AdForum Exclusive: 5 Questions for MEC’s Global Chief Talent Officer, Marie-Claire Barker

by James Thompson

On September 28, the first day of Advertising Week XII, MEC held a unique and innovative recruiting event to attract and hire the most ambitious and talented members of a new generation of advertising professionals. AdForum's James Thompson recently spoke with Marie-Claire Barker, MEC’s Global Chief Talent Officer, about MEC’s special hiring strategy, how it serves as an extension of MEC’s creative culture, and why the advertising industry must actively appeal to an emerging generation of thought leaders.

AdForum: MEC launched a “new type of behavioral hiring experience” at Advertising Week XII. What inspired this unique talent acquisition event, and what does the strategy behind it specifically look for in terms of qualifications and the suitability of candidates?

Marie-Claire Barker: This is something we started back in January. There were a couple of needs. First we needed to move quicker in terms of making decisions on people. People have a lot of choices out there and they need to know very quickly what your decision is. And you know what it is like – as a candidate there is nothing worse than sitting and waiting to hear back. Second, it is important for candidates seeking entry level positions to be able to come in and meet a whole range of managers that are doing the screenings. Whilst the decision is made quickly, the candidates are given two hours face-to-face time with our management team.

In terms of strategy, we are looking at behavioral tendencies because at that level candidates don’t really have much in terms of skills or experience to pull on. What’s important for us is behaviorally are they going to be able to work well in the organization, are they able to influence thought and be creative thinkers and collaborate with the rest of the team. That’s the way we’re asking the questions – to figure out their cultural sensibilities. 


AdForum: MEC evaluated candidates against “key tenants of the agency’s culture,” resulting in same-day offers to associates in digital, planning, and analytics and insight. Please explain how these “key tenants” guide the interview process and how interviewees can demonstrate they possess the talent, skills and values MEC desires in employees?

Marie-Claire Barker: Creative thinking is an important cultural focus area that we emphasize at MEC. We’ll ask questions to determine previous behavior, because previous behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. We’ll ask candidates to give examples of when they’ve had to solve a problem in a very innovative way. Then we follow up with questions on why it was tough, how did they think differently to solve the challenge, what resources they used, etc.

We’re looking for evidence and examples of an individual’s problem solving capabilities – thinking in new ways, and their resilience in terms of trying to come up with a solution. And they can do that in any walk of life. They don’t necessarily have to have had a job in media in order to do that. It can be any experience they can draw on. It’s really about looking for behavior. 

AdForum: You’ve stated, “As an industry we have a responsibility to drive forward innovation in the area of talent management for the growth of our people, our clients and our future.” This is a relatively new evolution in the industry considering that not too long ago candidates were simply thankful to have jobs. Can you elaborate on this elevated level of commitment to new hires?

Marie-Claire Barker: This generation coming in isn’t necessarily looking for a career with an organization. They’re looking for an opportunity to learn and grow – whom are they going to be working with, what are the opportunities for them. It’s almost like a continuous educational process for them. This generation has more access to knowledge and learning than any generation before them. It’s in their DNA. When we bring them in we know the reality that this generation tends to plan their careers in two-to-three year cycles – not only at MEC and across the advertising industry, but many other industries as well.

So our plan is to develop the individuals. To give them so much exposure in that two to three years that they’ll be able to look back on their time at MEC and say, “That time at MEC was the most stretching, challenging and supportive time of my career.” We ensure they learn an awful lot and that they are exposed to senior people. We get them engaged in projects early. We encourage them to take risks. We have a talent manifesto of “Don’t Just Live. Thrive.” Everybody is assigned a project where they can thrive in their own unique and special way. We’re constantly looking at ways of growing our individuals – and not necessarily with a traditional approach to a learning agenda.

AdForum: Advertising is a very competitive industry, and agencies compete with each other to attract and hire the newest and most talented individuals who are looking to establish their careers. How does MEC appeal to this newest generation of young and emerging ad professionals?  

Marie-Claire Barker: Our MEC Live Hire event at Advertising Week resulted in the hiring of 10 new employees, and some of those new hires are relocating to New York City from places such as Toronto, Washington, D.C., and Florida. To be honest, a couple of them explained that they came to Advertising Week specifically with hopes of being interviewed by MEC. We promoted the initiative heavily through social media to raise awareness. We encouraged people to visit MEC’s LinkedIn career’s site to learn more about what we were doing. We used the strength of our network to get the word out there.

AdForum: Finally, what advice do you have for young job seekers looking to start a career in advertising?

Marie-Claire Barker: They need to go in with their eyes open. They need to go in with a very open mind. Sometimes when they leave education and look at working in advertising, they do so with a very narrow view of what they want to do. This generation – more so than any – wants to make a difference in the world. They look at the big tech organizations as being the only place they can do this, and sometimes our industry gets overlooked.

However, we can do so much for individuals in terms of making a difference in the world through a client’s brand, a client’s business – and these young professionals get to have variety, they get the unique opportunity to work with many different people, with many different clients, quite often in a global nature. My advice is don’t dismiss our industry too early on and go for the big tech companies that promise a different culture. This incoming generation can get a lot of stretch, a lot of challenge and a lot of growth in advertising.  

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