Can’t See the Trees for the Forest?

No matter how you attract, recruit, or stumble upon a potential new hire, the real trick is learning to know one when you see one. Here are some points to remember.

Do They Want to Work for You? The people you attract say a lot about your agency. If you attract people to your interview table whom you would not hire in a million years, take a hard look at your creative work, agency culture and your current employees. Who you are as an agency—and as an employer—can make all the difference between attracting talented individuals before they sign on with your competitors. Do good work; promote your successes and your people in local news outlets and online; be a thought leader via content publishing, public speaking and “expert” status with the media. Name recognition is a big factor in job searches. Great people are naturally attracted to great employers who do good work for great clients.

New Hires Should Be Cut to Fit. Look at the good employees already on your staff. New people need to mesh with and complement your existing people. New talent with abrasive or negative personalities can disrupt a high-functioning team. Losing good employees through bad hiring decisions is not your goal! Look for personality types who will interact positively with your staff, and bring in new skills and ways of thinking to help grow the agency in new directions.

Consider candidates’ emotional intelligence quotients (EQs). EQ measures our levels of maturity and social and self-awareness in dealing with other people. It involves factors including self-motivation, enthusiasm, impulse control, persistence, and the ability to cope with environmental demands and job stress. Studies demonstrate that success on the job is 80 percent dependent on EQ and only 20 percent dependent on IQ. The top people in their fields combine high skill levels with a high EQ rating.

Obviously, the advertising industry can use people with high EQs—people who can deal positively with stressed co-workers while handling their own job stress, and relate well to clients and other business connections. High EQ people can help agencies grow just by applying their common sense and positive attitudes to finding simple solutions to difficult problems. They are good at defusing inter-departmental conflicts, building consensus around ideas, and tackling team objectives as if they were personal goals.

Add some EQ-related questions to you in-depth interview scripts. You are seeking people who:

  • Are not afraid to express their feelings;
  • Are able to read non-verbal communication cues;
  • Can balance feelings with logic, reason and reality;
  • Are intrinsically motivated;
  • Are emotionally resilient.
  • Are T-shaped.

Combine EQ questions with personality and intelligence testing, and stringently qualify candidates based on skills and abilities. This helps you build a solid picture of each candidate during the interview process.

Have more than one interviewer screen job candidates. Here is disturbing news: the “undue influence of an irrelevant trait” has been shown in multiple studies to be the most likely factor in any given hiring decision. A candidate answers a particular question in words that exactly express the interviewers’ feelings on the subject; another has a goofy laugh; a third wears earrings the interviewer dislikes. On such small things are overwhelming objections to job candidates formed by interviewers. Use multiple interviewers! What one finds off-putting, another will disregard as trivial. Weigh the important factors of ability, manageability, willingness, future growth potential, problem-solving skills and confluence of values, and reduce trivial factors to mere footnotes.

Multiple interviewers also helps you to avoid hiring decisions based on interviewer ego—i.e., the candidate is similar to the interviewer, so the interviewer likes her best. Think of this as the “Gee, she reminds me of me” syndrome. This is why B-level managers hire C-level subordinates, who hire D- or E-level underlings… Always strive to hire A-level people. Studies show these people tend to hire at their own level.

Also, encourage interviewers to “look for their differences”—people who can carry the agency into new territory, bring new skills or experience, or pioneer new technologies and practices. These A-level people will treble or quadruple agency profits and spur agency growth.

Confluence of Values Ensures the Best Hires. Even highly talented new hires will fail if their values are not aligned with the agency’s needs, practices and traditions. Mindset, ability and confluence of values are critical. New hires should want to be a part of your organization because you do, behave and achieve in ways that new hires seek to emulate. When they have the basic abilities, and share the attitudes and goals of your agency as a whole, new hires can acquire the skills needed to succeed, and become valuable team members.

Remember that world-beaters from big-city, corporate agencies may not glow so brightly for your smaller regional firm, serving smaller clients with much smaller budgets. And those hard-chargers from bureaucratic firms where administrative assistants did all of the grunt work will be poor choices for small, wear-a-lot-of-hats firms where everyone pitches in to do what is needed. Seek new skills and talents in people whose goals and standards are much like your own. Think carefully about where your agency is, and where you want it to go. Will the candidate help you move in the right direction—or inhibit you in achieving your goal?

Interview questions should help to identify people who understand and seek responsibility; who have experienced change in their lives and developed positive ways to respond; and who see achieving team goals and objectives as part of their personal motivations and ambitions. Look for people with clear values, who have been tested during their lives and careers and emerged stronger for the challenges.

Aside from career philosophy, confluence of values should extend to the lifestyle offered in your agency’s location. Even candidates who seem custom-made for the position may be poor choices if they prefer big-city club-hopping, museum-cruising and opera, and your agency is more of a rock-climbing, mountain-biking, whitewater-rafting style group.

Why invest time and budget in training someone who simply won’t be happy with your lifestyle options?

Smart agency principals keep an eye out for “good fits” philosophically, in values, in skills and in lifestyle preferences—even if they currently have no open positions. Some principals have been known to create jobs rather than let these good fits slip away.

Watch Them Work Before Hiring. It’s much easier to find employees who are the best fit with your agency’s cultures and values if you try them out first. What can be concealed in an interview or even hidden in references checks are the small cues to character traits that are ingrained. Three ways to gain useful insights is to work with potential hires through paid internships, as freelancers, or on a short-term (1-2 weeks) probationary period. By the time you are sure you want to bring the new hires onto your payroll, you will have identified any problem areas, determined whether you can live with them (or train it out of them), and become comfortable that they have the skills and abilities they claimed in your interviews. If you use any of these approaches to test your candidate, stay commitment free, and do not discuss contracts or salaries until after you have made your decision. Pay the going rate for all three approaches.

When you work with potential hires, look for people who are simplifiers—they can determine the heart of a problem and quickly identify the most straightforward, uncomplicated solution. Simplifiers are moneymakers; the more you have on your team, the more money your agency can make.

Make sure that when if you find a good hire by watching them work, you don’t sour the budding relationship by low-balling their salary and benefits.

Beware of over-reliance on skills testing. We recommend personality and intelligence testing during the hiring process—usually at the point of making a decision—but testing for skills can also be valuable for some positions. Just remember that while testing can be an indicator for future performance, it is not a guarantee. Use such tests only to find the best qualified candidates among several. Also, take care that your skills tests do not discriminate against any particular group of candidates.

We hope these guidelines have some value in honing your skills for spotting great new hires. Finding the best people who also fit your culture is a skill in itself, and one ad agency principals need to master to grow their businesses.