Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 9.57.01 PMWhether it’s an aspiring intern, budding new graduate or industry-broadening person of experience,  one of the most oft asked questions in job interview settings for the creative economy (and one of the most confused answers that respond back) is “do you prefer a client-side role or service-side role?”.

More than one career has taken a sharp left turn based on this choice, or lack of clear choice.

So how the heck are you supposed to know until you’ve been in both? Fair point. Unfortunately, the marketplace is a little less empathetic. Both in large firms and small businesses, interviewers look for cues on why you might not be a good hire vs. the stellar assets you have in abundance. It’s almost process by elimination sometimes. Why give them grist for the bad checkmark?

I was recently part of an advisory board discussion for Humber College and the topic came up.  Consensus among the experienced industry veterans was that it was a top student concern, but there was less clarity on whether the experience of either side was in fact, dramatically different.

Whereas your direct manager, the size of a firm and type of industry have large bearings on how you experience a role, there are some attributes that you can look at as pretty reliable between the two environments. It also typically applies whether it’s a strategy, communications, creative or digital roles across different seniority levels.

Here is my best take on the good and dark side (based on your bias you can determine which is which):

Why I Would Love to Work Agency/Service Side – Top 10 

1) I can focus on the work and not deal with client process/politics
2) I get to work across a wide variety of brands – exposure to a number of industries
3) I may be able to climb faster into more senior roles
4) I get to work with a collection of other creative and/or career-minded people within the same discipline
5) not always, but my offices are funkier and usually downtown
6) I might be able to find my groove/job speciality faster here, particularly in larger agencies/service firms
7) the pace is frenetic and chaotic
8) this is good for people who can manage many bosses, many objectives
9) opportunity for entrepreneurial ventures down the road
10) I see myself as a profession-directed and focused first and foremost – you get to launch ideas and campaigns and craft brilliant executions

Why I Would Love to Work Client-Side – Top 10

1) I get to hold the purse strings and final decision making power
2) I get to deeply understand the workings of a business/brand/portfolio of brands
3) I may be paid slightly better
4) I get to work with a collection of business savvy people from a wide variety of disciplines
5) not always, but I can achieve a greater degree of work-life balance
6) I might be able to have a better degree of job security than the up and down nature of agency/service life
7) the pace is more predictable and has longer intervals to plan
8) this is good for people who can manage to a vision and to a more hierarchical management structure
9) opportunity for diverse careers down the road
10) you see yourself as a brand or industry-specific person – you get to champion companies and brands, and build winning strategies

I hope the reading of this at least spares one professional soul down the road.

Perhaps you have your own thoughts on the key distinctions, add them here and we’ll supplement this post with top 15 differences.

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