Did Noah keep woodpeckers on the ark? Where did he stow them?
Is Disney World really just a people trap operated by a mouse?
What happens if you get scared half to death … twice?
All of these questions will produce some very interesting answers, but none of them will really cut the mustard in a job interview situation at your agency.
Interviewing for a new position – whether it’s on your creative team, account management, or admin – isn’t easy. You only have an hour of a candidate’s time in order to figure out if they’re the right person for your team. It’s important to choose the right questions.
Don’t worry. We can help you with that. Here’s a list of 25 great questions to ask at an interview in order to get the right insights. You’ll be able to pinpoint the perfect candidate for your agency in no time.
Question 1: “Tell me a little about yourself.”
I know, I know, this sounds pretty dull, and as an agency you want to do everything with a POW and a ZING. But bear with me.
This is a great question to ask to begin an interview. It helps you to establish rapport with the interviewee, and enables you to effortlessly segway into more in-depth questions about particularly interesting aspects of their story. It also swing the conversation directly over to them, allowing them to set the tone and choose the direction.
For creative agency roles in particular, I find the way a person constructs a narrative around their life to be a big clue into their personality. You don’t need their whole life story, but you can get a sense straight up if they’re a good fit for the team.
Question 2: “How did you find out about the position?”
A seemingly innocuous question, which I would mainly ask to see two things:
- The applicant's enthusiasm for the position. Did they just see it on a website and think, “eh, might be a good fit”, or have they been stalking your Facebook page for months, hoping to get a chance?
- Did the applicant come as a referral from a current staff member?
The agency world can be very small, so if one of your own team members has suggested a friend or acquaintance apply, it means they already believe this person to be a great fit.
Question 3: “What do you know about our agency?”
This question helps you to ascertain a candidate’s enthusiasm for the position. I would expect a candidate to have looked over our website, understand the type of creative work we do, and who some of our major clients are. It’s also great to hear the candidate mention the fact that the agency has recently won an award or been in the media. It shows they’ve gone to great lengths to research our brand and reputation.
I have also found in interview situations that this question acts as a great conversation starter, as candidates will often have questions about how the agency operates, its clients, or a recent media appearance that make sense to ask at this time.
Question 4: “Why should I hire you?”
I love this question. You’re asking the candidate to sell themselves, which, considering agencies are in the business of selling brands, makes perfect sense.
For the candidate this question can be rather intimidating, but when a creative person is put on the spot, they’ll often come up with a great answer. As you don’t know the candidate personally, being able to hear in their own words where they feel their strengths lie can help you identify if they’re the right person to fill a hole in your team.
You’re also able to focus conversation around their reasons for moving from their current position. I’m always fascinated by what drives people to move to a new company or role. Are they dissatisfied with their current work / clients? Are they looking for a different office environment? Is it lifestyle pressures – such as moving city – requiring a change? Do they crave more growth, different benefits, or a chance to sink their teeth into something unique? This is a great question to gain insight into the candidate’s life and career goals.
Question 5: “What do you consider your weaknesses?”
It’s the question interviewees love to hate. In fact, I’ve sworn inwardly every time I’ve heard this question while on the other side of the table.
Unfortunately for candidates, this question is definitely going to stay in rotation for years to come, because it’s simply too good.
When you ask a candidate to identify their weaknesses, you’re looking to see a level of self-reflection and awareness. They should know what they need to work on in order to be better at their job.
What I look for are candidates who explain a weakness they recognise (for example, mine is that I’m scatterbrained) and how they are working to improve it. I feel creatives need to know their weaknesses (for example, a design candidate may be great at photo manipulation but typography isn’t his strong point) so they can be given work that best fits with their skills.
Be wary of generic answers like “I’m too organised” or “I’m a perfectionist.” They demonstrate the candidate is trying to give you the answer they think you want to hear, instead of an honest assessment of their faults. You can dig deeper into the candidate’s answer with a follow up question, such as “tell me about a time you failed?”
Question 6: “What is your biggest professional achievement?”
After hemming and hawing their way through the last question, I love to give candidates a chance to show off again with a nod to their professional achievements.
Get them to talk about a project that lit them up, or an award they won, or a client they helped land. Don’t just nod and smile, ask questions, get them to elaborate and share actual numbers and results.
