Several years ago I was interviewing at what was then one of the top creative agencies in the world. A few weeks prior to going out for my full day of interviews, I had met with the head of the department for coffee while on a long weekend getaway. He and I had a great conversation and he was excited to have me talk to some of his team about an opening they were looking to fill.
My day of interviews went fairly well, sans one. Throughout this interview, I was grilled about my past experience, which at the time, was largely in account service roles. I did my best to answer the questions thrown at me, but it was clear to me that my answers were not hitting the mark. As luck would have it, I found out at the end of the day that this rough interview happened to be the hiring manager for the opening.
A week later I received a call from the HR person at the agency and was given a generic dismissal. Something like, "Everyone liked you, but you're not the right fit for the account." I tried to get better feedback, but he wasn't willing to say much else. Despite this, I stayed in touch with the department head and a couple years later, he resigned to do something different.
At that point, he shared with me what really happened. While he loved that I came from a different background than anyone else in his department, the group planning director didn't like that I wasn't "pedigreed" in account planning. I wasn't hired because I hadn't been properly trained at a big name planning agency or two, as she had been.
This experience came up the other day in a conversation regarding my post on how to become a master planner. While I advise young planners to get training from a strong mechanical planner so that they learn the core skills, I don't believe it's the only way to become a master planner. I just believe it's the easiest way to get there. If you don't have this "training" listed out on your resumé, it's still really hard to convice a lot of senior planners that you can do the job. I think this is crap, but that's the way it is with some people and/or at some places.
Personally, I can see how this was valuable in the past. With an unchanging media landscape, past success was a pretty safe predictor of future success. If you were a planner at a great planning agency or on a highly awarded campaign, then odds were in your favor that you'd be able to be successful in the future.
Today though, the media landscape is anything but unchanging. It changes almost daily. Success in the past is no guarantee of success in the future. Just because one set of tools or structures worked yesterday to develop a strategy doesn't mean it will work tomorrow.
Rather than relying on a past pedigree or past success, I look for someone who demonstrates strong creative problem solving skills. I don't care as much about what tools they used as I do about how they thought through the problem and how their thinking guided them to solve it. Even better for me is if they made up their own tools to solve the problem.
The problem with the past is that it's just that—the past. What I want to do for the clients I work with doesn't mirror the past. It learns from it and finds opportunities to improve or evolve. This is why when I look to bring on a strategist or planner to my team, past experience and a treasure chest of tools for developing the advertising of yesterday doesn't hold as much weight for me as someone who is passionate about creatively solving problems and shows me that they have natural talent for doing just that.
Ultimately, I want to work with people who are excited about creating the future. Not those who are standing upon their pedigreed past.