Tough love for the jobless: Get a clue. Get a personal brand. Get a job.

"I'm sort of a producer. But I'm great in front of the client. So, I'm kind of an account director. And I'm very strategic. My last job I was the online strategist. I used to be creative director at my old agency."

How many times do I hear this on an interview? A lot.

In these tough times, many unemployed people are feeling desperate and don't want to leave any opportunity on the table. So they try to be everything. And wind up being nothing.

There's no better way to find your resume in the trash than not to tell me you do everything. I suspect other people fortunate enough to be hiring in the advertising industry feel the same.

At Traction, when we do brand positioning for a client, we always tell them that in the mind of the consumer, you can be one thing. Our General Manager, Russell Quinan, refers to branding as the Art of Sacrifice—a moniker that rings true.

Guess what? That applies to your personal brand too.

Here are a few tips on what to do and not to do when looking for a job in this economy.

1. If I'm hiring, I'm looking for someone with specific experience to fill a specific role. Are you an account person or a producer? A writer or a designer. As soon as you tell me you're more than one, you become neither in my eyes.

Could this mean you lose an opportunity because you weren't the right fit? Maybe, but you're losing it anyway by trying to be the jack-of-all-trades. Try to be everything, you become nothing.

2. By all means, share your wonderful other qualities—but show me how they support how you define yourself. A brand position has supporting messages. Same goes for your personal brand. Being "good with clients" is a minimum standard for any senior position in my eyes. It's not a qualification to be an account director position on a multimillion dollar advertising account.

3. Don't be desperate. I often say business is like dating. When you're confident, you get the girls (so I hear). Same goes here. It's hard not to be desperate when you're... well, desperate. But it's not attractive.

Don't overcompensate and act cocky though. That's even worse.

Here's a tidbit that might help. Your interviewer WANTS to like you. They want to love you. They want to go to their boss and say "I found my girl!" and not have to take another huge chunk of time out of their day to schedule more interviews. Give them something to like.

4. Ask questions. Traction once lost a pitch for a hotel chain because the competing agencies called a few of the hotel managers to ask them questions about their needs, while we assumed we could guess what they were. I'll never make that mistake again.

Don't be afraid to email your interviewer about their needs before you meet. They may not answer if their buried, but they won't hold it against you for asking.

5. Feel free to discount this advice. There are exceptions. If you have a real reason to suspect that someone's looking for a jack-of-all-trades (like they told you they are), ignore my advice. But be discerning before you do.

Just like in focus groups, people tell you what they think they want, but that's not often the truth. Even when they're looking for a mutt to fit a couple of roles, they're looking for a specific mutt. Be that mutt, not another.

6. Build your personal brand online. In advertising today, everything is interactive. Even you. If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account and a blog, get one.

Google has just launched Google Profiles. If you don't have one yet, get one. Here's why. When a hiring manager inevitably Googles you, you want to control what they see. Having a Google profile with your photo come up in search results is likely to draw the first click. You want to leave that up to chance?

I sincerely hope this advice is helpful. Feel its something many just need to hear. I wish you luck out there.


  1. Excellent advice. It's very important to have focus.

    Many years ago, when I was trying to get my first job in advertising, and I know it was the first step on the road to ruin but still better than traveling with rock bands, which is what I was doing at the time, a recruiter gave me some sage advice.

    "There are only three question you need to answer when being interviewed: can you do the job, will you do the job the way they want you to, and will you fit with the rest of the team."

    I've used this advice many times, from both sides of the desk, and it helped me make some great hires and find some really interesting people to work with.

  2. I think you're right - to get a job in an agency, you can only be one thing. Pity though that most agencies don't recognize that people can have more than one talent.

  3. Great post! It's all about positioning your brand and your reputation.

  4. Devon... you are totally missing my point. Agencies (at least mine) has an incredible appreciation of talent. Look around here and you'll see that talent is everywhere. Every creative and producer in a leadership role is "great in front of the client." You'll see creativity in every role from producers to account people to media to finance.

    But there is a difference between talent and skill. If I'm looking to fill an entry level position, talent is the first thing we're looking at. But at a mid-to-senior level? There are very specific skills that are absolutely expected from a client, needed from an agency, and all the talent in the world isn't going to give you the experience to have. If you don't know what those skills are (how to write a focused creative brief that drives a great creative execution, how to deliver a conference report that effectively manages client expectations and protects the agency, is it better to recommend multivariate or A/B testing to optimize a clients landing page design, etc. etc. etc.), then you're not qualified for the those jobs. If you don't know what those skills are, well then you're really not qualified.

    That doesn't mean that you're not talented and your talents are not appreciated. It just means you don't have the specific skill set to do that job. We'll train someone to do a job and then move them into it, but we're not going to put someone in a job if they're not ready for it.

    And this comes back to one thing. Agencies don't "want you to be one thing." That is not my point at all. My point is simply one of the core principles of branding. In the mind of your target, you can only be one thing.


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