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In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week our featured alum is Alex Friedman (SHA’06), president of Ruckus Marketing, an award-winning advertising and digital agency in New York City that specializes in branding, platform design, and campaign work for its clients. Friedman joined the firm in 2008 after collaborating with Ruckus founder and CEO Josh Wood on several projects. As president, Friedman specializes in technology, designing platforms for clients ranging from e-commerce to corporate to custom software solutions and focusing on growth. The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the American Heart Association, Mobileye, and Hooch have been among Ruckus clients. Friedman and Wood also have a separate business, the Ruckus Brewing Company, which acquired the brand licenses for several craft beer lines, including the highly regarded double IPA called Hoptimus Prime, although Friedman notes that he himself is not a beer drinker.

  1. BU Today: What are the qualities you look for in people you hire? What are the deal breakers?

    Friedman: It’s an intangible quality, but we always look for someone who has great intuition, plus a visible drive and a solid overall work ethic. We look for people we can plug in and they can really hit the ground running. We’re a fast-paced office, and you really sort of sink or swim by your own ability to figure it out.

    A deal breaker, right off the bat, is people who come in for an interview, things are great, and they don’t even follow up with an email, call, anything. People we perceive to be interested, but this is not their primary thing, or they’re only looking to do this for a year. That’s becoming more and more of a problem, particularly with millennials and people who are graduating school now. If you go in with that mentality, it comes off as a lot more transparent than most people realize.

  2. What are some of the key questions you ask during an interview?

    “Tell me what businesses you’ve been exposed to growing up.” It could be family businesses, it could be what their parents did, it could be summer jobs that they had, or just general life experience. In this business, a lot of it is consulting and developing strategy, and what you’ve been exposed to growing up formulates a lot of the way you think about things.

  3. When you were a student at BU, did you have any idea what you wanted to do for a career?

    No. I honestly had no idea. I grew up as a bona fide tech geek. I loved to program, I loved to build websites, anything that was online for me was interesting. I was doing websites on the side for people when I was 14. But I loved travel, I loved hotels, I loved airlines—I had an interest.

    I went to the School of Hospitality Administration. Got there in 2003, but my first semester I barely even went to class. I didn’t really straighten myself out and get focused until the first semester of sophomore year. I had some events going on with the family business that drove me to get a little more focused and graduate early.

    Ultimately, technology just took over. I got more involved in web and more involved in design, and with Ruckus everything all came together. I have clients in hospitality. We just branded a hotel downtown in New York. It’s all sort of coming full circle.

  4. What advice would you give to college students uncertain about what they want to do after graduation?

    I think a lot of people put pressure on themselves unnecessarily. They try to follow a script, when there is none. My biggest piece of advice is to be open to new experiences, be open to letting things mature and materialize around you, and just be in a position to take advantage of the right thing. Don’t force yourself into a corner.

  5. What’s the competition like for new graduates wanting to enter the marketing/branding field?

    It’s really tough. Really tough. On average I’ll interview 20 to 30 people for each position, and that’s after it’s been narrowed down. I would say on average we get 20 résumés a day—when we’re not hiring. We could be looking at 300 to 400 résumés coming in for one slot.

  6. What are some common mistakes that young job candidates make?

    I’ve been in a bunch of interviews where people don’t have questions. If you’re in an interview and you don’t have questions for me, I don’t know what you’re doing here. You can’t possibly know it all.

  7. What expectations do you have for new employees?

    I’ve hired 50-plus people over the last nine years—the firm is now 23 people—and the most important quality for me is, I want to see that they want it. And the ‘it’ is hard to describe, whether it’s their own personal success or they’re invested in growth or they’re invested in learning something new. I want to see that that person actually wants whatever that ‘it’ is. I want to see that people are motivated, that they care.

  8. What mistakes have you made during your career, and what lessons have you learned from them?

    Oh boy. I have a list probably 10 miles long. I’ve made mistakes in hiring people I thought were going to be great and weren’t, I’ve made mistakes launching services that we had no business being involved in, I’ve taken on clients that were too small or too big—on both sides of the coin that creates problems. I just try not to make the same mistake twice.

  9. Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why?

    My dad. He built a very successful business in collaboration software. He showed me the opportunity was there if I wanted it. He came from the USSR in the 1970s, zero dollars in his pocket, a traditional sort of American success story. If that was possible, then in my mind, anything was possible.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.

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