Six ways to improve your chances of getting a job in advertising

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Ad agency founder, Bill Knight, advises new college grads to "narrow and focus" skills


Over the past year, I’ve offered informational interviews to dozens of recent/soon-to-be college grads looking to break into advertising. Most are concerned about their chances of getting a job in the field. Some are truly impressive candidates. And unfortunately, a few are completely clueless. 

What makes the difference?

More than anything, it boils down to this. The ones I could envision our agency hiring, the few that stand out as “can’t-we-find-some-way-to-bring-them-on-types,” know how to use the principles of good marketing to sell themselves. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.

#1   Know your audience.

It’s still mind boggling to me the number of applicants who come in who haven’t even been to our website. Inexcusable. Resourcefulness is an absolutely essential trait in the advertising field.

So put those college researching skills to good use before any interview. Don’t just read the site. Google the organization and its people—and find out everything you can. Familiarize yourself with the latest industry trends. In short, do your homework. After all, why should any employer be interested in you if you’re not interested in them?

#2   Narrow your brand promise.

Don’t simply think: “I want to work at an ad agency.” Instead consider what specific area within the agency you can contribute the most, where you can best utilize your skills and, albeit limited, experience.

Don’t make the interviewer try to guess what you’re good at.  Honestly assess your skills. (Don’t even try to say you could do anything.) Then find out as much as possible about the different areas within that particular agency, e.g., account, creative, production, PR, etc. Be ready to quickly summarize your strengths and suggest where you think you could add value. The clearer your vision is, the clearer your potential employer’s view will be of how and where you’ll fit in. Not if you’ll fit.

#3   Tailor your messaging.

Just as you would any kind of communication campaign, you need to tailor your outreach and your résumé. Make sure the objective on your résumé is as specific as possible. For example, if you’re applying to an ad agency, make sure your objective is tailored to the type of work they do or type of industries they service.

Rather than asking for a job interview, consider asking for an “informational interview.” Many agency leaders will take the time to share their knowledge and provide some background about their firm and what they do. And an informational interview still gives you the opportunity to make a good impression—and make some very valuable contacts. In fact, over my 30+ years in this industry, I’ve landed two jobs just by taking this approach.

#4   Offer believable proof points.

Draw the connections between what you’ve learned and what you’d like to do. Package your experiences as relevant to the kind of role you’re seeking. For example, if you want to get a job as a copywriter, make sure to demonstrate that you’re already honing your writing skills. Point out your contributions to local newspapers or online publications. Provide a link to your blog about writing. Post selections from favorite authors or your own writings on your Facebook page. Go to writing seminars. And tout all of this on your LinkedIn page and résumé so future employers clearly see you’re dedicated to your craft.

#5   Set realistic expectations.

No matter what field of marketing you eventually enter, remember that you won’t work on the ‘big’ stuff right away. You’ll need to earn your stripes by excelling at smaller projects with more limited budgets and by wearing many hats. Prove you can move the needle and you’ll undoubtedly move on to bigger initiatives.

#6   Master your delivery.

How you present yourself is as important as what you say about yourself. Be polite, but don’t be fake. Be on time. Follow up with a thank you note. (You’d be surprised how few actually remember to do this.)

One last note. Don’t limit your opportunities by saying you’re interested in working on the “sexy” products/services, the things that are closest to your own personal interests (fashion, music, etc.). Professionals in this industry educate audiences about a wide range of relevant topics, virtually everything from saving for retirement to getting the best cancer treatment. So demonstrate that you’re naturally curious and eager to learn about a whole host of relevant topics. If you are, then a job in marketing or advertising is for you. If not, you may want to reconsider your choice of fields.

And whatever you do, don’t go overboard trying to be overly creative. Remember the goal of all good advertising. You don’t want the target audience saying: “how clever is this advertising.” Rather, you need them to say “how can I live without this product or service.”

About the author

Bill Knight is principal of Adams & Knight, Inc. an integrated marketing agency that employs a variety of marketing, advertising and creative professionals. Celebrating its 25th year in business, the agency is dedicated to serving clients that help people live happier, healthier lives. It has a diverse roster of regional, national and global clients in the healthcare, financial services and leisure industries.