Interviewers, You're on the Hot Seat, Too

With Killer Talent at a Premium, You Can't Afford to Lose Out on Chance to Snag That Star Hire

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The employment interview is a stage for job applicants to display their qualifications, communication skills and personality. But the interviewee isn't the only participant who's got to prove his worth.

In today's competitive hiring environment, advertising professionals use the interview to size up a potential employer. Their goal is to evaluate an organization and opportunities for professional growth.

At a time when killer talent is at a premium, you can't afford to lose out on an opportunity to snag that star hire. "When you find someone really good, they're often being pursued by more than one agency, so you have to be persuasive and ready to act quickly," says John Livengood, executive creative director at advertising and direct-marketing agency DDB Seattle.

Here's how to ace the interview:
1. PREPARE YOURSELF.
You wouldn't go into a pitch meeting with a potential client without first conducting research. If it's been a week or more since you reviewed a candidate's application materials, take time to reacquaint yourself with his or her résumé and work samples before the interview.
2. OFFER YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.
Schedule job interviews at times when you know you'll be relaxed and free of distraction. It might be tempting to try to squeeze in an interview right before a pivotal brainstorming session, but by doing so, you risk coming across as rushed, unfocused or rude.
3. BE A HOSPITABLE HOST.
Subtle actions tell a lot about your firm -- and how you are as a boss. Show candidates you value their time by greeting them warmly and promptly upon their arrival, and offering them a comfortable seat.
4. SHOW AND TELL.
Don't just page through a candidate's book, let the person take a peek at your portfolio, too. All advertising professionals want to work on campaigns that prove challenging and enable them to make a difference. Show examples of your high-profile or award-winning work, and share your firm's unique mission and track record of success.
5. MAKE PERKS A PRIORITY.
Does your agency offer a mentoring program, performance-based bonuses, tuition reimbursement or telecommuting options? If so, mention those appealing perks.
6. ILLUMINATE THE PATH.
Demonstrate your firm's commitment to employees' long-term growth by identifying potential career paths within your company. You can capture an entry-level candidate's imagination, for example, by talking about the career trajectory of other professionals you've managed or mentored.
7. SKIP THE STRESS TEST.
Some hiring managers are known to use interviews as opportunities to see how candidates respond under pressure by giving them impossible tasks or putting them in difficult situations. These ill-advised tactics do little to reveal a professional's true potential and may scare candidates away -- literally.
8. ACT QUICKLY AND KEEP IN TOUCH.
To avoid losing top talent, many employers are extending offers within a day or two of interviewing strong contenders. But if the speed of progress is beyond your control, you can still help your cause by keeping leading candidates in the loop. For instance, you might follow up with a phone call to say, "We're still very interested in hiring you, and I hope to have the approval of human resources by the end of this week." This brief conversation will assure prospective hires.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Creative Group, a specialized staffing service for creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals.
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