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Interview questions made easy

There are only three real job interview questions:
1. Can you do the job?
2. Will you love the job?
3. Can we tolerate working with you?
     That’s it. Just learn to answer these, and you’re good.
     In a recent Forbes article, George Bradt shows that all other interview questions are just a derivative of one of these three key questions.
     Another way to look at the three questions is to think about it this way:
1. Do you have the right strengths?
2. Are you motivated for this job?
3. Will you fit in here?
     Learn how to answer these three questions (either set), and you will do well in any interview.  Make sure your resume and cover letter addresses these three questions, and you’ll be invited to more interviews.  Good luck!

Should You Write A Resume?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article that said more firms are bypassing the requirement of a resume for new applicants.

Some outtakes from the article:  
     A résumé doesn’t provide much depth about a candidate, says Christina Cacioppo, an associate at Union Square Ventures who blogs about the hiring process on the company’s website and was herself hired after she compiled a profile comprising her personal blog, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, and links to social-media sites Delicious and Dopplr, which showed places where she had traveled.
     “We are most interested in what people are like, what they are like to work with, how they think,” she says.
     John Fischer, founder and owner of StickerGiant.com, a Hygiene, Colo., company that makes bumper and marketing stickers, says a résumé isn’t the best way to determine whether a potential employee will be a good social fit for the company. Instead, his firm uses an online survey to help screen applicants.
     At most companies, résumés are still the first step of the recruiting process, even at supposedly nontraditional places like Google Inc., which hired about 7,000 people in 2011, after receiving some two million résumés. Google has an army of “hundreds” of recruiters who actually read every one, says Todd Carlisle, the technology firm’s director of staffing. But Dr. Carlisle says he reads résumés in an unusual way: from the bottom up.
     Candidates’ early work experience, hobbies, extracurricular activities or nonprofit involvement—such as painting houses to pay for college or touring with a punk rock band through Europe—often provide insight into how well an applicant would fit into the company culture, Dr. Carlisle says.
     Plus, “It’s the first sample of work we have of yours,” he says.
That’s OK, but resumes are still important
Call me traditional, but writing a great resume is still a smart idea. The writing process will refine the job candidate’s thinking and his/her presentation of the material:  focus on the highlights and accomplishments, keep it concise, use action verbs, etc. To see more of my thoughts on resumes, see this article.

Resume for an entry-level ad job

Q:  I don’t have any relevant work experience. On my resume could I list some of the courses I took at VCU if they are relevant to the job?

A:  Relevant work experience is a valuable thing to have.  However, think about it deeper.  Think about the people you know who do their job well.  Did your best teachers have the most teaching experience? Do the best mothers and fathers have several kids before they become good parents?  Are the best 7-11 cashiers the ones that have been cashiers for many years?  In my experience, the people who do their job well have the passion to be good, the creativity to solve problems, and the ability to think on their own.
Change your definition of “relevant work experience.”  An employer wants to see that you are relevant to them.  There are many ways to show that you are relevant: from school projects, from work experiences, from pastimes you’ve enjoyed, from your philosophies, from your passions, and from any stuff you’ve done.  Many jobs (including all types of communications and marketing) need people who are passionate, creative, connected, problem solvers, smart, and willing to work hard. When you demonstrate that you have these qualities, you will have the attention of any employer.
Another important point is that ALL experience is relevant experience.  How you approach your school work is probably similar to how you’ll approach all types of work.
One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“If you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'” 

The Passion of Beethoven

When you write your resume, show the passion that Beethoven showed when he wrote his music.

If I was looking to hire someone (for any job), I would seriously consider hiring a street sweeper who approached his/her job like Michelangelo approached his work. This is especially true for any entry-level position.
Sure it’s nice to have relevant work experience (in the traditional sense). Fortunately, you can have a strong job application (and/or resume and cover letter) without any relevant work experience.  You have the ability to apply for many, many jobs with which you have no direct work experience (in the sense of doing that job before).