Sharing real numbers is important. A lot of candidates talk themselves up, so it’s good to understand what benchmarks for success they have set.
Question 7: “Tell me about a challenge you experienced at your last agency, and how you dealt with it.”
I know what I want to hear in this question – a results focused, problem-solving attitude and a team player – but it can be a bit hit or miss, especially if a candidate hasn’t prepared. You’re just as likely to hear about the time they locked their keys in the car or when they accidentally blew up the microwave in the staff kitchen (or, in my case, nearly beheaded Xero’s CEO with a lighting rig), which may be amusing anecdotes but reveal little about conflict resolution.
Even so, this question can really get a candidate to open up about their working style and how they deal with conflict, all important things to know when dealing with a bustling agency environment.
Question 8: What brands / agencies / creatives do you admire?
Anyone in the creative fields or agency world needs to stay informed about trends and the people who are doing them well. You want a candidate who is aware of the wider design/content/marketing/branding world and who has discerning taste when it comes to the type of projects they want to pursue.
Your candidate should at least be able to name one or two recent projects or campaigns from local or international agencies that have inspired them. If not, I’d be seriously concerned they didn’t pay enough attention to the wider creative sphere.
Question 9: “Describe your dream client/project.”
Creative people often move around agencies quickly, and part of that reason is they’re always on the hunt for creatively-fulfilling projects. Asking your candidate about the types of projects they dream of working on can help you see if they’re going to get that fulfillment with you. If their dream is to work on branding for adventure sport labels and luxury cars, and you’re a B2B agency specialising in the dental industry, that candidate needs to look elsewhere.
Question 10: Are you working on a personal project? If so, what is it?
I love to hear about a candidate’s personal projects. Self-initiated projects are common among creative professionals, whether they’re designers, copywriters, or even accounts people. Does your candidate pursue creative endeavours outside of work, or do they prefer to spend their evenings watching TV?
Maybe your candidate:
- Has a blog for showcasing new designs
- Creates t-shirts with funny slogans to sell at markets
- Is writing a science fiction novel
- Makes beds for rescue cats that look like mini mid century homes
- Paints murals across the city for different charity groups
Any of these candidates sound like the dedicated, creative, and fun people you’d want to have on your team.
Question 11: “How do you prefer to work?”
Company culture is an important consideration for candidates, and as an agency leader, you should be keen to maintain the culture you’ve created. Does the candidate prefer a quiet room, or one with the radio blaring? Do they like a lot of structured collaboration, or more of a free brainstorming process? Do they prefer to prepare ideas in advance, or stab in the dark? Do they require flexible hours, or a remote working arrangement?
All these questions determine if a candidate is going to be a good fit at your agency.
Question 12: “Describe your management style.”
Obviously, this question applies to candidates applying for management roles. Ask the candidate to elaborate with some examples of their favourite moments at their last agency. Look for a manager who is strong, focused, and flexible, and looks after his/her people.
Question 13: Tell me about a time you exercised leadership?
Whoo boy. You really do like coming down hard on potential candidates, don’t you? A tough question to answer, but a good one if you want to get insight into a person’s character, and their ideas over what make a good leader. I find this question works well for roles where a candidate will have autonomy over their work or opportunities for advancement.
Question 14: How would your current team describe you?
I like to throw this question in because I think it lightens the mood after some of the tougher questions. Often, a candidate will show their sense of humour here, and it can be a great way to bring the conversation back to a more casual place.
Also, it gives insight into the way the candidate interacts with their current team, and the way they like to work in general. (Are they quiet, or opinionated? Do they take charge at meetings, or sit back and let others speak? You can ask them to elaborate on any points they bring up to give additional insight.)
Question 15: What are you reading right now?
Not everyone is a reader, but if you’re anything like me, you expect the members of your agency team to be keeping up with books in the field, or simply reading to be inspired, or to relax. I love to talk to candidates who can articulate what a book is about in a couple of short sentences (it demonstrates they can also do this when creating campaigns for clients), and explain how the book impacts their life or work.
Question 16: How do you deal with stress or high-pressure situations?
In agency life, you often have to deal with disgruntled clients, looming deadlines, and other situations that put you under stress. Looking for an agency job that’s stress-free just isn’t possible, but finding ways to cope with stress is the only way to survive. Has your candidate learned how they react under pressure? What strengths do they bring to a high-pressure situation, and what are their weaknesses?
