A job interview on a Ferris wheel? Um, OK

CHICAGO — As if job interviews weren’t stomach-churning enough, imagine sitting through one while looping around a giant Ferris wheel.

Last month, top executives from ad agency Havas Worldwide commandeered six gondolas of the Ferris wheel at Chicago tourist hotspot Navy Pier to interview job candidates for several dozen positions, giving each applicant two revolutions of the wheel — about 15 minutes — to convince them why they should be hired.

Under a cloudless sky, candidates dressed more for brunch than for a job interview clutched resumes, laptops and portfolios as they waited to be called into a gondola for one-on-ones with the company’s top brass — an opportunity as unique for its early access to the C-suite as it was for taking place 150 feet in the air.

“It’s a street fight for talent,” said CEO Paul Marobella, 44, who has been at the helm of Havas’ Chicago office for two years. At the time of the event, the 500-employee office had 40 to 50 open positions, including creative, account management, strategy, finance, human resources and executive-level positions, Marobella said.

The agency hoped the unconventional approach would surface innovative thinkers, relax the typically stressful interview environment and show off Havas’ own creative chops, Marobella said.

Spotlighting the Ferris wheel days before it was dismantled was also meant to align with the Chicago office’s specialization in reinvigorating classic American brands, he said. The 20-year-old lakefront icon was taken down last month to be replaced next year by a taller Ferris wheel with temperature-controlled gondolas.

“Modernizing and contemporizing American brands is what we get out of bed for in the morning,” said Marobella, whose interviewing outfit consisted of black jeans, a black button-down shirt and a black puffy Havas-branded vest that many of his employees also wore for the occasion. Havas Chicago’s clients include Hefty, Cracker Barrel and Sears, Marobella said.

The event, promoted on LinkedIn and other social media channels as well as the company’s network of interested applicants, drew about 130 RSVPs but, given a two-hour window for the event, only 30 applicants received confirmed spins on the wheel while others hoped for luck on the waiting list.

Ilissa Marsden, 35, a freelance account director who wore jeans and sunglasses for her Ferris wheel interview, said she hoped to be considered for an account service position.

“It’s a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful view, I’ve never been on the Ferris wheel before, so, two birds — job interview and be on the Ferris wheel before they tear it down,” she said as she waited in line.

Juie Shah, 22, was the first to hop on a gondola with Marobella. The Northwestern University student, who is set to graduate in December with a degree in integrated marketing and communications, said Havas is her “dream company” after she worked there for a week over the summer.

After dismounting, beaming, after two spins on the wheel, Shah said she believes interviews and Ferris wheels go together well because they both generate excitement.

“I think sometimes when you’re in an interview you don’t always remember all the things you’re supposed to say — you forget parts of yourself, tidbits that really push that interview forward,” said Shah, in black leggings and a long brown sweater. “And this time I actually remembered because I was so excited throughout.”

Havas is not new to flights of fancy. In a nod to the city’s bike-to-work week, the company this summer launched a Bike While Working campaign and built a “bike-desk,” complete with a computer and lamp, that can be pedaled around town.

As the creative team brainstormed ideas for the interviewing event, they considered parking the bike-desk in a public transit railcar and doing interviews while the train rumbled along, but they weren’t sure if it would fit, said Celia Jones, group brand director.

“The Ferris wheel was the most outlandish idea,” Jones said.

But it was also appropriate, because “as advertisers we want to be sure we are constantly pushing ourselves,” and they want employees who do the same, said Laura Maness, chief growth officer.

“We feel like we are competing with the Ubers and Googles for talent,” Mannes said as she awaited her first Ferris wheel interview of the day, with an Uber marketing employee.

Some who didn’t land a ride milled around in hopes of snagging the ear of a Havas executive.

Harley Griffiths, 23, who wore jeans and a seersucker blazer, had been laid off as an assistant account executive at ad agency Leo Burnett and was hoping to network and get his resume in someone’s hands. He got about two minutes with group account director Lisa Evia before she was pulled away for a gondola ride with another candidate.

“I look forward to following up,” he said.

Floyd McCraney, 32, was on the waiting list. He hoped for a chance to ride the wheel even though, he said, “I am outrageously afraid of heights.”

“Once I’m in the moment the fear goes away,” said McCraney, a production director at CBS Radio who wants a career change to do more copy writing and art directing. “And as far as any potential recruitment I think it shows courage.”

Acrophobes may feel at a disadvantage if the thought of dangling high above in a metal box sets the pulse racing. But Marobella said candidates could show ingenuity with a counteroffer to meet at sea level.

“If someone sent me an email and said I can’t interview on the Ferris wheel but I’ll interview on the carousel, I would have taken them up on it,” Marobella said.

7.5 minutes with Havas CEO Paul Marobella

A Chciago Tribune reporter took one 7.5-minute loop around the Ferris wheel with the ad agency exec to find out how he hires.

Q. What do you look for in job candidates?

A. We look for a startup mentality. At all levels and all positions, someone who has an entrepreneurial mindset and a creative perspective. For us creativity is about people who are inventive, finding new ways to do things, aren’t afraid of breaking things and trying new directions and new ideas. The advertising business has been in change mode for a while, and we’re trying to stay ahead of that.

Q. What’s the biggest mistake you see job candidates make during interviews?

A. I think first and foremost they’re not themselves. Our culture is about valuing who we are as individuals and what we like to do outside of the office. And I think that’s rare in the corporate world. We try to embrace people’s passions and their creative projects and anything they might do outside the office we try to bring that into our culture. And we learn from that and it really helps us build our creative culture at Havas. We want people to be themselves, and typically we can tell when they’re not.

Q. What’s an early management lesson you learned?

A. Patience. As I’ve moved through my career, for me having patience and understanding that business and life are about timing and preparing yourself for when the opportunity presents itself. As we’re in a company that’s transforming sometimes patience can be hard to come by because a lot of leaders in our business, including myself, are impatient. We want results, we want to drive better creative, we want to drive better work. To do that, in our world, in a very competitive marketplace for not only talent but for business, patience is a virtue.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune

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