So you want to get a job in advertising…
“Do you want the feel-good version…or the tough love truth?”’
I had an informational interview with a college student this week and that’s how I opened the conversation.
To his credit, he said, “Give me the truth.” He wanted to know how to get an internship or first job at an ad agency.
Here’s what I told him.
→ This business is brutally competitive. It doesn’t need you or want you. Lots of people with more experience are looking for work right now. If you don’t like competition, this isn’t the career for you.
→ Nobody is going to do the work for you. You have to HUNT. In what city do you want to work? Have you compiled a list of every agency in that market? Do you know who the creative recruiter is for each one? It’s not “hiring manager.” If you don’t know their name, you haven’t done your homework.
→ Develop relationships and your network. Nobody gets a great job from a cold email or an online job submission. Develop a connection with the people who are the gatekeepers at the various agencies. They are the ones who can pluck your portfolio out of the hundreds and get you an interview.
→ Ad nerd out. Know the classic campaigns AND the current work. Subscribe to the SOS newsletter! 😉 Keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the business. Identify the agencies doing great work. (And if you’re not developing your skills with the new crop of AI tools, start NOW.)
→ Your book isn’t good enough. Sorry, but it isn’t. Most student books are crap. A “case study” video for a fake campaign isn’t an ad. Half-baked student projects aren’t going to get you an interview or an internship. You need to make a LOT more work and show how your brain works. (FWIW, a spec outdoor campaign tells me more about your ability to make an ad than any film.)
→ You have to stand out. You’re one of hundreds who want the gig. No generic cover letters. Gimmicks and tricks can be a bit eye-rolly…but this business is about cutting through and grabbing attention. If you can do that with an agency, chances are they may think, “Huh, this kid will bring that same energy to helping our CLIENTS grab attention.”
→ Get in the door. You need experience at an agency. Lots of receptionists and account people have made the transition to creative, eventually. Getting to see it up close (even while doing another job) will teach you more about the business than your college courses. (You may also get up close to the ad business and think, “Yech. This is a toxic mess and I want no part of it.”)
→ Work at the best agency you can. Time at a great agency is like going to graduate school. (BTW, don’t go into debt for ad grad school. Go get a job.) The opportunities and connections you make at a top-tier agency will serve you for the rest of your career.
→ You sure? The world needs plumbers more than it needs another art director. 😀