How to Get a Job in Advertising



I spent all day today at the 27th Annual Chicago Advertising Federation Career Day – and the better part of the past three months planning for it. Career Day, for those of you who don’t know, is an opportunity for college students to interact with advertising professionals and get a taste of what it’s like to work in this crazy business. Having attended the event as a college senior, I have volunteered ever since and keep it as one of my top extracurricular priorities in the ad world.

Spending a day with the enthusiastic, bright-eyed students reminds me why I love this business. Despite the bleak outlook for jobs, agencies and the overall economy, the students I met today seemed overwhelmingly positive. Sure, everyone’s burning question centered somewhere around: ‘Are you guys hiring?’ And I’d bet my allowance they heard a resounding ‘No’ from everyone they asked. Even so, I wanted to get them a little something to latch on to.

So, I dug into the archives of bad decisions I have made in the past for a lesson or two I could share. I didn’t have someone willing to share the blunders and ‘huh?!’ moments that are so common during the awkward stage between the safe confines of Academia and the cold, harsh reality of The Real World. If I couldn’t offer a job, I could at least offer some good advice, right?

Here goes…

  • Internships, internships, internships. The task to secure an internship may seem daunting at first, but remember to broaden your horizons to other cities, not just the one you’re closest to. Internships are basically really long job interviews. And there’s nothing quite like them after college, so go for it. And when you do get one, work your ass off. It’s your chance to knock the socks off the team, and show them every single day why they should hire you.
  • Make friends. You never know where your first ‘break’ is going to come from, so meet as many people as you can and foster relationships with every single one of them. One good way to get face time in an agency if you don’t have an internship is through informational interviews. Ask someone if you can have 15 minutes of their time – and I’d be willing to bet they would be happy to help you. Yes, we’re all busy, but we also all know what it’s like to need a little guidance when you’re just starting out. And after the interview, don’t let it fall off from there. Keep in touch with your new contact. Send her an article that reminds you of your conversation, her client, her agency or even one of her competitors. Not only does that make you smarter, it shows her you’re interested in fostering a relationship and you’re serious about the company.
  • Stand out from the crowd. It’s sort of a cliche, but it’s really important to be memorable. With hundreds of candidates passing through the agency, you want them to remember you. While it’s not the easiest task, it’s also far from hard. You know yourself best. Find a strength, a unique characteristic or something special you can offer the agency. And think of yourself in their shoes. If you’re looking at resume all day, what’s going to make you do a double take?
  • Never say never. When I first graduated, I was all starry-eyed about the big agencies, with the fancy names, fancy locations and fancy offices. And while all of the above is nice, it’s not required for a first job or any job for that matter. I was so focused on working at one of the ‘top’ agencies on my list, I didn’t even give the hundreds of others out there a chance. Who knows where I would have ended up in my career or geographically speaking if I wasn’t so close-minded. Remember, once you’re through the front doors, the work inside is much the same no matter where you’re at. And most times, you have the opportunity to take a larger role on projects in smaller- and mid-sized agencies. All that glitters is not gold.
  • School doesn’t end at graduation. Keep asking questions and keep that curiosity peaked. Ask people in the industry what they read. Check out some blogs – or start your own. Advertising and marketing is constantly changing, and if you don’t keep up, you’ll get left behind.
  • Know your shit. I kind of figured this went without saying, but after a few recent interviews at the office, I feel the need to reiterate. When you go in for an interview, be prepared. There’s nothing that’s more of a turnoff in an interview than 1) not having a real knowledge of or interest in the agency and/or 2) not having a single question. For heaven’s sake humor me, if you don’t have any new questions, ask the same question you asked the last guy, just don’t sit there in silence without a single inquiry.
  • Keep on, keepin’ on. Last but not least, if you’re not having any luck right off the bat, don’t fret. It took me nine months to find my first job out of school. At times, I thought it was never going to happen. My mom even tried to talk me out of going into advertising for the sake of my own sanity. But it’s where I really wanted to be – and where I still want to be. Whatever you do, do something. Volunteer with a local non-profit, and offer to help with their marketing efforts. Or, start that blog I mentioned earlier. Keep refining your skills in any way you see fit – your initiative, perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit will be recognized.

And finally, great luck to all of you!


25 Responses to “How to Get a Job in Advertising”

  1. Hey Stephanie,

    Great post! I just finished school (the Account Planning program at MAS) and found the info really helpful, especially the links.


    ~ Dennis

    • 2 stephanieakelly

      Thanks, Dennis. I took a look at your blog the other day after our Twitter exchange. Love Rogue Planning…really, nice job and some great reads. And Meghan says your the king of Social Networking 😉

  2. That cartoon is so dead on. The business is hard to get into and hard to get something out of.

    • 4 stephanieakelly

      At time, yes. There are definitely good days and bad. Thanks for the comment!

  3. 5 Aina

    Thanks for the encouragement!
    And good tips.

    • 6 stephanieakelly

      No problem, Aina. It’s hard to break into advertising, but once you’re there, it’s hard to turn away 🙂 Shoot me an email if you have any questions.

  4. Great thoughts Stephanie, thanks for sharing!

    • 8 stephanieakelly

      You’re welcome, Andrew! If you’re looking for a job, great luck to you. And if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.

  5. This just goes to show that Internet Marketing strategies are becomming more and more covert and it’s time to step up your tactics.

  6. 10 Jovan

    I’m having so much trouble finding a job in advertising, any suggestions on where to start. I am currently the director of marketing for an insurance agency, but I was an advertising major in college. Its been three years since I graduated and I am soooooo ready to break into the industry.

    Anyone have any advice?

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