Top 5 Do’s & Don’ts for Interviewing With a Digital Agency

By Andrea Pollock, Recruiter, Talent Manager

We love our employees and we’re always on the lookout for the best talent to join us in the fun here at Smashing Ideas. So we want to give you a helping hand; an interview heads up, if you will. While many of these points apply to any interview, the interactive world seems to have a particular persnickety set of rules all their own. Your resume gets you in the door, but it’s your interview that determines whether or not you’ll be participating in next month’s office ping-pong tournament.

Whether it’s your first foray into interactive, or you’re a seasoned veteran of the creative world, here’s your heads up before walking through the door:


1.  Research the agency. Knowing the company that you’re interviewing with is of paramount importance. If you don’t know about the clientele, recent work, and thought leadership pieces of current management, it shows a grievous lack of preparation on your part. Do your homework! If you know nothing about the company you’re courting, you come off as someone who wants A job, not THIS job. C’mon! Everyone wants to feel special. We’re no different.
2.  Have a portfolio ready. We don’t want you to just talk the talk, but rather walk the walk! The kid in us still loves show n’ tell, and you should jump at the opportunity to show off what you’re most proud of! Interviewers want to see that you have a passion for detail, a developed design point of view, and more importantly, the ability to put your money where your mouth is. Don’t hide behind confidential projects. If you can’t show your professional work make sure you have examples of your own side projects that indicate your personal aesthetic and quality of work.
3.  Have an opinion. No one likes a yes man. In doing your research on the company you’re interviewing with, think of a few key things you might change if given the opportunity, and present your ideas respectfully. Most top agencies not only welcome suggestions from their entire team, they require that their staff be innovative and present new ideas. Notice something on their website that could be easier to find? Part of their methodology unclear? Say something! If you can address a pain point the agency currently has and offer a solution, you can cement their impression of you as someone who could immediately add value. Welcome aboard, problem solver!
4.  Have insightful questions prepared. Ask questions! There is nothing worse than the sound of crickets when an interviewer opens the floor for questions. You’re interviewing the agency as much as you’re being interviewed. Regardless of how perceptive you are, or how detailed your interviewer is; you don’t know everything there is to know about the job, let alone the company. Nothing says “clueless” like hearing “nope, I think I’ve got it” after a half hour of dialogue. Oh, and your last question should NEVER be: “When do I start?”
5.  Send thank-you’s to the interviewer(s). Whether you write an e-mail directly after leaving an interview, or you have pre-addressed stamped notes ready to drop in the nearest mailbox, sending a thank-you is an often-overlooked indicator. It may seem old school, but most creative agencies still hire based on cultural fit, and sending a speedy note indicates not only your interest in the position, but a level of organization, and an appreciation for the time taken out of someone’s day to chat with you.


1.  Succumb to what may appear to be a casual atmosphere. There’s no need to wear a suit and tie when the rest of the folks are wearing jeans and Chuck Taylors, but let’s face it: you don’t have the job yet, so don’t dress as though you do (we’re looking at you hoodie-wearer). The same goes for chewing gum, using profanity, etc. Regardless of the demeanor of the people interviewing you, it’s your job to stay classy. There’s a difference between mirroring your audience, and assuming the sale. We may not be sticklers for overt professionalism, but we are definitely professionals.
2.  Ask immediately about upward mobility, work-life balance, etc. Want to convince me that you don’t really want this job, and see it as a stepping stone, not a goal? Then be sure to ask about how soon you can transfer to another department. Want me to think you have a questionable work ethic? Ask about work-life balance right out of the gate. Everyone has career aspirations, and a family/significant other/dog/hobby/Game of Thrones obsession/etc. that they’d like to have time for, but asking about these factors early in the process can put your resume right at the top of the rejection pile.
3.  Inflate your abilities. You should be proud of your work – but don’t try to pass your senior’s work off as your own. If you’re at the beginning of your career, make sure you’re honest about just how far your contribution to a certain design/codebase/strategy plan went. We’re interviewing you, not your last project team, so let us know exactly what you did, not what you wish you did.
4.  Bring up examples you can’t support with detail. If you bring up a challenging project, be able to tell your interviewer the details of how the problems you faced were resolved. If you need to “Yadda, yadda, yadda” your way through a project in your portfolio, or a section of your resume, your interviewers are going to wonder why you have it on your resume or portfolio. Even worse, they may wonder if it’s actually something you worked on. Can’t back it up? Don’t bring it up.
5.  Badmouth a former (or current) employer. It’s just not a good idea, period. If asked what prompted your job search, keep it positive. Turn the “why are you looking?” question into a “here’s why I want to work here” answer. Beyond that, we live in a world where the next job you get is probably not the last job you’ll have. No one wants to feel like they might one day be on the receiving end of a gossip rant.

And…at the end of the day, HAVE FUN WITH IT!

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