How can I find an entry-level job at an ad agency?
March 12, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

How can I find an entry-level job at an ad agency? How do I get noticed?

I’m a recent english-majoring college grad applying for entry-level account-side positions in the advertising industry. I know, rough time to be trying to break in right now, but I’m confident (or willfully disillusioned) that things will turn around. I have previous experience interning at a pretty recognizable major agency and do a good job of leveraging my experience on my resume and cover letter, especially when it comes to tailoring it specifically to different job descriptions.

I’ve used up all of my contacts and sort of hit a wall there, so I’ve been thinking about cold-sending my resume and cover letter to agencies that don’t even have AC or Jr/A-AE job openings and asking for their consideration “should anything open any time soon”. But I have a feeling there is so much more I could do – I just don’t know where to start.

I’m also sort of self-conscious about my resume and cover letter, which are really dry and boring. You’d think I was applying for a government job (not government job-ist!). I know how much agencies value creative/unique/snappy/punchy writing, or at least things that let a little personality show through. I’d love to write a cover letter that has more of a confident, human tone to it and none of that “I would be an exceptional candidate for this position because of my previous experience with blah blah blah” BS, but frankly I’m worried this would just make me look cocky and piss off the HR folks. “The nerve of this kid, he thinks he’s above writing a professional cover letter! DELETE!”

I guess the TL;DR version is: Looking for advice finding an entry-level agency job – what should my strategy be (besides being the SVP’s niece/nephew)? Bonus points if people have agency experience, double bonus points if it’s with account management or HR. Thanks yall.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think you have to be really good-looking to be in advertising. Are you fashionable? Are you friends with your old colleagues (not just using them for networking)? Are you showing up and passing out resumes at networking events?

Have you tried smaller, niche agencies?
posted by anniecat at 9:11 AM on March 12, 2010

frankly I’m worried this would just make me look cocky and piss off the HR folks. “The nerve of this kid, he thinks he’s above writing a professional cover letter! DELETE!”

Well, you won't get hired for a job in communication if you have a boring cover letter.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2010

I worked at a large agency for a couple of years, though not in a very flashy position. I don't have any surefire strategies on how to get your foot in the door, but I remember that the people who thrived there, regardless of their position or department, were outgoing and Loved to Have Fun in a big way.

I think it helps immensely if you're extroverted and engaging. If you're not, fake it. The industry is full of parties and events - find and go to as many of those as you can (ask your contacts!), and socialize.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:33 AM on March 12, 2010

I'm not in advertising, but I am looking at stacks of entry level applications for a job right now, and let me address this point:

I’d love to write a cover letter that has more of a confident, human tone to it and none of that “I would be an exceptional candidate for this position because of my previous experience with blah blah blah” BS, but frankly I’m worried this would just make me look cocky and piss off the HR folks.

There is a happy medium between stock cover letters and unprofessional letters. I have gotten both, and the people who have gotten interviews are the ones in the middle. Reference the job and why you'd be great extremely specifically. Let the manager know what an asset you would be to them and how much you would love the job. Don't include stock phrases like "I know your company hires only the finest professionals" or other cheesey lines that are not tailored to each company. On the other hand, do not say things like "I'm not going to bore you with a cover letter that just sums up my resume" or anything else implying that being professional is for suckers. Don't be afraid to show a little personality, but keep it professional. Make an impression by showing that you did your research, not by being overly familiar or cocky.
posted by whodatninja at 9:45 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I used to work full time at a medical education company that is (and was) part of an ad agency. As a freelancer, I’ve continued to move in and out of companies, and at least a few of these companies were ad agencies. Please note that I am not an accounts person, but I’ve worked closely with accounts people in the past; it differs from company to company as to how these interactions proceed (ie, at some companies the science/medical people drive everything, at other companies the accounts people do). I also think this really varies by industry (our clients were pharma companies), so treat all the below with the idea that this is tailored towards ad agencies in medical education.

