By Kevin Chesters, Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy & Mather London


“Why do you want to work for us?” 

It’s received wisdom that a large part of any interview process should consist of exploring why a candidate wants to work for your company – and then rewarding the ones that demonstrate that they really do. The reason being so you can explore just how much the potential candidate really (really) wants the job with you as this should apparently be a great measure of who ‘wants it’ the most. 

Before I start to explain this slightly contrary point-of-view I will say that it IS very vital to make sure that candidates share yours and your company’s values. You should make sure that they are inclusive, tolerant, honest and above all, nice people.

Now, it won’t surprise you to hear that we’re not short of candidates who want to come and work here at my agency, O&M. We’re a big, famous, multi-awarded company. We’ve got a diverse and interesting client list of domestic and international brands and have some lovely and talented folks to work with and learn from. And we’ve got a bloody cool office. But having spent a lots of time in the last year interviewing candidates at all levels, I’m coming to believe that you should actually focus on hiring the people who don’t want to work for you right now.  

Firstly, a lot of candidates aren’t really looking to join YOUR company anyway regardless of whatever they say in the false conditions of an interview. They are actually just desperate to leave their existing job and are looking for an employment lifeboat. At the opposite end of that, I am always a little suspicious of people who are so effusive about wanting to join any company that they have never worked at because I think they might be choosing on reputation alone. I’ve also found that a lot of people are more in the love with the logo or title that will appear on their business card than with actually doing the job or making the best work.

But, here are five big reasons why you should prioritise hiring people who need some (or a lot of) persuading to come and join you:

  1. The best candidates tend to be wanted by everyone, and this means the agencies who are currently seen as the top of the tree. I like to weed out the candidates who only want to join “finished articles” because I have found that they aren’t the ones who have a desire to relentless improve everything. Find the people who really want to make reputations, not just leverage ones that already exist. 
  2. I want candidates who are restless to make everything better. I want the people who want to build something different and more amazing. I want candidates who want to work with me and the management team to create absolute best of the best when it comes to the company and conditions for creativity. 
  3. Having to persuade people makes you humble. If you’re being chosen on reputation, then it makes you a little complacent and less sharp. Swagger is great, arrogance isn’t. 
  4. Candidates who are sceptical of joining your company tend to be brilliant barometers of your external perception. This is very handy when it comes to identifying the issues and challenges your company faces out in the “marketplace”. They can tell you the reasons you aren’t being chosen – by employees and potential clients.
  5. Finally, “persuading” people really helps to hone your selling skills. The practice of having to define “why you” and what makes you different is a very useful exercise indeed. Selling skills for candidates are very similar to selling skills in new business. Identifying your core diffentiators and benefits for a candidate is great practice for doing it in chemistry meetings or pitches. 

Oh and here’s the really big reason. Change is the only constant in what we do. Therefore, you should look for the candidates who want to hire for the ‘next’, not the ‘now’. Hire people who want to write the headlines of tomorrow. Hire the people who want to create the next generation agency operating in the next generation way.

So that’s it.

Stop looking for people who really really want you.

Start working on getting the absolute best people in the world to make you the best company you could be in the future.

These people tend to be the ones you need to woo, that you need to persuade and that you need to work so much harder to land.

You’ll be glad you took the time and effort.

They’ll be the people who’ll be leading your company in five years.

And it’ll be a better company for hiring them.

This article was first published in Marketing Society.