This article is part of CMO.com’s October series about creativity and design-led thinking. Click here for more.
I would like to make an immodest proposal: When it comes to finding and hiring new talent, toss most of the top applicants’ résumés out the window.
I am not saying that an excellent CV, studded with prestigious feeder schools and the most sought-after training programs is meaningless. Recent grads who have risen through the academic ranks have shown their mettle in a highly competitive environment. They can rightly feel proud of what they’ve accomplished, and their success along this pathway signals their capabilities and potential.
But while their successes may be important signifiers, the path they have followed is not the only one. It is just one among many. I think we in the creative industry have lost sight of this, and we’re far from the only business to have fallen victim to this blinkered worldview.
For too long, many companies have turned a blind eye to those who have followed different paths, and acquired unusual and useful experiences along the way. As a result, I am afraid we often find ourselves in a kind of echo chamber of like-minded people—and our work could be richer and more persuasive if that were not the case.
What I am advocating for, and what we at J. Walter Thompson are taking steps toward systematizing, is a more expansive view of talent—where it comes from, how to recognize it, and, to be frank, how to profit from it by making it part of our company.
Early this year in New York, we relaunched a program called Jump/Start. The program takes six applicants from diverse backgrounds—just the kinds of people whose offbeat résumés might have filtered them out of the system before—and cycles them through a three-month paid internship here at the agency. These six stay together throughout their training so the freshness of their perspectives doesn’t get watered down in the great corporate river that flows through here. We throw our biggest clients and projects at them to see how their fresh eyes can enliven our creativity. So far, the results have provided just the sort of creative infusion we had hoped.
Consider a few of our recent Jump/Starters, who came to us with unconventional experiences that have made a world of difference to our clients. Jonny Santos entered the program having worked as a DJ and a musician, but if you’re a certain kind of inept cook, you may also have caught one of the videos he made for YouTube explaining how to use a pressure cooker. Matt Cruz, who works with us full time now, once worked as a casting director. Christina Pitsinos is a writer and editor who joined JWT from a tech startup. Matt Logie used to be in horticulture research.
Once we fine-tune the Jump/Start program in New York based on findings from a “beta” launch, we plan to introduce it throughout our network. Worldwide chief creative officer Matt Eastwood, who created the Jump/Start program, noted: “If you go to someplace like the Miami Ad School, your portfolio will likely end up in front of us, and that’s just the way it is. But, for me, there’s much more creative opportunity if you get people from different walks of life.”
Meanwhile, in New York and London we have instituted anonymous recruiting, which keeps interviewers in the dark about our job applicants’ names, where they went to school, and some other details. This practice, which is being embraced by other industries and in other countries, allows interviewers to focus on an applicants’ true potential without allowing unconscious bias to creep in.
For real diversity in hiring to work—by this I mean going beyond diversity of race, gender, and other tick marks to include school background and both life and work experience—top management must make clear what the benefits are, up and down the ranks. If diversity remains an abstract virtue or a simple question of fairness, attempts to implement it will fail. Rather, it must be spelled out that nothing less than the vitality of the business is at stake.
As we continue to incorporate these principles into our recruitment techniques, I intend to keep preaching what we have been practicing. If our company needs it, so do many others. Passion and creativity are badly needed across the wider landscape of business. It’s not where an education and career begins, it’s the potential of the talent we find.
It’s high time we start looking in different places.