Conversations with Your 22-Year-Old Self

I was taking a look at my very first Advertising portfolio the other day.

Have you done that recently?

It’s a fun and a bit humbling trip down Memory Lane. You should try it.

There they were, a collection of ads that were decently written but from an art direction standpoint…a total mess, really. I chuckled to myself as I saw the ads pasted on black construction paper. They were still good. I was proud of them. But it’s a good thing I was going for a Copywriter position and not anything in design.

The point is, my 22-year-old self wasn’t polished. I seriously doubt yours was either. But for all the ways we were rough around the edges, somebody took a liking to us and gave us a chance. I had a couple people like that. God bless them. I wasn’t even remotely picky about which agency I wanted to get into either. I just happened to be hired at a place with remarkable mentors. At the time when I was first hired, however, I was just happy to be doing work that had something to do with what I went to school for.

We sometimes lose sight of that when we reach the Creative Director/management level. We forget where we came from and instead of relating to the way we were, we expect a kid of today to be just like us in our current form.

That’s not being fair to them at all. This is where somebody says “life’s not fair”…yada, yada, yada. Try to be. A little more warmth won’t kill you.

Yes, we have to make tough decisions about who gets hired and who doesn’t. But if we’re truly about “the work” and not full of complete garbage, that’s such a huge part of where our evaluation should start and end – the portfolio. That’s where we should be tough. So why is it that we allow ourselves to get distracted by anything else when it matters?

“Oh, I didn’t like the font he used on his resume.”
Then guide him and give him some constructive feedback that might be helpful. Personally, I never thought a person could be accurately represented by one piece of paper unless they drew it in crayon or something absurd. The resume grows increasingly marginal compared to, say, a robust and creatively worded LinkedIn profile.

“He didn’t wear a tie.”
Lots of creatives don’t. Get. Over. It.

“He had earrings and tattoos.”
Go hire someone clean cut with far worse ideas. That sounds like a great plan. My bad, I thought we were in the idea business. Most earrings can be taken off and tattoos can be covered up for presentations. Judging a book by its cover is some pretty short-sighted stuff, particularly when you’re talking about creative people.

“He went to school at some university I wasn’t familiar with.”
Oh. Are we being school snobs now? Because obviously great ideas can only come out of one college or university or Ad School, right?

“His GPA was decent but not spectacular.”
Who the hell cares? Seriously? When does this ever come into play during one day of your entire professional life in Advertising? NEVER. “Oh man, if I had only been more of a 3.6 GPA kind of guy rather than a 3.2 GPA kind of guy I surely would’ve solved that problem.” Good grief. Did they graduate? Good. Move on.

“He didn’t speak that confidently.”
I absolutely stunk as a speaker of any kind for the first 8 years of my career. I took classes. I got better. I was given opportunities to present. I got better. When teams draft a rookie player, they don’t expect them to be All-Stars right away (it’s only a nice surprise once in a blue moon). Your draft pick might require similar nurturing.

“I asked her why I should hire her over so many other candidates.”
If you know anything about how to evaluate a person’s talent, you know the answer to this question already. Heck, they may ask you why they should join your agency!

Our 22-year-old selves were so far from perfect. In fact, we still are. So let’s not try to make candidates feel that they should kiss our ring and build statues in our honor just because we’ve been in the business a while and done good things with our talent. Let’s be the human beings that we are and, regardless of whether we hire them or not, see how we can utilize our knowledge to mentor college grads rather than beat them down for their imperfections.

We work in a business that, for all its insanity, can be amazingly exhilarating and fun. Not many of us get to work in a field where we can say that. If you love it as I do, you want to pull up people, not teach them a thing or two on the way life is. We can be more welcoming than judgmental to the incoming generation. If not for our own reputation than for our agency’s.

The portfolio is what really matters.
Don’t lose sight of that. The more you can help them improve it, the more you’ll be paying it forward instead of smacking them down. This doesn’t mean to take it easy on them – it’s OK to be challenging if it’s for the purpose of helping them improve. I do that when I come across a kid who thinks social media is all about writing within 140 characters, getting lots of followers, hashtagging and getting people to do Instagram because, well, it’s cool, bro. If ever there was someone who needs a Yoda so they don’t hurt themselves, it’s this kind of person.

We’re entering that time of year where a grad is going to ask for your time to give them a word of advice in person, by phone or by email. If you don’t have a job or internship for them, you probably have 10 minutes. Really. We all have 10 minutes. The cigarette break / Frappuccino run / conversation about Game of Thrones or Mad Men / FunnyOrDie video watching will just have to be temporarily replaced with something useful that might make more difference in a young person’s life than you can possibly realize.

Your 22-year-old self would probably agree.