Need a job? 14 tips for interviewing in crazy times.

It’s that time of year again. College seniors should be triumphantly crossing the stage and grabbing their pricey diplomas to the proud applause of their relieved families. Only this year things are different. Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, graduating seniors haven’t seen their classmates in months. Graduation ceremonies are on a laptop. And students are stumbling out of college to find nearly 40 million adults out of work and willing to stab them with a fork to get the same entry-level jobs.  

Under these conditions the smiles, pride, and sense of accomplishment of the college grad are short-lived. The student loans are coming like the Educational Grim Reaper.  Empty-nesting parents’ once again have birds in the nest. And everyone needs worms.

Find A Job Like It’s Your Job

Whether you are a new graduate or newly unemployed, it’s time to find a job. Except now, because there are many more candidates than there are jobs, you need to bring your A-Game. If you are anything like I was when I graduated from college you don’t have a clue how to land that first job. I have learned a lot since then. Here they are in a particular order.

12 keys to successful job hunting.

portrait of a man in corporate attire
Looking good is always a good idea.

1. Request an informational interview.

This is the single best advice I can offer. It’s a free audition for you and the employer. And if the person you are calling won’t take the time to help out a young prospect, or an experienced candidate who needs a hand, you don’t want to work for that selfish bastard or bastardette anyway.

2. Research the company you want to talk to.

If you really want to talk to an employer you should know something about them and their company. To impress, show up with as much knowledge as you can find on the business you’re interested in, and its clients. A great tool I recommend using to do your research is the internet. Because it has all the information ever accumulated by mankind. #noexcuses

3. Work Your Network.

Use Linkedin to see if you have a connection to someone who works where you want to work. Do your research to see if you know someone who can introduce you to someone at that organization. Having an insider vouch for you is like cutting to the front of the line. Ivy Leaguge kids know to do this. You need to too.

4. Make connections.

I’m not just talking about people networking. Make connections between the organization’s needs and your own areas of knowledge and expertise. I got my first job because I knew a lot about farming. And the advertising agency I called for an informational interview had a new client that manufactured farm equipment. The agency seemed to know nothing about agriculture. So to them, I was like Doogie Howser in flannel.

5. Write down your talking points and questions ahead of time. 

If you don’t have any questions for your interviewer you suck at interviewing. Because it indicates that you aren’t thinking, or are not interested. Both make you easy to move to the reject pile.  Yet it can be hard for humans to come up with a good question when you are asked if you have any questions. So script you questions before the interview. You’ll get extra points if you tie your question to some research you did on the company. One of the great things about video conference interviews is that you can keep you written prompts handy for reference at all times. Heck, you can stick Post-It notes all over your interview space if you want. This is like legal cheating. Do it. It helps.

man taking notes in front of his computer
Come prepared with talking points. Because it is hard to think on your feet when you are sitting down.

6. Show up with a pen and paper.

If your interview is in person make sure you bring a pen and notebook and demonstrate that you have them. It shows that you are prepared. That you are gathering information and taking tips and advice. It is a sign of respect to the interviewer. It says, ‘I would like to capture the pearls of wisdom you are sure to drop.’ Employers assume anyone who would show up to an interview without a pen and paper will forget to do other things too. Like zip their fly, wash their hands, and bring their corporate credit card when they are taking a client to lunch. Demonstrating that you have the pad and paper says more than you realize. Even if you never use them.

7. Show up a little early.

Don’t get carried away here. There is a proper amount of early. Too early and you look socially awkward. And late is the kiss of death. This is also true for a video conference interview. Log on a few minutes early to demonstrate your timeliness. Just being there when the interviewer logs on will make a good first impression. As long as you are clothed. For tips on how to look good on camera see this post I wrote about looking good on camera for a TV interview from home via Zoom.

8. Dress professionally.

Determine what that means in your world. For my first interviews out of school I borrowed a suit from my college buddy, Greg Gill Jr. Greg is now a judge and wears a black dress to work. I have never worn a tie to work since. But I made good first impressions. And I got job offers. Remember, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. And you are never fully dressed without a smile.

