The old R/GA offices were housed in two-story Bauhaus structure, set off from grimy, howling 39th street by a green courtyard. As I approached it on foot, stiff with caffeine and an art-directed air of haut nerd intensity, the preciousness of this surreal building did little to calm my pre-interview nerves. Interviews suck… even for creatives like me who enjoy pitching and performing. Like most female creative directors, I approached the encounter with a desire to impress… and no road map.
I think I did 10 meetings. Back-to-back. I was exhausted by the time I met Chloe Gottlieb – a creative powerhouse and brush-clearer that I’d looked up to from afar. The caffeine was long gone, and I was left with a dry mouth and low blood sugar. She offered me a banana and I took it… hoping that eating in an interview might come off as charming. We arrived at the part where she asked me if I had questions, and I’m sure my queries were dressed to impress. Just before we finished though, she leaned forward with a wry smile. “Elizabeth. Don’t forget. You’re interviewing US. Before you make your decision, come back with some harder questions.”
This gentle admonition became the spinal column around which my career philosophy and even management style grew. This concept of agency, of respect for one’s own talent and value, acts as a hard reset to the power values between employer and employee. The interview is your time to take the company to task. The notion that your employers NEED YOU as much as you need them is rarely communicated to young professionals, and especially rarely to women.
If you start googling “Women Interview” the entire first page of results is still about how to dress or wear your hair. I’m not joking; try it. Despite the weather system of “Me Too” that is changing the climate of professional behavior, there still remains a horrifying lack of guidance for ambitious females. This void combined with the primitive programming of submission and ladylikeness most girls receive sets up many strong hires for bad interviews. She might get the job, but it may not be the job she should have or the place she should be.
During my subsequent years at R/GA, Trollback and Grey, I helped develop mentorship programs to groom women for senior creative positions (the current percentage of female creative directors is 11%. Yup.) When we focused on the interview – both giving and receiving them – we considered the kinds of questions that could act as correct provocations. Everyone feels intimidated by the interview process. How could we hack our scripts and attitudes to adjust the balance of power in the room? Everyone’s also has different priorities- but it’s illuminating discipline to ask yourself “What is this company going to do for ME?”
Years later, when I decided to leave creative agencies in favor of the tech world, I distilled those learnings into my own questionnaire. In spite having given and received many interviews since that day at R/GA, I still felt a prickle of nervousness as I added these to my list.
- Who are your leaders, and what are their values? How many of them are women?
- Are you prepared to be transparent about equal pay?
- Why is diversity important to your company?
- How are raises given? What is the process of being promoted?
- What is your company doing to fight sexism, racism and homophobia in your culture?
- Talk to me about a female colleague or leader who has inspired you
In the end, I chose Creative Shop at Facebook as my home. Out of the many exciting possibilities, FB/Instagram simply did the best job of answering my tough questions. My bosses are women all the way to the top, and I am constantly inspired and challenged by the company’s quest to promote not just a diverse roster but an inclusive mindset. Interviewing each other established a relationship of mutual respect, and I left the sessions confident that I could make an optimistic and deliberate choice on my behalf. It was a revelation how ill-prepared some of my interviewers were to answer some of those tough questions. To be agents of a bright future for both ourselves and the world, it’s never been more critical that we walk into the room with the dignity and confidence that says “I am here to interview YOU.”
Facebook Creative Shop was a sponsor of The Drum Creative Awards 2017 and the Creative Women of the Year category. These awards strive to give creativity and design a platform to shine and are open to entries from across the globe.
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