The Economy’s Effect on Advertising

What will the economic downturn mean to the business of building brands? First of all, it won’t be good. For many companies, marketing consumes a large percentage of the overall budget. Pulling back on ad spending can equate to big savings. That means that jobs will be fewer in all sectors of the ad business:  in agencies, on the client side, and with vendors and support companies.

The pattern of past recessions suggests that ad spending lags behind consumer spending. According to Merrill Lynch managing director Jessica Reif-Cohen, this means the slowdown in advertising and marketing kicks in one or two quarters after the start of a consumer recession, and it experiences a similar delay in its recovery (see the MediaWeek article).

But all of this is nothing new, right? What else will the poor economy mean to the branding business?


As advertisers pull back on their marketing spending, there will be more decentralization. This means that in-house advertising and marketing departments will be smaller. Ad agencies are going to trim back to their core employees and key support staff. Companies (including agencies) will be more likely to hire a freelancer or a long-term temporary employee than to hire a full-time employee on a salary. This will create more freelancing opportunities. In times likes this, it’s really important to think like the entrepreneur. Long-term employment with one company is a thing of the past; it has been for a while. Smart careerist are taking control of their lives and not relying on their employer to make them happy. Read a great book called “Radical Careering,” by Sally Hogshead!


Supply and demand is like gravity – don’t fight it, just learn to use it to your advantage. When budgets are tight it’s a buyer’s market. There will be more aggressive price negotiations from clients. Media buyers will be able to command better deals. Account managers may need to be more flexible on proposals. Production managers will need to think of “Option C” when dealing with the client, and they will have more negotiating strength when dealing with a supplier.

This also means that there will be more competition for new business. There will be more agencies fighting for the same business, and they will be fighting harder than ever. The cutbacks will bring more changes to marketing departments. New marketing directors will mean more accounts coming up for review. There will be younger people making bigger decisions than before.


When times get tough, clients tend to want to be able to justify their decisions. They want to be able to cover their ass. Marketing directors have bosses, too. Marketing directors are number guys and gals; they feel comfortable with numbers. They hate that the success of advertising is often qualitative. In tough times it can be hard to justify a campaign with a creative award and a nice number of GRPs. It’s much easier to justify a direct-response campaign that directly produced a quantifiable number of sales. This means that direct mail and other direct efforts will be easier to justify. Remember the chorus from clients:  “I know that half of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” Put the QVC on your speed dial and buy the book “Infomercials for Dummies.”

Traditions Become Stronger

Along the same lines as focusing on work that is accountable and justifiable with hard numbers, agencies and advertisers are going to focus on work that they know. We all know that the future is online and it’s interactive. It’s also a dirty secret in the business that many agencies don’t really know online and interactive as well as they should. As the finances get tighter, it’s smart to focus on what you know. Agencies won’t continue to explore new media at the pace that they did just a year ago. Traditional agencies will become more traditional. The divide between traditional agencies and new media agencies will become wider.

Fat Cats are Out

With the influx of freelancers and smaller budgets, fat cats won’t be driving the ship anymore. This is a time for new blood to seize the opportunities of change. How will these new opportunities present themselves? It’s all about pure entrepreneurial spirit. It’s all about fresh, smart thinking that will solve the client’s problem. Change makes opportunity for those ready to grab it. We will need to be smarter, more strategic, and more streamlined. Fat cats aren’t used to working in this space.

Design in Gray

Design will trend toward the conservative and away from the flamboyant. Design in gray might be a little harsh, but the idea is sound. Design to communicate the message in the context of today’s economy. Clients won’t want to communicate that they are not minding the purse while at the same time they are having layoffs and salary freezes.

Grad Schools Fill Up

Getting a job without experience is going to be tougher than ever. Entry-level jobs will be far and few between, and the competition will be fierce. After graduation instead of working in a job that won’t help their career, many students will take two years to polish their skills at grad school or at a portfolio school. When they graduate, the economy will be in a better place, there will be more job openings, and they can command a better job. The other option is to continue to look for a job while waiting tables just to compete with the recent grads for the entry-level jobs in a couple of years.