9. Practive telling your story.

You have an interesting story to tell about what you know, what you have done and what makes you a great addition to any organization that would hire you. Practice telling that story. Make it concise, funny and interesting. It should get better every time you tell it. Like a standup comedy routine. People love stories. Telling a great one will give you an unfair advantage over others you are competing with for the job you want. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. It’s how great candidates get noticed.

10. Lose the like.

If there is one thing that reminds me that you’re still a kid it’s using like the word like like way too like much. While on the topic of language, I would also like you to stop saying, ‘to be honest…’ or ‘to tell you the truth…’ Those indicate that the rest of what you said may not be fully honest or truthful. Also, avoid pairing kinda or sorta with really. Those words are opposites, and they negate each other. It’s like putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room.

confident young woman sitting on office chair in old aged artist workshop
Don’t dress like this. Unless you are interviewing to be a belly button model. 

11. Prove direction.

It’s great to be open to various possibilities. But I want to hire someone who knows what she or he wants. So know your skills. Know what interests you. Have a vision. And don’t get lost on the way to or from the bathroom.

12.  Don’t drink at the interview.

Interviews in some industries, like advertising agencies, can be tricky. Especially if you show up late in the afternoon or on a Friday. The beer is often available and encouraged (this is starting to sound like an ad for advertising). Don’t play along. The dangers outweigh the risks in this case. Demonstrate your self-restraint. Ad people are really good at drinking (see Mad Men). And there are always plenty of permanent markers around and artists who know how to use them on your face.

13. Talk about how you and your friends never use Facebook or Instagram.

Even if you are on Facebook all day every day say that you can’t stand it. Businesses are always trying to spot the next trend they know nothing about. Kids, this is the ace up your sleeve. Tell them about the cool new things you are into and how you are rejecting all previously embraced media. Your stock will rise. Trust me. For the experienced unemployed, make sure you know about TikTok, Snapchat and Dingle. Okay, I may have made one of those up. You should know which one.

14.  Follow up.

After the interview, send a note thanking the people you met for their time.  This is important in several ways. It shows that you are considerate. It shows that you follow through. And it ensures that the people you talked to have your contact information. Send a note in the mail or by email. Both work. Email makes it easy for them to reply to you. A mailed note always feels special. And retro. Here’s the story of a great follow up note I received after an interview.

 

Key Takeaway

A good interview, whether in person, on the phone, or online is all about being prepared. Do your homework. Know the company and the people you are meeting with. Prepare your talking points and your questions ahead of time. Bring a pen and paper. Don’t drink. Where clothes. Smile. And follow up. Good luck!

*If you know someone who needs a job right now, please share this post with them. Let’s give them every advantage they can get.

You are luckier than you realize.

I recently discussed my upcoming travel plans with my teenage daughter, Ava. I told her that the next morning I had a flight that left at 5:40am. Her jaw dropped. She looked at me in disbelief. Finally, she said, ‘You are sooo lucky!!!’

I was not sure she understood what I had said. I clarified that my flight left at 5:40, AM. Which is the morning one. She said, ‘I know.’

I asked, ‘What time do you think I need to get up to make a 5:40am flight?’ She ran some quick calculations in her head and confidently replied, ‘4:00am.’ Which both Steve Harvey and Richard Dawson’s surveys said was the number one answer on the board.

I asked, ‘Then why do you think I am so lucky? To which she responded:

‘You are lucky because you get to go on a trip! For work! Dad, you are getting paid to travel! Which means you are killing it! Plus, you love your job. And you won’t be working the entire time. So you’ll get to enjoy some good meals and free time in a fun city. And I have to go to school.’

-Ava Albrecht (14 y/o)
Me and my daughter, Ava, and some Chihuly glass.

From The Mouths of Babes

What a great perspective. When I was planning the launch of my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry I dreamed of the day that a client would pay me to travel for business. Today, we have 3 Weapons traveling to Las Vegas for a week to do important work for one of our great clients. And I am feeling extremely lucky. Like a rabbit with its lucky rabbit’s feet all still attached.

One Last Reminder

As I boarded my flight at 5am, I spotted my friend Mark in line behind me. We greeted each other enthusiastically. He told me that he and his family were headed to Costa Rica for spring break. He continued, ‘I assume you are traveling for business.’ I confirmed that I was. To which he responded, ‘Yeah, but you love your work.’

