Just like the age-old question about the chicken and egg, creatives everywhere are constantly questioning how to land their first job in an agency when many of the agencies require entry-level employees have at least two years of experience. Why is that? Well for starters, agencies are fast-paced machines. There’s very little time for ramping up and training for the newer hires. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule with plenty of agencies offering internships.
But the question still stands: how do you get your foot in the door at an agency when the competition is so high? Let me offer you some ideas:
Build Your Portfolio. A good portfolio is critical and step one in the process. No one in an agency will take a candidate seriously without one — period. Tailor your portfolio to show off who you are, while making sure to offer variety in your work. It’s important to highlight complete work, including any drafts or mockups that lead to the final product. The best portfolios take a well-rounded and curated approach to showing work. In addition, you should briefly describe the work and the particular role each piece played. Creating comprehensive case studies go a long way as they show the creative thought process and clearly displays your strengths along the way.
If you don’t have enough pieces to add to your portfolio, try to do as many pro bono projects as possible. Just because you may not have done the work for a company doesn’t mean it is bad work! When sending your portfolio with an application, include work relevant to the type of work the agency produces and incorporate the work that excites you. Companies want to work with people who are enthusiastic and motivated to learn new things.
Network, Network, Network! Like most jobs, it always helps to have a connection at the place you would like to work. If you don’t have a connection already, it’s crucial to network and build those relationships. Find industry events where you can meet other creative professionals. And if there is an agency or two that you have your eye on, show up at their events! The more you show up, the more opportunities you will get to make a good impression. Even if you don’t meet someone looking to hire, you could meet a potential co-collaborator on side projects. Building a community of collaborators is sometimes just as important as mingling with hiring managers.
Do Your Homework. Once you’ve found an agency you’d like to work for, research the company thoroughly — know why you are interested in them. Giving the agency specific reasons and examples as to why you would like to work with them shows genuine interest rather than applying for the sake of applying. Let them know why you think they are special!
While you’re researching the agency, make sure to look up current team members and the hiring manager(s) and don’t be afraid to reach out at least for more information or even an informational interview. Identify any common threads or interesting connections when sending the first message — you’ll want to stand out among the many cold emails agencies receive. Companies need to know you’re actively engaged and invested in their work, their culture, and their community.
Make Them Feel Special. The biggest turnoff is when a company can tell an application and/or cover letter has been templated and sent around to a bunch of places. No matter how thorough you try to review, things will inevitably be missed when you least expect it. Maybe you leave another company’s name at the top, talk about a project that is irrelevant, or simply keep everything super generic. Custom fit each application to the specific company, the position you’re applying for, and the hiring manager(s) who will likely be reading your things. A final reminder about personalizing your application and portfolio: while the creative industry is not as stuffy as other industries, it’s important to find the balance between showing your personality and staying professional.