When you think about where the most creative people work — from photographers to designers to writers — ad agencies employ some of the best. International advertising agency Havas knows a thing or two about making imaginative content that people actually connect with. With clients ranging from Louis Vuitton to IBM, it takes a special bunch to make that kind of magic happen. Havas does it all with a fearless commitment to their craft, laser focus on their hustle, and a keen sense of humility.
When I think about the kinds of campaigns I’ve loved — the Olympics’ commercials always come to mind — they always speak to something in me that I didn’t even know was there. But how does a company like Havas keep coming up with fresh ideas?
One word: talent. I sat down with Jennifer Marszalek, chief talent officer of the Havas Chicago Village, to get a peek behind the curtain to find out what life is like working for a top ad agency and what it takes to get there.
Rachel Bitte: Is an understanding of or interest in global brands a “must have” to get hired? Or do you primarily look for a sense of creativity in your applicants?
Jennifer Marszalek: We want people who aren’t just copywriters or art directors, but people who create things. Are they a photographer, a social influencer, or have some sort of side hustle where they’re making something? People that can manifest that creativity and really turn it into something will thrive here. It’s less about an interest in brands and more of an interest in culture overall — broader, societal culture in particular. We look for people that are tuned into trends and can use that knowledge to help build the brands that they’re working with.
: Manifest your creativity into something you believe in.
RB: Havas creates really clever, memorable content. Does that same energy differentiate the way you all work?
JM: At Havas Chicago, it’s really about being all in –– we’re a heartfelt agency at our core and reflect that in every way that we work, from our open office seating to the way we collaborate and integrate our areas of expertise. We sit by client team so we can collaborate more; we work between creative, PR, experiential and media buying seamlessly. The open spaces allow our people to work together and not feel separated. We do so many different types of work, but it’s all connected. We wouldn’t be as fluid if we were sitting by function.
: Be ready to collaborate with groups beyond your area of expertise.
RB: That’s awesome! It feels like Havas has really found it’s own niche. How would you say that influences Havas’ company culture?
JM: From that connected and collaborative environment, we have a culture where things really grow organically. For example, we have been doing various activations to celebrate diversity. From Black and Women’s history month, Pride month, different employee groups work on how we can come together to celebrate as a community. We also have a happy hour every other week that’s hosted by our Havas Latino team called Rum Club. They market it and come up with different recipes each time — it was their idea in the first place, so they made it happen rather than being something Havas planned. The employees really take it upon themselves to plan these activities because they are so passionate about sharing them with our company. We love it.
Something else unique about Havas is that a lot of employee communication is on social media. One of our primary tools for communication with employees is Snapchat! When we have a free giveaway (like Cubs tickets hidden around the office), a town hall meeting, or exciting office changes, we get employees to Snap them for us. So for example, Rum Club will put the word out about their next event via Snapchat. We’re also big on Instagram and have a closed Facebook group, but we tend to use Snapchat for big, fun announcements. It gets everyone involved.
: Find a company that values your passion and let’s you embrace and share it.
RB: So say an applicant’s resume has impressed you and he or she makes it to the interview round. What’s a tough interview question you always ask that candidates should be prepared for?
JM: “What would your coworkers tell me is your superpower?” That always makes people pause. They’re ready to tell you their strengths, but when you turn it around, they have to give it some more thought and dive deeper to reveal something more true about themselves. Another one I love is, “What was a recent humbling experience you went through?” They have to get a little unguarded. It’s a thoughtful question and sometimes brings up emotions. How they’re able to describe that and the depth and maturity of that question speaks to a lot of the aspects that would make them a cultural fit at Havas.
: It’s okay to be honest and vulnerable in an interview — in fact, sometimes it gives you an advantage.
RB: Finally, I just have to ask — what’s one piece of career advice you would’ve given yourself when you were young?
JM: Do everything! I just saw Hamilton, and the most defining advice is, “Don’t miss your shot”. Learn everything you can learn. Don’t feel like you’re above anything or it’s outside of your lane — because it will all lead to something good.
: Learn, try, do.
Whether you’re a copywriter with a passion for food blogs or a data analyst with an Etsy shop –– let your passion manifest itself outside of work and show your creativity in new ways. To make it in the ad world, a keen eye for the trends that shape our society can give you a leg up on what’s next and what really excites people.
Taking initiative and collaborating with people that have different skills than yourself can widen your perspective and bring you closer as a team. Being vulnerable in an interview can give the interviewer a deeper, honest insight into who you are, making a lasting connection.
And finally, always remember to learn, try, and do everything—don’t miss your shot.
Rachel is Chief People Officer at Jobvite, a.k.a., head honcho of finding and keeping the geniuses who work there. As Jobvite’s Chief People Officer, Rachel brings with her a wealth of HR experience—particularly in the tech industry—with a focus on change leadership and talent management. In her free time, she is all about anything outdoors that burns calories, including road riding, mountain biking, snowboarding, and backpacking.