BU Today

In the World

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 Yania Olabarrieta (CFA’90), a partner and executive vice president for creative services at C-Com Group, Inc., a privately held marketing communications and public relations agency in Miami. She joined the agency in 2006.

C-Com’s clients include Neutrogena, Aveeno, Johnson’s Baby, Don Q Rum, Florida Power & Light, Southeast Toyota, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The agency frequently helps companies reach Hispanic consumers in the United States. Puerto Rico native Olabarrieta earned a bachelor’s in graphic design, and in her current position, she supervises the creative teams on each project, which can include art directors, designers, video editors, and copywriters. She is often involved in hiring. “Anything in the creative department, I have the last say,” she says.

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

    Olabarrieta: Most important is talent. A great portfolio that is well organized and highlights a candidate’s creative strengths is a definite must. Also, well-honed communication skills. If you can’t communicate your ideas in an interview, how are you going to do so in front of a client? Proactiveness. I really appreciate people who can hit the ground running, the ones who are always looking for that big idea.

    A deal breaker is if I interview someone and they don’t ask any questions. That’s immediately suspect to me. Either they didn’t do any research or they just want to get a job for the sake of getting a job anywhere. I want truly committed individuals, whose curiosity and eagerness to learn are going to make them a true addition to our company and its culture.

  2. What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?

    I divide the questions into two parts. First are the typical questions that relate to education, skills, experience, et cetera. And reviewing their portfolio, I want to know the thought process behind the concept and how they went about getting that idea to final execution. I really appreciate when people can verbalize the reasoning behind their pieces.

    Second are the difficult questions dealing with emotional intelligence. I think it’s really necessary to take the measure of how the candidate learns from past mistakes, how they handle criticism or conflict, how they manage their emotions in difficult situations. I want to make sure that they fit.

  3. What are some common mistakes young job candidates tend to make?

    A lot of young candidates focus too much on the obvious: education, what they learned in college, their GPA. But I have such a small amount of time to get to know someone and see if they’re going to fit. Instead, tell me a story that speaks of you, of what you want, what the aspirations are for your career, your goals. That kind of conversation is, for me, much more telling than the facts.

  4. When you went to college, did you have an idea what you wanted to do for a career?

    Yup. I wanted to be what I am. I mean, I’ve grown in my career, from a graphic designer. But as a teenager I loved photography, loved film, was quite good at drawing. Anytime anything needed to be done—“We need a flyer for the party”—I had to do it. And I thought if I wanted to study art, I’d better do something that would pay the bills. The idea that I could be a starving artist? Not so much.

  5. What advice would you give to someone interested in your industry?

    We all know advertising and PR are extremely competitive, and I don’t think they’re for the faint of heart. You have to have stamina. If you go in thinking it’s all glamorous and exciting, I think you’ll be surprised. It’s really hard work and there are lots of long hours. You never know when you’re going to get the insight that’s going to spark the brilliant idea that’s going to make everything awesome for your client.

    I suggest getting a very clear idea of who you really are. Find out if you’re right for that type of business, if you are someone who is going to grow and thrive in that fast-paced, never-off environment. Some people can’t deal with that. You have to make sure that’s what you really want.

    Also, try to do an internship, to test that and make sure. Paid or not, it’s a great opportunity to understand and explore all the diverse disciplines within the industry. That experience is always going to be invaluable, and who knows, you might be offered a position.

  6. What expectations do you have for new employees?

    Apart from exceeding all my expectations and showing passion for what they do? I expect them to ask many, many questions. I also expect them to make a real effort to get to know everyone in the agency, not just the people on their team. I expect them to be proactive and take initiative. And last but not least, I expect them to have fun doing their job, otherwise what’s the point?

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

    My father and my maternal grandmother. My father was a doctor and from him I learned compassion, empathy, the meaning of being honest and having integrity. He used to tell me there was a difference between treating and healing. That was really insightful. A job can be just a job, but a job can also be a life of passion and a facilitator for personal fulfillment. My father’s always going to be a guide in my life.

    My grandmother was an accomplished educator and a mentor of writers and poets and other luminaries. She was also a very proficient writer and poet. She sparked my interest in learning and history and literature. There were countless hours I spent in her library, just absorbing that love of knowledge. And most importantly, she taught me to appreciate and love the romance and beauty of the Spanish language. That has really helped me in the work I do, because we do a lot of work with the US Hispanic market.

  8. So having a second language is an asset that job candidates should emphasize?

    Oh my god, totally. The Hispanic market is going to continue to grow and be quite a force in the coming decades. I think any company that hasn’t made an incursion into the Hispanic market is just way behind.

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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