A couple things that may push you into the door:

• Also work with a recruiter, a recruiter that has a lot of contacts.
• Are you available on a freelance/temp basis and are you located in a big city? Because some of the companies that I worked around became so overwhelmed that they often needed a herd of freelancers…right now…or yesterday. If you are available for that then make a resume/packet and send it to companies in your area and let them know you are available for working with them immediately if necessary.
• Absolutely coldsend that resume and letter. I send a brief cover letter either in the contact us page or from a list of companies that I find and have gotten projects this way (and some call immediately and want you to work there, right now/not kidding). Anyway, you could send a brief cover letter, “I am looking for an entry level accounts position. I have skills in X, Y, and Z. My contact info is as follows -----. Attached is my resume.“ are you looking for a type of industry or anything in an ad agency anony OP? I have a list of companies/emails for med ed companies, some of these are agencies. Feel free to memail me if that's the case--I can also point you towards NYC agencies if that is where you are looking

If it were me, I would not send a creative, punchy letter. Our clients were pharma companies and the content we discussed was very technical. Think suits (yes at meetings everyone had to wear business suits). Even at the ad companies that threw around the word “creative”, I think it would be more likely that the email/letter will not work for you. Conform until you get that first position – then if you want a company like that, experiment with a letter like that for your next job. On preview: Nthing whoadat ninja

These are observations of the people who seemed to do really well (and if I had the power, I would hire someone like this):
• Nthing Metroid: chatty and outgoing. You are the one making the call to the client.
• Really, really organized. Maybe show them that you can create a GANT chart, whatever. Stress your organization and communication skills.
• Know a little bit of information about the industry that you are working in. Again, my industry was medical education. Most accounts people that I worked with knew absolutely nothing about the science or the drug (nothing beyond chit chat info). To me, someone who makes an effort to understand the basic science info of the industry and knows the industry trends (What drug just got FDA approved? What interesting drugs are in the pipeline for a particular therapeutic area?) would absolutely stand out and differentiate themselves from the others. If you land an interview in my industry, they will usually tell you before you go to the interview that the account is in [diabetes, oncology, whatever] – read online in advance before the interview. If you can talk about the basics you are far, far ahead. small>If I hire accounts people done the road, this is the person that I would hire.

Finally, why accounts? There are other jobs that an English major could probably get at an ad agency: an editor, a copywriter, etc. Just something to think about.
posted by Wolfster at 10:08 AM on March 12, 2010

I also want to add that while this will vary from person to person and firm to firm, timing is important. I receive so many applications within 24 hours of a job posting and 90% them are pure stock that is obviously being sent out to anything new when they hit refresh. Take a day or so to really do your research and make your application say (without actually saying) that you don't just want A job, you want THIS job.
posted by whodatninja at 10:36 AM on March 12, 2010

Seconding the question, "Why accounts?" I say head for copywriting. Put together a great student book or go to a grad-level school that will make you. Then get an internship.

Here was my route, and mine was a bit strange (and wandering) for a copywriter:
English major ---> Portfolio Center ---> internship ---> internship ---> freelance ---> freelance ---> Mid-level at Ogilvy.

Here's the normal route for a copywriter:
English, Creative Writing, or Marketing major ---> Portfolio Center, Miami Ad, Etc... --->internship --->Junior Copywriter.

(I am extroverted, Love to Have Fun, and good at my job. But I am by no means a special snowflake in NYC. In other words, with a bit of talent, a bit of savvy, a good sense of humor, and a thick shell, lots of can do this. I think.)

Good luck, MeMail me if you need help, etc.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2010

A couple things I want to clarify:

A. You need to be attractive/trendy (FALSE)
This is complete BS. Yes you need to be professionally dressed and well-groomed but no respected agency I know hires people just because they are attractive. I believe that is actually illegal for their type of business (however IANAL). There does seem to be a large percentage of attractive women in advertising but part of me wonders if that is just because it is seen as a "fun and sexy career" so it draws more of them, just like programming tends to draw more geeky guys.