Indeed I do. Which makes me really lucky.

Key Takeaway.

If you enjoy your work you are lucky. If you get paid to travel you are lucky. If you start a business and attract customers or clients who dig what you do, you are lucky. It is easy to lose sight of your good fortune. Or to take it for granted. So this is a simple reminder that having family and friends to remind your of the good things in your life is lucky too. Have a great day! I hope you kill it!

*If you know someone who could use this reminder, please share it with them.

Forget what you see on TV. This is what an advertising agency is really like.

I admit, I am a fairly loud human. As an extrovert I love to interact with other people. I like to talk, laugh, and not-so-occasionally sing. It doesn’t surprise people when they find out that I  work at an advertising agency. More specifically, in 2016 I founded an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Naturally, you would expect an agency to reflect the personality of the Founder. And indeed, it does.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Reality Check

But right now it is deafeningly quiet in our office. There is no witty banter among colleagues. No loud music thumping. No pinging and ponging. No pinball machine dinging. No sounds of ball-smacking at the foosball table.

Just quiet.

Tour Disappointment

Many times during my career, in moments just like this, an agency executive would stride through the quiet office, excited to show off the totally cool agency to a client. And the executive would be clearly disappointed by the quiet.

They would often apologize to their tour mate with a line like, ‘It’s usually much louder in here.‘ Or, ‘We have a lot of people out right now.’ Or ‘We have to be careful since we got that last noise violation…’

This is all because ad agencies like The Weaponry are supposed to be loud, fun, energetic and entertaining, right?

And often times we are.

IMG_8840
I think this is a picture of thinking.

But other times, like now, we are as quiet as a library on Saturday night. Because creators gotta create. And we don’t need to get loud to do it. Quite the opposite (or is it quiet the opposite?). The harder I work, the more focused I am, the quieter I am. So are my fellow Weapons. Because the most important work we do is the mental processing we perform when we are alone. That is when we are finding the language to articulate our new ideas in words and images. It is when we are editing our thinking down to the simplest, cleanest, clearest expressions. And that takes quiet focus.

Key Takeaway

If you stop by an ad agency when the people are really, really quiet, don’t be disappointed that you didn’t get a show. Stick around a few minutes to watch the work in progress. It’s usually, fast, focused and fascinating. During a break in the action ask if you can see the work hot-off-the-fingertips. When you see the freshly crafted art, read the  newly woven words, or ingest the just-birthed strategy, you’ll understand that silence is golden.

It’s where the real magic happens.

How does your job look on you?

How often do you take a good long look at your job? Once a year? Once an hour? Once a never? It is really easy to stop evaluating your job and simply accept it as your reality.  Then years go by, and your job search muscles atrophy to the point where you can barely lift your interviewing suit off the hanger.

Many of us accept our jobs as necessary, but not special. Your job provides the money you need for critical things like food, clothing, shelter and a mobile phone. However, the ‘necessary evil’ mindset leads many of us to jobs that are just… fine.

But life it too short, and the workday is too long for fine.

I have reevaluated my job-love frequently throughout my career. But instead of job-hopping I have used my evaluations to tailor my jobs in ways that kept them feeling enjoyable, dynamic and growth-oriented.

A New Lens

A couple of years ago, while mentally jogging, I began thinking of my job as clothing. It made me consider my personal style, the image I want to show the world and my personal comfort. In that context it was clear to me that my current job didn’t fit me. The size, style and cut of the clothing was nice. But it just wasn’t for me. Clothes are highly personal that way.

So I decided to do something about it. I got all idyllic. I thought a lot about the perfect job. I thought about the perfect place to work, the perfect kind of work and the perfect culture. I even started a blog about it. Maybe you’ve read it.

I concluded that the specific place I was looking for didn’t exist, yet. So I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.  Today, I couldn’t be happier. Everything about it seems to fit me. It seems the people working at The Weaponry are enjoying their experience too.  Perhaps because we set out to make this a really enjoyable place to work. Perhaps this is because, like fashion designers preparing for a runway show, we have been able to pick people for our team that we knew would look good in our jobs.

Now, back to you.

Today  I want you to think of your job as a piece of clothing.  It could be a dress, a suit, a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a blouse or jacket. I want you to think about the fit and feel of your current job. Think about the style and the silhouette.

