Well, here it comes. It’s the time of year when young soon-to-be-college-graduates are ramping up their anxiety about finding a job. With graduation just around the corner, pressure begins to mount from all angles…parents, classmates, professors, counselors and your own desire to find success.
When it comes to a career in advertising or marketing, unfortunately you’ve chosen a field that is highly competitive and sometimes even poorly compensated for the entry-level personnel. But, you’ve also chosen a field that interests you because of the innumerable upsides that make it exciting. A job within an ad agency allows you to experience the rush of new creative ideas, a variety of brands and personalities, assignments and opportunities that you may not find elsewhere, all with the potential to shine like never before.
What about the money? Excuse me? Did you think there was any? Actually, the ad biz gets a bad rap for having a reputation for low-paying jobs. The reality is that those people who flourish and generate results move quickly up the ladder (meaning your compensation increases with each new challenge tossed your way along the path). Coming straight out of college, you can expect to make around $30-35K as an entry level account assistant or creative staffer in Houston. It can vary by firm and by geography, but not dramatically. How briskly that number increases is entirely up to you.
So how does one land a job with an agency right out of undergrad? Beyond having the innate people-skills required in a very high-touch industry, along with creating positive chemistry in your interview, there are some things you can do proactively to get the edge in landing an ad job. Based on my experience over the years, here are the five key areas that you can, and should, influence:
1. Résumé. Build a strong one page resume…make it pop, this is the ad world after all. If you held a job while in college, describe your duties. If you helped fund your college, state that as well. Did you intern and gain real-world experience? Your resume makes your first impression, without you being in the room to defend or explain it. Does it tell the story of YOU? It should sell you in your absence. If it doesn’t, then rewrite it. But always make sure you have the right contact information on your resume. You’d be surprised how many new grads put down their temporary addresses and emails and forget to update them once they leave campus. Also, proof it well. I have tossed out many resumes simply because there was a single typo. The agency business is a detail and deadline oriented business. Embrace it.
2. Cover Letter. Wow. I’ve seen cover letters that actually have the agency misspelled in the first sentence. Or the letter is addressed “to whom it may concern.” Actually, no one I know is concerned, so do some homework and find a name of the right person in the firm to send it to. Make sure the right letter goes in the right envelope, or if you email it all in, make sure the attachments match. Nothing hits the round file faster than typos and perceived laziness via your documents. Get to the point, toss out a compliment, prove you know the agency and make them want to know more about you. Your goal is not the job, but the interview. Once you have that, THEN you can focus on the job. Many times you will find that an agency may create an opening where one does not exist because you are such a find.
3. The Search. This is where you get the real advantage. Almost every agency has a jobs tab on their website. Almost every city has a professional organization for ad agency types that typically have an online job bank. In Houston, for example, it resides on www.aaf-houston.org. Very few newcomers I meet ever bother to look around at sites like these. Exploit them and make a hit list of those companies or job types you really want to go after. Talk to your placement office at your college. Look up industry trade journal web sites… anything that will give you more information on an agency’s needs. Random salvos to agency’s that are downsizing or stagnant are just a waste of time. Spend your valuable time going for the hot ones.
4. Internships. Participate in at least one if you can. Many agencies have developed strong programs to not only provide the experience to students, but to ultimately identify those all-stars that they would likely want to hire. Call around. Search the Internet. Talk to professors and friends. Find the agencies that have the program and make contact. No recent grad wants to begin a career with an unpaid internship, yet unfortunately, we see that all the time. The best time to intern is during the summer and holiday break before your graduation. You want a real paying job offer BEFORE you graduate, not six months after. An internship either lands you a job with the agency or expands your network and experience. Either way, you can’t lose.
5. Leverage. This is the biggest and best tool in your job search toolbox. You need to leverage your contacts. By that, I mean you need to talk to your parents, your friends’ parents, your professors, old bosses, rich uncles and other extended family. No one, and I mean no one, gets to the top of the interview list faster than a person that comes recommended from a “friend of the agency.” Remember that many of your personal contacts may know agency people, or even may be a client of an agency. Make those calls and ask for help. Most decent folks won’t refuse to assist a new grad when and where they can. All of us went through the job hunt after college and still understand the stress. So ask and pull whatever strings you can to get in front of an interviewer. If you are ever turned down after an interview, ask how you could improve, and always ask for other leads on job openings. Sometimes you may not have been hired simply because of the timing, so they may give you a name or two to contact if you ask.
Finally, be sharp. Look sharp. Know your audience and pay attention to detail. If you follow those above steps and still can’t land a decent ad job, you’re not working hard enough at finding the right fit. Go get ‘em.