Duncan ParryBy Duncan Parry

Job Centre Plus

 Building an agency from scratch means reviewing piles of CVs and spending a lot of hours interviewing – especially in an industry where competition for staff is fierce at all levels. I’ve been in a few really good interviews where I’ve wanted to hire the person there and then, many mediocre ones – and a few so terrible I’d rather forget. Here are my tips (and some of my frustrations laid bare).

Don’t rely on your recruiter

Recruiters make mistakes*. Some of them make a lot – and tend to stop getting briefed on new roles. Research your recruiter by asking friends and family or industry organisations to recommend who is reputable. Get an individual name, not just a company – recruiters move jobs a lot.

Even if they seem competent, don’t assume your recruiter will tell you everything you need to know – make sure they confirm details, including what time the interview starts, where you need to go, who you are meeting**, if there’s a test, if you need to bring a portfolio along, how long it will last, dress code…etc.

Spell check everything

If you apply for a job with a description stating “attention to detail is essential” then don’t write a covering email with spelling mistakes and common grammar errors in it.

Read the job description

Seems obvious right? Most of these tips are, but I still encounter people who don’t know what the job title is they are interviewing for, or that didn’t read or didn’t even ask for the job description. They’re not always on companies websites, but the recruiter or HR person should send you a copy in advance, so you have some idea what you are applying for.

Research the company

At least know where they have offices and see if you can put a face to the name of at least one person interviewing you from the “About Us” section on the site or LinkedIn. Knowing a few of their clients and what they do for them is a good idea too.

Don’t be late

If you’re late, you’d better have a genuine reason why – everybody can check the running status of public transport via TFL’s website and Twitter.

Look smart

Just because the recruiter wore jeans and told you there’s an informal dress code, don’t turn up looking like you’ve worked at the company for six months – you haven’t. Wear a shirt and preferably a suit (without looking like an accountant).

Know yourself

In a recession everybody is desperate to take the first job they are offered – and I know it’s easy for me to write what follows from the ivory tower of having a job at an agency I founded, but…take the job that is right for you. Knowing the things you enjoy doing and that you are good at is important. Find a job that at least in part involves them – this will give you enjoyment and enthusiasm at work; two commodities that are next to priceless. We work most of our lives after all.

Wasting a year of your life, and an employer’s time and money, in a job you don’t like before quitting won’t develop a career for you. It might not get you a good reputation either.

You will get asked questions like “What’s your ambition?” and “Where do you want to be in three years’ time?”. Be honest – if you don’t know yet, or don’t want to be the CEO of the next Facebook, it’s not a problem. If you want to do your job well, become an expert and deliver for your clients, you’re more attractive to an employer than the next wanna-be Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet who will leave anyway or be disruptive. If you do want to be like them, go start a company or work for a VC firm. 

Be honest

If you expect to work somewhere for a period of time before moving on- e.g. to travel or return to your native country – be honest. Sometimes that is what employers need; an experienced hire for a set period and the more notice they have, the longer they have to plan ahead (or convince you to stay).

Honesty does count – I’ve thanked candidates for their honesty during interviews, even if they have just told me they don’t think the role is right for them after hearing more about it. I’ve suggested to some the sort of role they might like to look for at other agencies as result, and passed their details on – honesty can bring its own rewards.

Answer the question

Don’t talk around it for an age – you’re wasting everybody’s time. If you don’t know, be honest – and consider saying how you would learn. Learning is a vital skill in a fast moving industry like digital: change is a constant as cliché as that sounds.

Don’t beg

Seriously. Don’t. Respect yourself. If you beg for a job face-to-face or by email, you will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Anybody can search for your name

So posting Twitter updates like “Oh God another interview” or leaving your Facebook wide open to Google with that photo from your birthday party on it (you know, the one with the kebab, the traffic cone and the tramp) isn’t a good idea. We all like a good time, and if you’re lucky you’ll work at a company where you have a good time as a group. But you don’t need to broadcast your most “relaxed” moments, especially as some big corporates will immediately decide to not interview you if they see things like this. Be savvy!

These are just a few tips based on my experiences of interviewing candidates since 2005 – there are many more on the web from more qualified HR experts. But most of all put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. What would you expect from somebody you are going to trust to work at the company you have sacrificed weekends and evenings to build? If you can exceed your own highest expectations, you should exceed those of the people across the table, too.

*  It’s a high churn industry so individual recruiters work with a large number of jobs, employers and candidates at any one time – and the best recruiters are headhunted to better jobs regularly, or to be, umm, head-hunters themselves.

** I’m amazed how many people walk up to reception and say “I’m here for an interview” and when asked “Who with?” they don’t know. News flash: more than one interview can occur at once and you’ve just looked disorganised. Receptionists are often asked their opinion of candidates as they’ve had the first experience of them as they walk in the door. They tend to be good judges of character too, as they deal with strangers every day.

Image Source: Photo by Paul Farmer