How to Ace an Interview In The Ad Business

By: Paul Santello

The economy is strong. There are lots of jobs out there. One industry that always seems to be looking for people is the advertising industry. A recent LinkedIn search of advertising related jobs showed over 330K openings in the US right now. So perhaps you want one of those jobs.  Here is how to ace that interview. 

1.    Know Your Value Proposition– It’s common when looking for a job to be focused on what it is you’re looking for in a career. It’s important to have an idea of what you want to do and to be able to articulate it clearly. However, you are interviewing for a job because you must bring something to the table for the employer. Think about the thing, or combination of things, that will make you stand out as an employee. To start, see what qualifications and characteristics they are looking for in the job description and find the things that you excel at and build your value proposition around that. Are you naturally curious about consumer behavior? Can you work analyzing data in spreadsheets for hours and be a happy camper? Do you really love the media landscape and how it’s ever changing? Think about what makes you a strong candidate and develop a tight story around that. For example, you can say, “the three most important things I’ll bring to the table for this position are my passion for your product, my work ethic, and my ability to work in teams.” Then, be prepared to explain each of these things in a sentence or two. If they want more, they will ask.

2.    Know Why You Want to Work for THAT Company– You may really want a job in the advertising industry, but you don’t just want to work anywhere, do you? Of course not!  You ultimately want to work at a place where you will fit in well and be happy. So, know thyself and do your homework, and find a company that is a good match for what you’re looking for.   Perhaps you really like their list of accounts. Maybe it’s their mission statement or some other articulation of what they stand for. Perhaps you like the work they’ve done, or their corporate culture. Then again, it could be their leadership that you’re drawn to. Study this company and know how they are different than others in their competitive group. You should find some alignment between what you’re looking for and what they offer and build your story around that.

3.    Have a POV, or Better Yet, Several– If you are going into the advertising industry, you darn well better be passionate about advertising experiences. Whether it’s a creative campaign, a brand experience, or a media plan/strategy, you need to get excited about this stuff and know what you like, what you don’t like, and why.  There are several ways to do this. The most natural is to observe advertising around you and have a POV about it. This could be a television or video ad, a billboard, something on your mobile phone … anything really. Think about why you liked it? Did it connect with you? If so why? Who do you think they are trying to target? Do you think it has the power to change the minds of masses of people? You can also read online trade journals like AdWeek and AdAge, which often profile advertising campaigns and give their own opinion of those. You can absolutely play off of those opinions if you agree and make them your own. Also, read up on the industry in the same publications and have a POV on where you think the industry is headed. This might be more relevant if you are already in the field and looking for a mid-senior level position, but it doesn’t hurt to have this kind of passion and foresight early on in your career as well.

4.    Show You’re Creative– The advertising industry prides itself on creativity, and there are many forms of creativity. At face value, you may think it means coming up with a creative ad campaign. That certainly is one form of creativity but think about creativity more broadly as in how you’ve approached problems in the past. In school or in your previous position, were you faced with a problem and did you come up with an unconventional solution that turned out to be a success? Maybe you did an advertising project in school you could talk about if you studied in this field. Alternatively, perhaps you have a creative hobby, like drawing, painting, music, cooking?  Whatever it is, find our creativity story and be able to tell it with passion.

5.    Talk About How You Work Well with Others – While there is certainly work to be done at the individual contributor level; advertising is pretty much a team sport. Teams tend to be organized around both function (i.e. strategy, creative, media, analytics) and account. There are a lot of team meetings and team brainstorms where you must make things happen while working together. Think about a time you were on a team, whether it be at school working on a project, or if you participated in a team sport.  Think about if/when you were a team leader, vs. just a team member. Be prepared to talk about how you function in teams, and how you can play different roles.

6.    Demonstrate You Can Find Passion in Almost Anything– When you get hired to work at an ad agency, you may not get your first choice of accounts. You may get put on something that is not necessarily a passion of yours. However, it is your job to find the passion. If you are interviewing for a position on a specific account, read all about the company/products and use them if you’re able. Develop a curiosity about it. See if anyone in your family uses the product and talk to them about it. If it’s something you don’t need or can’t afford (like a washing machine, or a car), then pretend to be shopping for one and talk to the salespeople about it. If it’s an account that has a physical location, visit that location and experience it. You can do all of this on your own. If you’re not sure which account you may be working on, you can always talk about what you would do to find the passion in whatever you get assigned to.  

These tips are not only ways to ace the interview, but are ways to be successful in the advertising business. There is no better time to start honing these skills than during the interview process. If you already possess strong capabilities in these areas, you have a very long and successful career in advertising waiting for you. The time is now! 


Want some more of Paul’s knowledge? Take his latest course, Winning More Business for Media Sellers, now!

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