Are you dreaming of entering the fast-paced, exhilarating and rewarding world that a creative agency has to offer? Ever-changing brands to work on, clients that keep you on your toes, and a culture made up of team members that feel like a family?
This is all obtainable by you. However, the many benefits of agency life have made the application process extremely competitive, and in some cases, rigorous. I am sharing my insight as an art director having experienced both sides of the agency hiring process, to help guide you to standing out in a sea of talented candidates.
While it may be tempting to dust off an old resume and immediately start applying to every agency in sight, take a step back and set aside some time to pull your thoughts together and get organized. Putting in time now will lead to more job leads and less frustration later. Do it right the first time!
- Personal Brand– As a creative professional, it is important to have a personal brand established in order to market yourself effectively. This should be applied across your resume, business cards, professional social media and portfolio site. When applying for a creative position, this is expected. This is your first impression and chance to separate yourself from the pack and prove your skills as they relate to the job at hand. In some ways it holds the same weight as a piece in your portfolio.
- Resume– Your resume needs to be top-notch, this means beautifully designed, aligned with your personal brand, and free of any spelling or grammatical errors. This should be concise, no more than one page, with only relevant job history (nobody cares that you were a college laser tag referee). Your contact information and portfolio link should be prominent on the page and fully linked.
- Portfolio– This is the most important piece of the application. Generally, I don’t even read a resume, I go straight to the portfolio. Your portfolio is a direct reflection of your capabilities, work ethic and personality. It should showcase nothing but your best work (I would recommend no more than 3-4 big projects or 6-10 smaller pieces). While your portfolio is used to measure your skillset as a creative, it is also used to gauge whether your beliefs and behaviors are in line with the company’s core values and culture. Use this space as an opportunity to let your character show through. I enjoy when people provide insight to their hobbies outside the office. Lastly, be sure links are working properly and copy has been proofed and refined. One mistake could deter an interested employer. Note: Behance, Dribble or a PDF presentation are all great to include in an application, but they do not replace a portfolio website.
- Linkedin- Update your linkedin (and if you don’t have one, do it now) Be sure your account is current and matches your resume (content-wise). Also provide links to your resume and portfolio here.
Once you have all the preparation completed, now it’s time to start applying.
- Where- Some say it’s a numbers game, but I am a firm believer in quality over quantity. I would find 10 places you could really see yourself working and direct your efforts there. These places may not have a position posted, but reaching out is a great way to start a relationship and open the door to a future opportunity.
- Do your research– Once you have narrowed down the companies where you wish to apply, it is imperative to gather as much research as you can about each one. This information will later be used in an initial call, email, office visit, or interview to show your knowledge and dedication in seeking employment at these agencies. Learn their location, employees, client base, past work and culture. Engage with them on social media, learn their website, be a stalker. You don’t just want a job, you want a job working for them, and you have for a while. So prove it! They will notice that you have done your research.
- Stand out! Now that you have collected knowledge about your dream employers you can use it to your advantage to stand out from the crowd. For example: When I was applying for my current position I did extensive research on the company website. I found that the team photos were all shot in the same unique style. When I was ready to inquire about any design position openings, I included a picture of myself shot in the same manner as theirs which I achieved with the help of my iphone and photoshop. I then accompanied this with the line “coming soon” and pasted it at the bottom of my email. This is what got me my first interview leading to where I am today. Taking a little extra time can make all the difference.
Nail the interview
By this point you have caught the attention of a couple of your favorite agencies and have completed a preliminary phone screening. Now it’s time for the real deal.
- Be on time – By this I mean, be early. This allows for any parking or navigation mishaps that are likely to occur. Once you have arrived, wait in your car until 5-10 minutes before your scheduled interview. DO NOT walk in 30 minutes early, or walk in even a second late. Agencies have a very tight schedule and you don’t want to inconvenience anyone.
- Dress up- Regardless of the company’s dress code, dress up. This is the easiest way to show your dedication and professionalism. Just do it.
- Bring the necessities- This includes your resume, business cards, a notebook, and a laptop. While most interviewers will print a copy of your resume and have a place to present, you should never assume, and always be prepared.
- Ask questions– Make sure to have some questions ready at the end of the interview. Ask questions to gain insight about processes, culture and benefits. This will show your preparation and research as well as your general interest in locking down the position.
- Follow up– Be sure to follow up the afternoon of your interview, or the following morning at the latest. Craft an email to each participating interviewer, thanking them for their time. If you haven’t heard back from them within a few days be sure to follow up again. This ensures you stay fresh in their mind and serves as a reminder that you are determined to become a member of the team.
If you want it, do the work to get it. You don’t have to “wish” you could work there, make it happen.