Confessions of an Agency Gatekeeper

Scoring an interview at a killer agency can be daunting. Find out what we’re looking for—beyond the job description.

By: Charles Tidball, HR Manager

Agency life: Creative people, relaxed environment, unmatched culture, work that’s equal parts challenging and fulfilling. It’s a good gig. So good, in fact, that sometimes it seems exceedingly tough to get your foot in the door.

As iostudio’s human resources manager, I’ve got the inside track as to what goes on among content marketing agency executives, department heads and HR departments when they’re trying to find the right hire. Sure, it matters what’s on your resume, but it’s about so much more than that. What do agencies desire in a candidate that isn’t described on the job listing? How do you convey those intangibles in the early stages of the hiring process? Here are some tips and techniques to help you stand out on paper and earn a chance at the coveted prize: an interview.

Meet. Every. Single. Requirement.

This is the most fundamental piece of advice I can give. The 30-second resume test is real. Understand the difference between “required” and “preferred.” Meeting all requirements is the litmus test for deciding whether a candidate is worth a closer look. If you’ve checked all the right boxes, you’ll be well on your way. If you haven’t, well, here’s the likely outcome. Sad but true.

Never send the same resume twice.

No matter how much time and effort you put into it, a boilerplate resume won’t cut the mustard. Tailor your resume to the specific opening. That doesn’t mean regurgitating the job description; it means giving concrete examples of how your experience translates to company and department needs. Be clear. Be specific.

Demonstrate your creativity.

Content marketing agencies are filled with creative souls, from developers and designers to writers and filmmakers. When we invite someone to play in our sandbox, we like for them to be creative too. So, research the culture and show how you’re a good fit. While it’s nearly impossible to discern personality from a piece of paper, you want to be interesting. If you’re applying, use your cover letter to showcase your distinct style, your sense of humor or something unique about yourself. Nevertheless, please...

Don’t overdo it.

You want to stand out … for the right reasons. Be professional. Stay on topic. In our line of work, creativity is a tool we wield to achieve our business goals. As an applicant, your goal is to score an interview. Don’t lose sight of that. 

Network, network, network.

Honestly, it’s the best way to get your foot in the door—bar none. If an agency’s impressive work catches your eye or their fun reputation keeps hitting your ear, then be proactive. Find ways to rub elbows with employees. In our case, that could mean hitting up Creative Mornings, AAF luncheons or simply connecting via LinkedIn. If you have an “in,” you could gain entrance where others stall out. You won’t get to bypass the application process, but you’ll definitely have an edge.

Don’t leave me guessing.

Confession: Functional resumes drive me crazy. Of course I want to know about your skills and experience, but I also want to know where you honed them and how long you’ve used them. List your work history chronologically. Use specific start and end dates for employment—month, day and year. Account for gaps. Tell the whole story. Remember that 30-second resume test? It applies here.

We’ll check LinkedIn. Use that.

For recruiters and HR managers, LinkedIn is a great place to learn more about a candidate’s personality and interests. Content you’ve shared or liked, your summary, endorsements, recommendations—they form a composite picture of you that’s more relaxed and well-rounded than your resume. It gives us a better sense of those intangible qualities we’re looking for that are difficult to quantify on paper.   

Be tenacious.

Sometimes you apply for a job and don’t get a response, even though the listing stays active for a long time. This can happen for several reasons, especially with positions that are highly specialized or represent new opportunities within a company (hence, uncharted territory). If you’re confident in your qualifications, don’t hesitate to follow up. Stay on their mind. I’m not great with adages, but oftentimes the squeaky bird gets the job.


Think you’re a good fit for the iostudio team? Check back often to see if there’s room in our sandbox. We promise we won’t do this:


 Charles Tidball

Charles Tidball is the Human Resources Manager for iostudio. He is PHR and SHRM certified and has been working in human resources in the Nashville area for a very long time. Charles can talk for hours about strategic initiatives and employee engagement. He claims to like fun stuff, too, but he doesn’t talk about any of it because he works in human resources.