B. You need to be super creative with your resume/cover letter (FALSE)
I've reviewed resumes for interns and account coordinators at agencies I've worked at and unless they are applying for a creative role, I want to see something that is professional, completely devoid of typos/incorrect grammar, and most importantly containing relevant experience. Yes, it can help to be a little witty in your cover letter, but only if you've successfully conveyed the proper information. Keep it short and sweet.

Ok, now we've covered that, I want to give you some tips.

1. Get involved with your local ad industry organizations. You didn't mention where you are located which is a shame because we might be able to offer more specific suggestions, however you most likely have a local chapter of the 4A's or some other organization. These places frequently have a need for volunteers and doing so will allow you to meet and get to know many great industry contacts of all levels. Often times having someone vouch for you from inside a company is all you need to get your foot in the door (and then you are on your own). Get involved and it will be a bit help.

2. Look for industry events that you can attend. Things like mixers, tradeshows with free exhibition halls, etc. Go and network.

3. Get in touch with multiple headhunters that specialize in agencies. Many even specialize in a specific agency roll (ie. media, creative, account, etc.).

4. If possible try to avoid companies like Creative Circle and Robert Half companies. A quick read in the forums for those companies will give you all the reasons why.

5. Figure out what you specifically want to do at an agency and then learn to talk the talk. You'll have better luck with this if the role you are applying for is the one you have internship experience with. Basically, I can't tell you how frustrating it was to get interview candidates who came in and clearly had no clue how an agency was structured and when I asked what they were interested in doing said something along the lines of "oh I dunno, either account or creative..." That is about the worst thing you can do. If you want account side, you had damn well better know what it entails and why you should be a good fit for it. If you are creative, don't bother if you don't have an awesome portfolio. But most importantly make up your mind as the smarter competitors of yours already have and this will make them stand out.

6. Research the agency's clients and if you have anything relevant to comment on with them add that to your cover letter and call out the experience in your resume. It doesn't hurt to show passion for a particular client either. Case in point, I was traveling in London one summer during college and through some connections through my school (MCAD) I landed an interview with Fallon London. During my interview I told the two account people in the room interviewing me that "look, you guys are Fallon and everybody wants to work at Fallon, but the real reason I want to work here is because you guys have the Radio 1 account and I listen to it non-stop." Given that I'm an American, this made me stand out but most importantly I lucked out because those two people interviewing me were the AE's for the Radio 1 account. Needless to say I got the internship.

7. You may need to get another internship under your belt. I can't tell you how much of an edge it gave me that I had interned at Campbell Mithun and Fallon London when I was interviewing for my first job. Most candidates didn't even have a relevant internship under their belt. Agencies care about real world experience so get that when you can and when you can't, trump up any ad projects you've done for school that have been for real world clients if possible.

8. Look to smaller boutique agencies. Often times they are not as flooded with resumes as nobody really knows about them. It is not as impressive to tell your friends, but there's no shame in getting your first real job out of school in your chosen industry in this economy. Plus, it will make it infinitely easier to get a better job in the future. Just be warned that the pay will typically be worse than a big agency, the hours will be worse, and you'll have to wear many hats. That last part is actually a good thing and gave me a much broader skill set than most of my peers. After almost two years at my first gig, I had the luxury of picking from three separate job offers when I went on the market again thanks to everything I had been involved with.

Hope this helps and don't disparage. Feel free to send me a MeFi mail if you need further assistance.
posted by Elminster24 at 11:53 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

You might find AdGrads helpful.
posted by meerkatty at 7:14 PM on March 13, 2010

Hey Elminster24 can you please post a list of smaller boutique agencies that you have talked about. I am a senior graduating in December and I am willing to work for low pay at least to get my foot in the door.
posted by snowliontiger at 12:59 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

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