Tell Me What Sucks

And Other Good Interviewing Tactics

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Tom Martin Tom Martin
About a year ago, we were hiring a copywriter and we had a really good guy in from Phoenix. He's sitting in my office and I'm peppering him with questions. Then I do the obligatory, "So I've asked you a lot of questions, do you have any for me?" And he says, "Actually just one. You're relatively new here, so tell me ... what sucks?"

Best damn question any interviewee has ever asked me.

It was a great question because it was completely out of left field but incredibly insightful. Thankfully, I had to stop and truly think about it. Truthfully, at every agency I've ever worked at something sucked. But after a few minutes of honest reflection I was able to answer him. "Nothing really sucks here. And I think the reason is that we take great pains to make sure we only have great folks across the board."

The folks we work with truly do make or break our desire to come to work. They have to because what we do every day -- invent things that didn't exist the day before and convince clients to fund those things -- is hard. In a weird way, these "battles" serve to create great bonds with our fellow employees. Not unlike how battle-hardened soldiers develop life-long bonds that transcend time and distance. I know my old "fare war" days did that for me.

So today I thought I'd focus on creating a place that doesn't suck. It's easy really. You have to be selective. I know we are. We subject interviewees to a gauntlet of folks asking all kinds of weird questions. If they're really lucky, we'll throw them into a social environment and see how they respond. We do this because we've learned that we must. The few times we skipped this investigative interviewing process we quickly regretted the decision. The resulting hires were, in the words of our staff, "just not Zehnder people."

What do we look for?
  • Character. It counts. We only want people who understand that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.

  • Someone who enjoys the journey to understanding more than already knowing the answer.

  • Strong, critical thinking skills and the ability to stand in front of a room, on a moment's notice and compellingly articulate your position.

  • Be highly motivated and settle for nothing less than total success.

  • Understand that failure is not an end but a beginning.

  • Creative. It ain't just for creatives anymore.

  • Aware of trends, people, ideas and technology. There are no new ideas, just folks that cast a long, wide antenna and are then able to connect dots in new and fascinating ways.

  • Able to engage those around them. Gaining others' trust and confidence in them as well as the agency's abilities.

  • Possess exceptional oral and written communication skills.

  • Be able to meet aggressive deadlines and juggle multiple priorities.

  • Have an eye for detail and solid organization skills.

  • Drinks beer. Well not exclusively....

  • Has a sense of humor...

What don't we want?
  • Drama: Life's way too short. No whining allowed.

  • Order takers: This is NOT an agency where we merely courier information between the client and agency or simply ask if they'd like fries with that. Our clients expect us to provide well thought out, strategically based opinions on how to solve their marketing challenges.

  • Someone who settles: Life doesn't stop nor should your passion for learning. Be driven to exceed and proficient at modeling that behavior day in, day out.

Needless to say this makes for great teammates. Mine are great people that inspire me to grow and get better -- no easy task. But more importantly, when folks interview with us or reporters interview us, they all say the same thing: "Love the vibe of the place." And to me, that means we're doing a great job of creating a place where really smart folks are willing spend a large portion of their life. And yes, we're hiring.
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