When competitors are scared and afraid to spend money, it’s easier to get noticed. A fantastic book is “Zag,” by Marty Neumeier.  When everyone else zigs, you need to zag.

There’s going to be less clutter and more opportunities. Remember the nonsense ads that were everywhere during the dot com boom?  During that time our business was creating clutter just because we could. Things are different now. It is a good time to review the opportunities that the market is opening up.

Purge The Hacks

Advertising is a tough business. There are a lot of smart, hard-working folks in the ad business. Let’s face it, there are a lot of hacks, too. In tough times the hacks are the first to go. The cream of the crop who have a passion for the business will remain. If you’re still employed in the business of building brands, be sure that your nose is to the grindstone and your brain is firing on all cylinders.

It’s Still About Opportunities

If you like to grab the bulls by the horn, now’s the time to put on your gloves and spit on your palms. The economy is in the tank, and times are changing. Change means opportunity.

The economy affects all of us. How are you making the most of the situation?  Please share your thoughts as a comment.


Ten Tips to Succeed in a Job Interview

After recently sitting through a lot of job interviews, I noticed areas where many candidates could have been stronger. Here’s my top ten list:

1. Answer the questions with specifics and examples. Avoid answering questions with theoretical answers. Tell a real-life story. When asked “What makes a good group project?” Your answer should include an example of when you were on a successful group and how you contributed to it. You can talk about team dynamics, communication, and planning on the theoretical level, but don’t forget to include the practical examples; that’s where you will look like the hero.

2. Focus your answer on the question. Make sure that what you say answers the question (sounds logical doesn’t it?). Never begin to answer the question and then have to ask, “What was the question again?”  A good trick is to start your answer with a paraphrase of the question.  Example–  Q: “Where do you see the future of interactive advertising going?”  A: “The future of interactive advertising is headed toward…”

3. Look at every questions as an opportunity to sell yourself. Nobody else is going to promote you. You’re at the interview to sell yourself; it’s why you are there in the first place. If you’re invited to the dance, bring your dancing shoes.

4. Focus on your brand. What do you need to communicate to the interviewer on the brand level?  I’m talking about your brand here. Answer the question and look for a way to reinforce your brand. Think about how Sarah Palin works “maverick” into every sentence. Take that idea but don’t go that far… less maverickiness.

5. Consider every question as an opportunity to ask a question. Make the interview a conversation. If you ask questions, you’ll learn more. Interviewers like to hear themselves talk; it’s basic human nature. Give them that opportunity. It’ll make the interview easier for you. Often times they tell you what they want you to say. If you’re nervous, listening is easier than talking.

6. Before answering a question, take a breath. You can gather your thoughts in that short moment. Make it look like you’re thinking through the question. This breath helps to calm your nerves and compose yourself.

7. Show your personality. Don’t just be a question answerer; those people are boring. People don’t often like to hire boring coworkers. Often times the interviewer wants to see if she can imagine working with you for eight hours every day.

8. Practice, practice, practice. It’s hard to talk to a total stranger about yourself. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. Go to interviews for jobs you don’t really want. It will give you the edge when you interview for a good job. Go to networking events and make a point to introduce yourself to strangers. Most people will end up asking you, “So, what do you do?” Treat it like a job interview. Successful interviewing takes practice. If you practice, you WILL get better. If you get better, you’ll have an easier time meeting your career goals.

9. Don’t blend in. This is a tricky one. If there are several people interviewing for the same position, you’ll want to make sure you stand out. That’s the only way you’ll get the job. However, be sure not to stand out like a sore thumb.

10. Show them that you want the job. This is so obvious that it’s often overlooked. The employer is interested enough to invest in an interview. Be sure to show them that you share in their level of interest… and go a step further.

BONUS TIP: Interview the employer. Go in with the confidence that you want to learn as much about the employer as the employer wants to learn about you. Your interview will be a conversation. Your confidence will be higher. And you’ll appear to have more value in the marketplace (more value = more demand).

Looking for a job is THE hardest job. It’s a marathon rather than a race. Stay focused, stay clam, stay positive, and stay fresh. Usually it’s the basic stuff that separates the good candidates from the not-so-good candidates. Good luck!