Question 17: What is your most significant accomplishment? Or, what are you most proud of?
This question shows you what a person values. Is it the recognition of winning an industry award? Is it achieving a milestone result for a client? Is it simply the job of creating something truly one-of-a-kind?
To me, this question is a no-brainer. If a candidate can’t tell you about specific achievements in their previous job, or in their life as a whole, then they are probably not the kind of winner you want on your team.
Question 18: You’re hosting a dinner party and you can invite three guest, alive or dead, living or fictional. Who would you invite?
Your agency team needs to be creative, clever, and able to think of ideas at a moment’s notice. I love a creative question like this to get the candidate to engage the part of their brain that will be in most use while on the job. You’ll gain insight into a candidate’s creative thinking process and how they will function while brainstorming for clients.
And, in case you were wondering, I would invite Sherlock Holmes, Cleopatra, and Bruce Dickinson (lead vocalist of Iron Maiden). We would have roast chicken and apple pie.
Question 19: What do you think we could do better or differently?
An interesting question to ask a person who has only cursory familiarity with your company. This question assumes a level of research into the work your agency has done and your team style.
I would look for candidates who can come to the table with new ideas and approaches, even if they’re not appropriate. Even just a simple, “I think your office space could be made more appealing for clients if you took out the partition wall between the design team and the client meeting area.” Maybe not an ideal suggestion, it it shows the candidate is thinking critically.
Question 20: What have you done in your career that you were successful at, but don’t want to ever do again?
This is an interesting question that isn’t often asked, but it can provide some interesting insight. According to Hubspot VP of Global Customer Support, Michael Redbord, a candidate’s answer will usually relate to menial tasks, something where they had to work closely in a team, or something that was simply really, really hard. Follow up questions help you understand whether the candidate understands the importance of performing these tasks, or if they have issues with ego – neither of which will go over well in an agency environment.
Question 21: Do you think it’s better to let things live, or wait until they are perfect?
In the last two jobs I interviewed for, I was asked this question, and I thought it was a great one. It immediately told the interviewer how I preferred to work and whether my style would fit with the culture of the team.
Question 22: Do you have any questions for us?
An interview isn’t a one-way conversation. As much as you’re sussing out the candidate, they are also trying to figure out if your company is right for them. This questions gives them an opportunity to clear up any issues or get answers for their own questions.
Don’t penalise a candidate for not having questions. If the rapport during the interview flows, you may have answered all their questions already.
Question 23: What do you like to do outside of work?
I find this question is also a great tool to lighten conversation after tough questions, especially if the candidate is visibly stressed. Most people can talk animatedly about their hobbies and passions, and it can be a great way to get shy, reserved candidates to open up.
Really, this question just tells you as the interviewer what lights the candidate up. I love to hear about creative projects, sports and hobbies. You can also use it to gauge how professional a candidate is – if they start talking about a recent night of drunken shenanigans, you know they might not be a good fit for a client-facing environment.
Question 24: What are you passionate about?
Similar to the question above, but with a wider focus. You can use this question to learn more about a candidate’s values and goals. I love candidates who talk about concepts, ideas, worldviews. Who can show me that the same passions carry them throughout multiple phases and interests in their life. You can even make the question more specific, but asking about what a candidate values or even, “What is one thing about the creative process you love/hate?”
Question 25: What’s something you can teach me?
I don’t hear this question come up a lot, but I think it should definitely be more common. Mainly, it helps you as the interviewer to see how a candidate behaves in an environment where they are the one in charge. Do they find communicating their ideas exciting, stressful, or annoying?
How do they approach the task of teaching you something?
- Do they launch straight into a lesson with animated gestures?
- Do they ask more questions in order to gather information about what you need to be taught and how?
- Do they grow not impatient and want to move on with the interview?
- Do they explain the idea with simple words?
- Do they use concepts and metaphors in order to make the idea easy to comprehend?
- Do they clarify when you’re confused?
- Do they take responsibility for ensuring you understand the idea in all its facets?
These qualities are signposts for a person with high emotional intelligence and could be a great addition to your agency team.
25 questions is probably far too many for an interview, so pick and choose those ones from this list that best fit your interview style, and will provide you with the most insight about the candidate. All the best with choosing the right candidate for the job!