‘The hacker mentality’: The new sets of skills agency execs seek today

With the rapid advancements in marketing and technology in recent years, the skills and traits necessary to excel in an agency setting look different from what they were even just five years ago.

We asked agency execs across account, design, strategy and creative to tell us what they want in candidates today that they didn’t before. Among the top recommendations: a strong social media presence and a hacker mentality.

Olivia Cole, chief operating officer, Greenlight
Our expectation is that everyone who joins Greenlight is creative. One way we find that is by looking at their social posts. Even when a new hire is made, we take one of their Instagram or Facebook photos and have it printed on canvas. So instead of pictures of our actual employees, we have pictures that they have created.

Pam Hamlin, global CEO, Arnold Worldwide
Candidates who pursue and share their passions — whatever they may be — will be able to contribute unique perspectives to their clients and personality to the agency. One of the most underleveraged parts of a resume is the “Interests” section; the place where I want a candidate to tell me who they are as a person, and what they love to do outside of the advertising world. We have folks on staff that are musicians, ultra-marathoners, bilingual world travelers, comedians, foodies, photographers, bookworms and yoga instructors in their spare time.

Alyson Breslin, recruiting manager, The Marketing Arm
Moving away from the traditional paper resume is a good mark in my book, especially since we as an agency are moving away from plain text job descriptions – we’re moving all to video. I always look for creative ways people promote themselves. I love when candidates provide additional information about themselves via an About.me page, Prezi resume, Vimeo channel or branded.me page.

Jon Jackson, design partner, Work & Co.
I look for someone that has a multidisciplinary background. Building great digital products means understanding user experience, graphic design and code. Having that in one person means being faster to prototype, build and iterate. That variety is also a huge plus for concepting, because drawing from a diverse background leads to more creative solutions. I like when people have done different things, as there is no one path. I will take experience over school every time.

Cat Lincoln, CEO, Clever Girls
We look for a combination of “old school” and “new school” qualities. We love to see people who worked through school, or juggled two jobs, especially if they were in a service industry. This tells us that the candidate knows how to manage their time and priorities, and that they have experience in a customer-first industry like ours. It shows that they know how to talk and listen to real people, and communicate beyond email or IM. On the “new school” side, we look for people who have active and thoughtfully curated social media accounts. Being current on social media is so important that we dedicated two hours of our quarterly in-person meeting to a Snapchat training.

Jeanette Palmer, head of client services, Nail
When interviewing candidates, we look for how well they can tell a story. I like to ask them to “describe your favorite commercial or book or movie.” Although they have been asked to describe something, a surprisingly high number of candidates fail to use an adjective. The other part of this question is to discover if they have a passion for communication and are engaged in the world around them. I love to learn that they know a lot about music or have a favorite director. I also like to ask them what brands are doing the best, or worst, job and why, to get another chance at seeing how well they can articulate an opinion.

Sean Cummins, global CEO, Cummins&Partners
My most valuable skill is also the scarcest today — the ability to listen carefully. People don’t know how to listen anymore. Even during one-on-one meetings, everyone is always glued onto their phones and devices. The bottom line is that if we don’t listen carefully and don’t understand the client’s expectations, we’re going to fail — no matter how good we are at Snapchat.

Bradley Baer, director of strategy, Bluecadet
We look for people who have a “hacker mentality.” One of the questions we ask in interviews is “What was the last thing you taught yourself to do?” The gist of the question is whether or not a candidate is willing to be uncomfortable and push their own skills and beliefs. We don’t really care whether the answer is preparing a new dish, fixing a tire, or learning a new coding language. A presence on LinkedIn, Twitter or Github — which allows them to develop a circle of experts outside of the office that they can run things by and get quick feedback — is also important today.

Alexa Tonner, co-founder and evp, Collectively Inc.
We’re a social media influencer agency — we want our team to live and breathe social as well and see your Instagram handle or YouTube channel. You don’t have to be an influencer (although we do have a few of them on the team), but I like to see that someone is knowledgeable about the space. If I don’t see it on a resume, I’ll ask in an interview. Our junior staff all used to say Instagram was their favorite channel, but now it’s Snapchat.

Shannon Moorman, vp of talent acquisition, GSD&M
I seek those who have won awards for their writing, filmmaking or other creative outlet but not necessarily in the traditional forums (i.e., Cannes Lions, Clios), but those who were awarded literature awards or scholarships as well as those who may have been awarded top blogging honors or who have published essays in national outlets like Huffington Post. We have also looked for resumes that demonstrate a disciplined rigor around research and analytics in a non-traditional skill set.


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