The setting and tone may be relaxed compared to other industries, but a job interview at a creative agency is serious business. The hiring manager has seen your digital portfolio and knows you have talent. Now they want to see if you understand the agency’s brand and have the right blend of technical and soft skills to impress clients and colleagues alike.

Here are eight questions to consider in advance to help you get ready to ace your interview.

1. Will the interview be in-person or virtual?

In this pandemic age, your interview may be virtual, even if you live just a few blocks from the agency’s office. Either way, be as punctual and prepared for an online interview as you would for a physical one. But also try to use the medium to your advantage. For example, you can open some pages from your digital portfolio in advance and use the screen-share function to (literally) illustrate your key points. Also, think about your backdrop. A messy bookshelf makes a poor impression in any context, let alone during an interview for a design job.

2. What industries does the agency cater to?

Many creative agencies specialize in work for a few select industries. To learn which ones they target, check out the mission statement on their website and review their recent work samples. Condense this information into talking points you can hit during the interview. For example, if the agency is closely aligned with the healthcare industry, be prepared to talk about trends in this sector as they relate to the open role — and highlight any relevant work in your portfolio.

3. Who are their top clients?

Hiring managers may ask you to describe what you already know about their agency, so it’s important to show that you’ve done your research. Again, their client roster and recent work can provide valuable information, but you need to dig deeper if you want to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Does the agency run multiple projects with a single client? Is that client leveraging the agency-created content in any interesting ways? Has a client increased sales on the back of one of the agency’s campaigns? Knowing things you wouldn’t necessarily be expected to know makes you look diligent, curious and insightful — all qualities valued by hiring managers.

4. What type of work do they do?

Most agencies are multidisciplinary and address a client’s overall branding. However, they usually have a few specializations. When preparing for an interview, look for patterns. Does the agency do more print or more digital work? Are they regarded as pioneers in any media or platforms, such as TikTok or social media marketing? Once you’ve determined their focus, upload similar projects to your portfolio to showcase in the interview.

Read our tips on how to best present your portfolio.

5. How big is the team?

Try to determine the size of the creative team when you’re preparing for an interview. Although the core responsibilities may be the same, a creative role at a 10-person agency may differ greatly from one at an agency with a staff of 100. For example, a smaller firm will have fewer layers of management, and each employee may wear more hats. This kind of agency would suit you if you’re a self-starter who’s hungry to learn new skills, so you’d want to highlight those qualities at the interview.

6. Who will be the interviewer?

Try to find out who will be interviewing you and tailor your prepared responses accordingly. An HR manager will be more interested in your soft skills and work experience, whereas a creative director may simply dive into your portfolio. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking your HR answers should be less rigorous than your technical ones. Whether you’re talking about your team-player qualities or mastery of Adobe Creative Cloud, illustrate your answers with real-life examples of when you’ve created value or made a difference.

7. What’s the corporate culture like?

Dress appropriately for your interview, whether it’s virtual or in-person. Look for clues in staff photos on the company’s website and social media pages. Though even if the agency has a casual dress policy, you should still dress neatly and professionally for your interview. Also look for the language they use when talking about their projects and incorporate that into what you say during the interview.

8. What soft skills are most important to the position?

During interviews, job candidates should prepare to highlight their strong communication, collaboration and problem-solving abilities. “Working at an agency requires an ability to manage multiple clients at once and shift gears quickly when needs suddenly change or projects arrive unexpectedly,” says Diane Domeyer, vice president of Managed Creative Solutions at Robert Half. “Employers are looking for candidates who can jump from task to task without dropping balls and work in high-pressure, fast-paced environments. Being adaptable, outgoing and oriented to customer service are also essential for thriving in an agency setting.”

Strong interviewees don’t always get the job, but they always turn up prepared. Back up your raw talent by showing you understand the agency’s mission, culture and values, and you’ll be a tough candidate to beat.

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