THE BLOG
09/03/2013 03:06 pm ET | Updated Nov 03, 2013

How to Get Hired: Show Perspective, Not Pedigree

I do a lot of public speaking, frequently to young people. But whether the audience is full of college graduates or accomplished professionals, the first question I'm always asked is, "What do you look for in the people you hire?"

It seems the dismal job market has created some real cynicism about whether America is still the land of opportunity, especially among recent graduates. What are companies looking for? How can prospective hires get a competitive advantage in an overcrowded marketplace?

One of the founding fathers of the advertising industry, Bill Bernbach, once said, "Throw out the resume. Hire on character." He believed -- and I do, too -- that you can hire smart people, or you can hire nice people, but the way to win is to find ambitious, curious people who are both smart AND nice.

I started at Hill Holliday thirty-one years ago as the receptionist, and this year I was named CEO, only the third in the company's 45-year history. Now, I was a French Literature major who went to four different undergraduate schools in four years. I don't care where you went to school. Hell, I don't care if you went to school at all. What I care about is who you are and how you see the world, and I hire people based on their perspective, not their pedigree.

What do I mean by perspective? It's the same set of questions we ask our clients when they need help talking authentically about their brands. Who are you? What do you stand for? What's your take? How do you approach the world?

As a CEO I look for people who are curious, open, and collaborative. More than ever before, we want people who have eclectic, varied backgrounds. People who are genuinely interested in the world around them, who have a strong point of view and who can bring a fresh perspective to their work. We look for people who constantly ask why and why not.

At Hill Holliday we have a cognitive neuropsychologist (whom we affectionately refer to as our "neuro-hustler"), a medical school dropout, a behavioral economist, an electrical engineer and a former movie publicist. For every MBA, there's a professional athlete, a musician, a stand-up comedian or a college dropout. What they have in common is talent, drive and an innate curiosity. Curious people are inspired more by what they don't know than what they do know. They see the world differently, they're passionate and they're the driving force behind many great ideas inside our agency.

It's important to be open as well. Our business changes every single day. There are new challenges and new opportunities that we need to master, and completely new ways of doing the things we've done in the past. The only way to succeed is to be open to change and to embrace it. It takes a certain kind of person to learn how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, but the people who can thrive in an environment of constant change and ambiguity, who don't need a road map -- the ones who aren't afraid and are open to new ideas -- those are the ones we want.

And perhaps most important, we look for people who are collaborative. People and companies that know how to really collaborate have a great competitive advantage, so I'm always looking for people who don't want to work in silos or build fiefdoms, but who understand that a team of people from diverse backgrounds working together will always produce better work.

Advertising is a great profession, and now more than ever is driven by the next generation of talent. With digital, social, content and mobile playing a more dominant role in marketing, being young is suddenly an asset, not a liability. Isn't that great news?

And while I hope this advice is helpful to anyone seeking a job, I want to mention a few things about my industry in particular that work to a young person's advantage.

The first is that creativity has been completely redefined. You might think of being creative as the ability to come up with an idea that can be expressed across many different forms of media. To me, creative describes anyone who thinks differently about something and then acts on it.

Another trend that inspires me is how ideas are impacting culture. More so than at any other time in history, ideas and content ricochet through culture and have a disproportionate impact on the people they touch. People have always wanted to seek out what's meaningful and share it with others. Now they can do it at an unimaginable scale. Ideas that matter most are constantly picked up, interacted with, reshaped and passed along. For brands, this matters a lot. Advertising works much harder when it provokes a ripple effect in culture, when people recognize the truth and the significance in it and pick it up as their own, share it and spread it.

And finally, the power of diversity. Talent, passion, and creativity aren't found in just one type of person. Diversity comes in many forms. Companies need to be diverse across not only gender and race, but also across religious beliefs, sexual orientation, nationality, family status -- and age. We believe that diversity makes us better creators, thinkers, teammates, and client partners. It makes our work better. It makes us better. We support and celebrate diversity in everything we do, starting with the hiring process.

So if you're curious, open, and collaborative, if you pay attention, are confident and optimistic, if you embrace what makes you different, are willing to work hard and remain humble -- the sky's the limit. And I can promise you; you'll have as much fun along the way as I have.