It’s tough to be an entry-level employee in online media. It’s a tough industry – one that hasn’t stabilized or standardized yet. As a result, there’s a lot of grunt work that entry-level employees need to be able to handle. Starting at the bottom means doing a lot of spreadsheet work, wrestling with minute details, and generally doing a lot of the type of work that no one else wants to do. This is why one of the first things I look for in a potential entry-level employee is raw drive.
Drive is the thing you want when the ad server goes down and you have to piece together a campaign analysis from a mishmash of spreadsheets. These things tend to happen in our industry, and the media coordinator who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done on time is one of an agency’s most valuable assets. Drive can’t be faked. Thankfully, in an interview situation, it’s pretty easy to tell which candidates are driven and which aren’t.
Attention to detail is another thing I look for when I’m hiring someone at the entry level. This is another of those things that can’t be faked. You either have it or you don’t. Things like spelling errors in resumes or cover letters are a telltale sign that a candidate doesn’t possess this characteristic, especially in the age of spellcheckers and such. Look for past work experience in detail-oriented fields and ask candidates about it. For those who are fresh out of college, ask them if they’ve done work with their college newspaper, radio or TV station, or yearbook. As many folks who seek entry-level advertising jobs are communications majors, you’ll find that quite a few of them have done this type of work. Ask for a sample and you’ll have something that will allow you to gauge the candidate’s attention to detail.
Computer literacy is another important attribute, and it’s something that’s pretty easy to screen for. Many job candidates have a “computer skills” section on their resume. For those that don’t, look for anything mentioning formal training in or familiarity with office suites like Microsoft Office or Lotus. I probably don’t need to remind people that knowing Excel is critical. Nothing is worse than a media coordinator who doesn’t know Excel. If candidates don’t know it well, don’t waste any more time with them. It’s not worth it in the long run. Also look for any experience with programming or other computer applications. A working knowledge of how computers work is a tremendous asset in this industry, and it aids in problem solving in many ways.
A willingness to learn is a critical characteristic of a successful entry-level employee. During interviews, I like to set the expectation that someone coming in at the bottom will have to stay there for a year to 18 months while they learn the business and prove that they’re able to handle higher-level work. A good candidate will ask questions about training programs and “learning by doing.” Questions from a candidate about what they expect to learn in their first year, or about what skill sets they’ll be honing always score big bonus points with me in an interview.
Ideally, candidates have some media planning/buying skills, coupled with technology experience. But that’s a rare skill set. I find that it’s easier to teach media planners technology than the other way around. So I look for planning and buying skill first, then technology experience. I’ll take a planner from a traditional agency with a willingness to learn over a techie almost any day.
Finally, the most important characteristic (IMHO) I look for in a candidate is trustworthiness. I immediately disqualify people whom I catch in a lie during the interview process, no matter how small or insignificant. We trust entry-level employees with the details of our clients’ marketing efforts. Any indication that they might betray that trust or fail to take it seriously is a big red flag. Check with references to ensure that a candidate is trustworthy before extending an offer. It will pay handsome dividends in the future.
There’s a lot of talent on the streets right now. We have an opportunity to pick new employees from that vast talent pool. Take advantage of this situation while you can.