Transitioning from the safe realm of professors, easy mac, and project extensions to landing your first agency job can be nothing short of intimidating. There is a lot that goes into finding the first job of your marketing career, and likewise a lot that your future employer puts into finding you. I underwent this transition a year ago, and I learned a lot through experience and failures along the way. I have messaged more strangers on LinkedIn than your average friendly person, have spent countless hours researching agencies, and once walked into the wrong agency for an interview and ended up somehow getting a job offer there. Whether you are looking for an agency job straight out of college, or you are transitioning jobs, here are some tips to help make this transition seamless.
1. Quality control
Think of your website as the face of your personal brand and curate a portfolio that stands out. Pay attention to its overall style; is it consistent? Does your logo represent you and the style of your work accurately? Does your website showcase your expertise clearly? There should be brief but rich descriptions on each project page so visitors gain a full understanding of each project, and so you can make use of internet keywords without having to know much about SEO. Make sure to highlight professional work in your portfolio that was designed for clients or companies.
When approaching your resume layout and design, choose a format that expresses your personal style without detracting from the information. Be creative and stand out, but don’t go too crazy and for instance, turn your list of past job experience into a crossword puzzle. Although it may seem insignificant, the paper you choose for printing your portfolio book, resume and cover letter matters. Paper quality is often overlooked, but it will showcase your attention to detail and quality of work. Convince the interviewer of your value by showing it—these details will not go unnoticed.
2. Know who you’re talking to
Research the agencies you’re interested in and tailor your portfolio and resume accordingly. If you want to be hired at an agency that specializes in branding, feature your branding work. If you want to be hired by an agency that specializes in environmental design, don’t send the agency your website unless there are projects showcasing design work in that sector.
Employers are looking for work that will align with their current clients’ needs and that feels on brand with their agency. But they’re also looking for your work to make a statement; they want you to be the link they’ve been missing.
“I want to see people who are pushing the boundaries of design, not copying every pretty thing on the internet.” -Clara Mulligan, Head of Art & Design at Anomoly London.
3. Be multi-faceted
Agency life involves wearing a lot of hats. When you are searching for jobs, be open to versatility within your role, and show your employer that you are well-rounded inside and outside of the workplace.
If you are a designer but love meeting with people, express an interest in project management. If you are a designer and you are also methodical, offer to help with production and organizing when you are not busy. Part of being willing to wear many hats shows that you are a humble team player, and you don’t believe that you are “above” any work. Check your ego at the door.
When addressing your involvement outside of work, keep these questions in mind:
- What are you passionate about?
- What are your side projects?
- What do you do just for you?
- Why are you interesting?
Your employer is likely listening to see if you are driven and impassioned, which is proven in more ways than how you approach your professional life.
LinkedIn works—not just to showcase a well-groomed profile or impressive resume, but to start real conversations with people who may have connections. Search for contacts who work at agencies you are interested in and use your shared alma mater or another connection as an opportunity to set up a phone call. Use opening sentences such as “I see that you are an alum of ____ in graphic design, and I was wondering if you have time in your schedule to meet and discuss my interest in your company and review my portfolio.” The worst they can do is say no!
Secondly, invite people who inspire you for coffee—people that you don’t necessarily need anything from. Simply offer to pick up the tab and learn about how they got to where they are in life.
5. Begin the search EARLY
It’s always good to have the job before you need the job. Begin researching all of the top agencies in your area. Make calls, make contacts, and when appropriate, stop in to try to make personal connections.
Often, students begin looking for a job a few weeks before they graduate, or even after they’ve graduated. Some assume it isn’t worth applying for a job that’s hiring in March if they won’t be available to work until May, but employers are often willing to be flexible on their start date in order to hire the right candidate.
I started applying and interviewing for jobs in January of my senior year, knowing that I would not be available until May. The job I currently have was originally open as a part-time position a few months before I graduated. In my interview, I expressed my excitement for the position, but also my need for full-time work. This allowed us to work out a way for me to work part time in the spring, while I was still in class, and start full-time in June. To leverage the gap between the company’s original need for part-time work and my need for full-time work, I was readily available to help with other roles within the company, expressing an interest in business management and print production as well as design. Working part-time at this job as I finished school also helped me adjust during the transition from college to work.