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Career Stories - Dana

Principal & Founder
Zoom City Advertising, North Carolina

Agency Job-hunting Lesson #102:
The door isn't necessarily open just because your foot is in it.

My first job interview at a large agency in New York was a dream. I'd met someone at a dinner party who was willing to help me past the secretary wall and deliver my resume to the Creative Manager in charge of hiring.

She called me right away. I was ecstatic. I bought the most inspired interview outfit--something that showed I had style and creativity, but understood the corporate image. The day of the interview I made sure to be only a few minutes early (don't want to look too eager), but, by no means late (don't want to be a slacker). During the interview I was positively bubbly. No art director in the building would be as enthusiastic about their job as I would. My portfolio was thin, but well done, and I showed how genuinely passionate I was about working for this company. The Manager was thrilled and she hired me on the spot. She asked that I wait a week for her to call me about where she wanted to place me in the company. I left the building on a cloud.

That was February.

Two weeks passed and I still couldn't get her on the phone. The secretary wouldn't let me through. "She's in a meeting." "She's at lunch." "I'll take a message and she'll call you right back."

Sometime during the middle of March, I did hear from her. She told me there was a position in the company she wanted me to fill and it would not be a junior art director job, but a full art director position on a high-profile account. Could I come back in to meet the Creative Directors? (Is five minutes fast enough?)

Once again, I had the perfect interview. And it was my dream job. I'd be working on a beauty account, shooting with top fashion photographers--my eyes were filled with stars. I floated home. I sang while I washed the dishes. I talked to my baby about all the glamorous things Mommy was going to be doing.

And then I waited. I called. I gave up.

By June I had begrudgingly taken another job in publishing as a full time freelancer. I just didn't want to commit to something because I wanted the agency job so badly. If they ever called, I wanted to be ready to dash out the door. I routinely called the Creative Manager's secretary every 2 1/2 weeks to leave a message. By the end of the summer, non-stop whining had set in and my girlfriends had had enough. From across the swingset, as we pushed our kids, one of them said: "If you're so creative, and so right for the job, then get off your buns and show it. Do something to get this manager's attention."

My friend had been a highly successful salesperson for many years before she had children. She told me about a time when she had hit a particularly thick wall with a customer and decided the way to their heart was through the stomach of the staff. She sent them a 20" sheet cake with her pitch spelled out in icing. She got the account. Her inspiration had come from a junior writer her husband interviewed who intentionally set up his meeting during lunch. He showed up with a pizza for everyone, and when the box was opened, his resume was printed on the inside of the box. A sample of his writing was under each slice.

My mind began to race. This wasn't an interview, this was a creative assignment. So I set about it the same way I would an ad. What did I want the Manager to do the most? After much soul-searching I realized that what I really needed was resolution. I'd be disappointed if she said the job was no longer available, but by this point what mattered was getting a definitive answer, and getting out of limbo. I wanted the phone to ring.

So I sent her a phone. A solid chocolate phone. Five pounds of imported Austrian chocolate in the shape of an old fashioned circular-dial phone. In icing around the edge of the dial it said, "Just trying to get a message through, that I'm really anxious to hear from you." Hey, I'm an art director, not a writer.

I made the shop call me after it was delivered so I knew when she had received my gift. Her call came within 15 minutes. That was on a Wednesday and I was at work on Monday. It was September.

Thanks to that job, and the work I got to do there, I've had many others since then that weren't so hard to get. But I still keep a folder to this day of specialty shops that can customize different kinds of inventive gifts. The address and phone number of one particular Manhattan chocolate shop is on top.