Now, let’s evaluate.

14 Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Job, If It Were A Piece Of Clothing.

  1. Do I like wearing it?
  2. Does it fit me well?
  3. Do I choose to wear it as often as I can?
  4. Would I only wear it if everything else was in the laundry?
  5. How would I feel if an old boyfriend or girlfriend saw me wearing this?
  6. Is it out of style?
  7. It is well-tailored to me?
  8. Does it make my butt look big?
  9. Am I excited that I own it?
  10. Do I get compliments when I wear it?
  11. Does wearing it make me feel stronger, more attractive or more fun?
  12. Could I really benefit from removing it from my closet?
  13. Is it the right style, but too big or too small?
  14. Do I cringe when I see the types of other people who wear what I’m wearing?

Here’s the reality: Your job really is like a piece of clothing. You wear it more than anything else you own.  Yet many people would be better off donating their jobs to Goodwill. You may think your current position is better than nothing. But I know many people who would look better wearing no job than the one they currently have.

You have more career options than you realize. You have the ability to create your own job, perfectly tailored to you.  Don’t ever forget that.  The more you enjoy your job, the more you enjoy your life. As far as I know, we only get one shot to get this right. So find something you love to do and a place you love to do it. If you find it doesn’t exist, make it yourself.

5 things I’m thankful for at work.

Like my fellow Americans, today I’m reflecting on my blessings. I enjoy a very full and well rounded life (although I expect to be even fuller and rounder in a few hours).  I have so much to be thankful for I can’t possibly mention it all. So here is a quick overview of 5 things I’m thankful for this year at work.

1. I don’t have to wear a collared shirt with my company’s logo on it. 

logo shirts

The relaxed advertising agency dress code is one of the top reasons I chose this profession. I was reminded of this yesterday as I had lunch next to four guys who work at the local John Deere dealership. I know this because they each wore a shirt with the name of the dealership embroidered on it. I expect the shirts make them feel as if they are part of a team. But I’m thankful to be on a team that promotes individual self expression. (Plus, I know that logo shirts are ad units which warrant compensation in exchange for prime placement.)

2. Our Coke Freestyle Machine.

When I was a kid I remember going to my Dad’s office and thinking it was so cool that they had a vending machine that sold Cokes in glass bottles. My office now has a Coke Freestyle machine that lets you create over 125 different drinks whenever you want. The drinks are all free with employment at Moxie. Which makes my kids think I have the coolest job ever. Even thought we have grown used to it I certainly don’t take this boyhood-dream-come-true for granted.

3. Video Chats

video-chat

 

For the past 8 years I have managed a team spread across multiple offices. Many managers and teams struggle with the distance. One of the most valuable tools I use to bridge the space between our offices is video chat. I use it almost everyday, often multiple times a day.  It offers valuable, face to face communication that allows me to recognize nuances in communication that you just can’t detect through email, IM, text, phone calls or smoke signals. Note: I also get a lot of strange looks from coworkers when they pop into my office and find me telling stories to my laptop.

4. Frequent Flyer Miles.

IMG_6420

I have a lot of frequent flyer miles from work travel. This fall my Mother In Law was diagnosed with cancer. Those miles made it easy for my wife to fly home to Wisconsin to see her mom and be there as she went through surgery and treatments. The miles are a nice bit of compensation for all the time I’m away from home. And they made it easy to support our family members when they needed it most.

5. Moleskine Notebooks

2015 was an unprecedented year in my accumulation of these amazing notebooks. I had numerous meetings and conferences this year where these books were part of the swag. I have a hard time turning off my thinker. These notebooks are the perfect receptical for me to store the thoughts and ideas that pop in my head before they disappear into the ether. Sure, I use Notes on my phone and Evernote and other digital tools. But nothing gives me the satisfaction of holding a hard covered book full of my own words, sketches and ideas.  I have a vision of my offspring making a fortune off of the ideas they find in my notebooks after I die. Or at a minimum they could set up a cart selling corny t-shirts and bumper stickers to pay for their therapy.

I hope you all enjoy your time off and recognize all you have to be thankful for at work. Even if somedays it feels like you’re surrounded by turkeys like me.