Odd Man Out

In February, Foote Cone & Belding’s Nancee Martin got a résumé from a former Metropolitan Transit Authority worker that detailed his experience as a New York City bus driver and subway operator. “He was so familiar with traffic, he wanted to move into our traffic department,” explains Martin, chief talent officer. “I’m not against hiring outside the industry—but that one’s way too far afield.”

Tracey Taylor, senior account manager at Aquent in New York, says that last year she heard from a man describing himself as a “self-starter” who was ready to hang up his pest-control equipment for a job in production and design at the creative resources agency. In his cover letter, “he kept talking about his management experience,” as if it would make up for his dearth of relevant skills, Taylor recalls.

Almost everyone who’s sifted through stacks of résumés has tales to tell of job applicants so far off the mark, their applications seem like April Fools jokes. And the advertising industry seems to attract more than its fair share of outsiders wanting in.

Amy Hoover, vp at Atlanta recruitment firm The Talent Zoo, thinks that’s because of how TV paints the ad business. “They watched Melrose Place and think it will be high-powered meetings and jets,” she says. “We get people who still think advertising is what Bewitched was like: a couple of martinis with lunch and client meetings with mishaps in the office.” (Hoover’s most out-of-left-field applicant: a mortician living in India who wanted a copywriter job in the U.S.)

Or perhaps consumers who pay attention to ads think of themselves as experts. At DDB in Chicago, people regularly call public affairs contact Amy Hoffar, bursting with suggestions for Budweiser ads—and become irate when told outside ideas aren’t considered. “They ask, ‘How can I get you an idea?’And I say, ‘Well, you have to get a job here,’ ” Hoffar says. “I don’t think people realize we’re paid for our ideas.”

People may be constantly exposed to branding, Taylor says, but “whether they are capable of creating exceptional design themselves is another story.” Even experience in a related field doesn’t automatically translate to advertising. Sallie Mars, svp of creative services at McCann Erickson in New York, says she hears from many failed screenwriters. “They say, ‘What else can I do?’ and they immediately think ‘advertising!’ ”

Mars explains to the few she agrees to meet that their 120-page scripts are not evidence they can write 30-second commercials. Plus, says Mars, screenwriters “act like they’re doing you a big favor” by writing ads.

At Grey in New York, Beth Silver, human resources director, says she frequently hears from smart professionals with no ad experience, such as manufacturing managers—unemployed execs who send feelers everywhere and anywhere. But getting hired into a senior spot without nuts-and-bolts agency skills is a long shot, says Alison Lord, director of human resources for Lowe in New York. “It’s not rocket science,” she says, “but it’s difficult to take someone who has, say, marketing expertise, but if they don’t know how to run a photo shoot, they have one hand tied behind their back.”

That’s not to say some applicants can’t break in. Monica Buchanan, creative recruiter at BBDO in New York, recently got a portfolio filled with reworked versions of existing ads—it was riddled with clichés, lacked concepts and “used cutesy words.” But she still opened a file on the applicant, a seventh-grade teacher in New York, because the woman’s ambition impressed her. “I told her she could benefit from taking a few courses,” Buchanan says.

Not all applicants are willing to hear constructive advice. Last year, a doctor called JacobsKozuck, a New York recruitment firm, offering up medical reports and journal articles as evidence of his copywriting skills. When Judy Kozuck suggested he focus on breaking into medical advertising, the man balked, saying he didn’t want to do anything relating to medicine.

The doctor might want to keep one salient fact in mind: “In recent years, it’s been hard for someone with relevant ad experience to get hired,” says The Talent Zoo’s Hoover. And without it, she adds, “it’s been slim to none breaking into the business.”