Your staff begins to resent them and the agency that allowed them into their concept sessions. This “lamprey” is a very slick. They know how to smooze. They seem to be hanging around to soak up how things are done. It doesn't take long for the “lamprey's” co-workers to realize they better hide from this guy. It's hard to recognize the “lamprey” until they're in the agency. The best you can do is keeping them in their cage. They'll see they're nothing to eat and hit the door soon enough.
6. The Diamond-in-the-Rough. For my small agency the “diamond” is only one I really look for. They offer the most ROI. I love the diamond-in-the-rough. They are the most amazing employees an agency can hire. And yet they are frequently over-looked by agencies big and small. To find a diamond buried in the dirt you have to really look closely. They're rough on the surface. They need polishing.
Their work will be okay and in some cases, mediocre. They're young and a little insecure, though they may come across confident when you speak with them. You must look into a person's soul to see if they're a diamond. If they are, here's what you'll see.
Desire beyond reason. Humility about themselves and their work. Evidence of a healthy work ethic.
Hiring a possible diamond-in-the-rough is definitely a gamble. If they don't have the gift, all of the desire, humility and hard work won't make their work great. But if you're right, the payoff is huge. So you have to roll the dice.
All of the above seems so obvious. None of us should miss the mark when it comes to hiring great people. But we do every day. Why? We want a silver bullet. We want to hire people that will instantly bring us success. And here's the kicker. Most bad hires look like silver bullets. So look close and remember. There are no silver bullets. That's a dream. So when you're out “people watching,” looking for someone to hire, remember what you're really looking for is a long-term solution. It will help you avoid the pit fall of the bad hire.