David Ogilvy’s Janitor

By Rhett Ahlander

“You should do standup comedy.” This is the response you’d get if you told me I’d end up at Ogilvy.

Ogilvy is one of the oldest and largest advertising agencies in the world. David Ogilvy founded the company in 1948 in New York City. Some of its biggest clients include Coca-Cola, Dove, Lego and Volkswagen, and creativity is at the forefront of all its work. This is what keeps me interested.

But every time the thought popped into my head to apply to Ogilvy, I dismissed it quickly. I kept telling myself it wasn’t possible. I wouldn’t even try for fear of being rejected.

Over the past year, I’ve been in a slump. Job applications, cover letters, emails — rejected or waiting in suspension. I began believing I wouldn’t get a job.

Luckily, I have fantastic recruiters at Creative Circle. They have an impressive list of clients and take great care of their talent. Most of my freelance bookings have come through them.

Creative Circle emails me multiple jobs a day — some good, some okay, and some irrelevant. I apply to a few of the good ones each week, hoping for a winner. But the only jobs I get are temporary. A project here, a three-month stint there. I want something stable, in an office, where I can plant myself and grow my career.

I would soon get my wish.

A Blind Date with Ogilvy

On a Tuesday afternoon in May, Creative Circle sent me a job with the following description: “Our agency client is looking for a copywriter to join their team with the opportunity to go full time for the right fit.” Staffing agencies maintain confidentiality — Creative Circle is no different — so I had no idea which company I would be applying to.

I quickly replied to the email with my resume and availability. What did I have to lose? Not thinking much of it, I moved on with my day. Usually, if I made a good fit I’d get a call within a few minutes. So after an hour, I figured I wasn’t getting anything.

A few hours passed and I was deeply engrossed in a dish-washing session. I normally let the call go to voicemail if I don’t know who it is, but my caller ID read ‘Creative Circle.’ I had to get it.

With damp hands, I answered my phone on the fourth ring. It was my recruiter, Alice (I’ve changed the names in this post for confidentiality). Alice told me I made a great fit for the copywriter role I applied to earlier that day.

“Have you heard of Ogilvy & Mather?” she asked. I wanted to say something like, “Are you kidding me?!” But I kept that to myself and told her I had.

Ogilvy?? Ogilvy was interested in me? It seems, the only way I would apply was in blind-date fashion. I couldn’t know or I wouldn’t try.

Before getting off the phone, Alice said she would be in touch with some possible interview times. The call ended and I pinched myself just to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. I was going to interview for a job at Ogilvy & Mather!

The job I was interviewing for was a copywriter position with a six-month contract. After the six months, they would evaluate if I was right for the role.

Here’s the thing — writing is my craft. But give me a mop and I’ll be Ogilvy’s janitor. I don’t care where they put me. As long as I can get there, I know I’ll make waves.

We found an appropriate time for the interview. Thursday, June 7 at 11:30 am — just days before graduation.

Earlier in the week I had two other interviews. These helped relieve my pre-Ogilvy-interview jitters and made for great preparation.

Edward’s Timer

The day of the interview, I exercised and had a big, well-balanced breakfast. I printed three resumes, grabbed some business cards, and stuffed it all in my interview folder. I threw on a button-up shirt, grey jeans and, of course, Nike sneakers. Before heading out, I went over my notes and re-checked my bag.

It was a 25-minute walk, so I left 40 minutes early — just to be safe. I arrived with 15 minutes to spare and checked in on the 11th floor — Ogilvy’s Chicago office. After finding a good spot to do some quick preparation, I pulled out my laptop and connected to the WiFi. I also pulled out my folder and went over my notes again.

After a few minutes, Edward, the creative director, walked out to meet me. Edward has been with Ogilvy for nearly 20 years in various roles. He prides himself on being highly organized — and set a timer for 45 minutes as we sat down. He had a list of questions to go through, we covered each one, and he even had me complete a short writing assignment. We didn’t discuss the assignment, but he seemed content — even impressed — with my responses during the interview. I asked a few questions about the role, the agency and his background, and we chatted for a few minutes before finishing up.

We completed all of this with one minute to spare — just before Edward’s timer went off.

Edward then walked me to reception and I headed home. Overall, the interview felt good. Edward and I connected, and the 45 minutes seemed to fly by — without feeling awkward. All I could do from there was send a thank-you note, follow up with Alice, and hope for the best.

Thoughts of Uncertainty

A few days passed before I heard back — an email came in from Alice just before 5 pm the following Monday. They wanted me in for a second interview!

The second interview took longer to schedule — many people were out of the office, due to Cannes Lions (a global festival and award show for people working in creative communications and advertising). Ogilvy was in the running for many awards, so scheduling an interview during this time would be difficult.

A week and a half passed before I received another email from Alice. It felt like a month. The subject line read: “Final Interview.” It wasn’t just a second interview — it was final. What does that mean?

Anyway, I would be meeting with Mary, the creative project manager. The final interview was scheduled for Tuesday, June 26 at 1 pm.

The morning of the interview, I looked Mary up on LinkedIn. I also knew Cannes Lions would come up as well. Ogilvy won a lot of awards at the festival and, if I wasn’t aware of this, I’d look like an idiot. I jotted down all of their award-winning campaigns and made my way to the interview.

I arrived at the office a few minutes early. Mary walked out soon after, introduced herself and we headed back. Mary has been with Ogilvy for almost four years. As we walked, she told me this would be “very informal.” That relieved my stress. Before we started the interview, she took me on a short tour of the office and introduced me to the team.

Then came the interview. The first thing we talked about was Cannes Lions, and I was well prepared. This took up most of our time. Mary only asked two other job-related questions, the rest of the interview was a friendly get-to-know-you conversation.

We finished up and I headed home, feeling really good about my chances. But over the past year, my track record for landing jobs hasn’t been great and I didn’t want to get too confident with this one. I couldn’t take another rejection call or email.

Thoughts of uncertainty swirled around in my head:
There are hundreds of candidates for this job. I saw a few of them before and after my interviews. But I made good connections with Edward and Mary. They seemed to like me. How long does it take to pick someone? Maybe I said something they didn’t like? I did my research and I match the job description — wasn’t that enough?

One of the Sweetest Sentences

My uncertain thoughts continued for a few days — until I finally got a call. It was from Alice, my recruiter.

“Rhett, I have great news! Ogilvy wants to work with you!”

That is one of the sweetest sentences in the English language. And remember how this position was a 6-month contract? Because the role is part of a new team, with new developments every week, I was given more great news. The team wants me full time, with a salary and full benefits. I start on July 23.

I have great people supporting me, and I couldn’t have gotten here without them.

But I still can’t believe it. I finally got a job at a fantastic company!

And although I’m willing, I won’t have to push Ogilvy’s mop around.

 Rhett Ahlander is Ogilvy’s newest copywriter, having graduated in June from DePaul University’s graduate program in Public Relations and Advertising. He received his undergraduate degree in communication from Utah Valley University. Check out his impressive personal website and blog where this post originally appeared.

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