Ten Steps To A Great Resume

1) Don’t do a resume. Don’t start by trying to write “a resume.” Most people do not like to read resumes; so don’t write something that people don’t want to read. Write something that will convince the reader that she should hire you.  Start with a plan. Figure out what you need to say to get the reader’s attention.  Then (and only then) weave that message into something that resembles a resume. In fact, scratch that last thought. It’s not important that your resume resembles what people think of as a resume. The important thing is that it gets noticed and it communicates something to the reader that will get you an interview.

2) Write it to a person. I’m not talking about addressing the cover letter. I’m talking about the writing of your resume. Imagine the person who is going to open your envelope. Write it to her. Talk with her. Too often resumes are written as if robots read them, but robots don’t read resumes. People do. People like personality, emotion, stories, and insights. The reader wants to know about you and what you can do. Don’t forget that they want to know about you.

3) Write clearly. Be concise, succinct, and concrete. Can your mother understand what your resume says? If not, a rushed HR person or a busy executive will not digest what you’re trying to communicate. Do not use corporate mumbo jumbo (example:  “Achieved strategic operational objectives including increased shareholder value overall and attained planned incremental increases within each retail unit.”). What?

4) Focus on your accomplishments. Companies want to hire people who have accomplished things. Day-to-day responsibilities tend to sound dull. Day-to-day tasks can usually be turned into or covered by well-written accomplishments. If you have a job responsibility in which you accomplished nothing during your tenure on the job, you might not want to highlight it on your resume.

Don’t just say that you were in a leadership or managerial position. Holding a leadership position is secondary to what is accomplished while in that position. If you can produce results, then you’ll be put into positions of authority, management, and leadership. It’s best to tell how you earned your leadership position and how you kept your leadership position (accomplishments) rather than just telling that you had a leadership position (responsibilities and duties).

5) Look professional. If you can’t make the resume layout look good, hire someone who can. Use a template available online or within many software programs. Don’t go with a flashy template because they easily look like templates (and that’s not good). It’s not hard to look good, but it takes care and understanding in the visual area. First impressions make a huge difference. Be coordinated. The envelope must match the cover letter and they both need to match the resume.

6) Dissect the help-wanted ad. Most help-wanted ads give you an outline to what the company is looking to hire. Be sure to look for all of the clues hidden within the ad explaining what they are looking for. If the ad mentions “effective time management,” try to be the first candidate to get your resume in. If the ad specifies that you must know certain software programs, tell them or show them that you know the programs.

7) Make an impact. After reading your resume, the reader should want to hire you… or at least want to interview you. If your goal is anything less, you’re aiming too low.  How can you tell if your resume has impact?  Answer this question: “Where are the few things in your resume that convince the reader to want to hire you?”

8. Edit, edit, edit. You only have the reader’s attention for about two minutes before she has decided that she likes you or doesn’t. With every line on your resume, ask yourself, “Why will this impress the reader?”  If you cannot answer that question, edit the text or remove the item from your resume. Everything on your resume should be included because it will impress the reader.

9) Critique it. Get many people’s point of view on your resume. Ask people to find things they don’t like about your resume (because that’s how some people read them). Most universities have career councilors who will review resumes from alums. Send your resume to your parents’ friends. Send the resume to headhunters. Send your resume to professionals who you’d like to work with. Send your resume to a career consultant. Ask all of them to review your resume and tell them you want to make it better.

10) It’s not about you. The reader is looking to hire someone to solve a problem or fulfill a need. The first section in many resumes is “Objective.” Is the reader focused on what your objective is?  No. The reader’s primary interest is THEIR objective (not YOURS). Show the reader how you will help their business.

Follow these simple but tough rules and you’ll have an interesting resume. If you have ideas for more steps, share them here (in the comments).

Please remember that there isn’t a resume that will impress everyone. If your goal is to making a resume to please everyone, you will not succeed. You will end up with a watered-down piece of nothing. Instead of trying to please everyone, create a resume that will have impact and make you look good to the reader.  Good luck!