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4 Not-So-Obvious Tips to Getting Hired at an Ad Agency

8 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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Portfolio is done. Ideal agencies picked. You know the type of position you’re looking for (internship, freelance, or full-time). Now comes the fun part...finding a job.

Y’all Got Any More of Them Jobs?

Now, I’m no recruiter. I’m a simple creative who’s lived through this process, from both ends (finding an agency to hire me and finding a creative to hire to work for me). So, I’m going to tell you what you need to know, from a creative point of view. What will you need to do to get through the clutter when your work gets to to the Creative Director or their team? What makes you attractive as a prospect? How do you get a job when you have no idea where to start?

Finding a new job is like looking for a needle in a giant pile of crap. And there are a dozen different piles of crap. And it’s going to stink.

So, let’s get our hands dirty.

1) Hit the Interwebs

During the dark ages, we used to have to talk to recruiters, run our portfolio around, and depend upon some pretty annoying tactics to find a gig. But, with the rise of the internet, it got so much easier. But don’t discount the old ways. They’re still pretty effective...just much harder. And in some cases, way less effective of getting you a job.

Agency Websites

Okay, first thing first. Almost all agencies post their open positions on their website. If you’re looking for a job, go there. Now.

Beware, this is the shotgun approach. Everyone is looking there. You’ll be dropped in a big pile of applicants, thrown through HR software (which I’ll talk about later), and hopefully rise to the top. But, you still need to do it, because that’s just the first step.

There’s more than one way to find a job. Or skin a cat...which is a horrible thing to do.


If you’re not on LinkedIn, get on it. Yesterday.

It’s by far the #1 way that in-house recruiters, creative directors, and pretty much everybody uses to find talent when they have an open position.

On one hand, the responsibility is yours to find the job. Many recruiters will post open job positions in the same way they post the positions on their agency websites. The upside to this is that less people are applying via LinkedIn than through the agency site. Sometimes it just directs you to their website, and in that case, it makes no difference. However, if they have a “Apply Via LinkedIn” option, jump on that.

However, on the other hand, it’s up to the agency. And this is probably more important. On of the first things an agency does when looking to fill a position is search for that position on LinkedIn. They find who is local, find recommendations, and read up on you. What you need to do is make sure your LinkedIn profile is on point: links to work, recommendations, skills endorsed, etc.

I've seen people put clever titles for what they do, like “Creative Maker.” Don’t do this. If someone’s looking for an Art Director, they search “Art Director.” And guess who will NOT show up: the “Creative Maker.”

2) You're Not as Anti-Social as You Think

I was told by a friend that the most effective way to find a job is to use your network, your connections.

Stupid Me: “Oh great, I don’t have a network. I’m screwed.”
Genius Friend: “You have friends, don’t you?”
Stupid Me: “Yeah.”
Genius Friend: “You went to school for advertising, right? So you have teachers?”
Stupid Me: “Yeah.”
Genius Friend: “And they have friends.”
Stupid Me: “Okay…”
Genius Friend: “Well, there’s your network.”

Network. It’s a fancy word, but it’s essentially every person you know, and everyone they know. Now, as you move from job to job, your network grows because the people you work with become part of that group.

I’ve gotten every agency and freelance job I’ve had through a direct reference. And I did that by simply asking people I knew if they knew if the agency they were working at was hiring (or if they knew of another agency that was hiring).

There are two tricks to remember, though:

  • Make Sure They Like You - Make it a point to keep relationships open. Don’t just reach out to them for jobs. Even if you email for the sole purpose of a job hunt, remember, they’re doing you a favor. So don’t be a selfish asshole.
  • They Will Not Come To You - Again, if they recommend you, they’re doing you a favor. They’re going out of their way. Do NOT expect them to respond to your Facebook or Twitter post out to the world. Sure, post away, but reach out directly, individually to each person you think can help.
  • Make It Easy - Don’t just ask them to put in a good word for you. Get the contact information for the right person to reach out to directly. That way they don’t have to take the time to do it themselves, but they’ll still be able to get credit for bringing you in.

3) How to Not Piss Off Anyone

You’re looking for a job. You’re thinking about yourself. You’re anxious, ambitious, impatient. This is a deadly recipe to come off as an annoyance more than an asset to an agency. So, there are a few points to keep from pissing everybody off in the process.

Cold Calling (or Emailing)

Let’s say you found your ideal agency, but they aren’t actively looking for a new hire. Definitely reach out to them. They may be interested, but haven’t started an official search yet.

But set your expectations with this tactic:

  • Delayed Reaction - Don’t get your hopes up about an immediate interview when doing this.
  • Memorability - Cold calling will put your name in their mind if and when you reach out for a position they’re looking for.
  • They Won’t Remember - But, at the same time, people seem to think there’s some database that agencies keep of every single person who has reached out to them. Sometimes recruiters do that, but usually they only pay attention and keep track of potential hires during the time that the they’re hiring.

When To Reach Out

There are lots of studies that support this, and not just my experience. But there’s a good time to reach out to agencies (and pretty much anyone) when it comes to job inquiries.

  • Tuesday @ 9AM - Don’t do it Monday, because people are just starting to catch up with their work after the weekend, so your email or message will get lost in the shuffle. So, miss that rush, but be the first thing (but not too early) in their inbox when they get in the next day.
  • Friday @ 9AM - The week is ending and they’re probably looking for some last-minute additions to their prospects. Don’t wait until the end of the day, because they’ve mentally checked out. But start that last day of the work week with you reaching out, then follow up with a right hook on tuesday to remind them.

Don’t Be Annoying

Beyond the lesser-known tactics I’ve mentioned, there are tons of ways to reach out to people. But this will not be the first time you do this. Chances are, you’re going to need to ask the same people the same question every few years. Don’t leave them with a bad taste in their mouth because you’ve been pestering them too many times in a short time span.

  • Multiple Reach-Outs - Some people, reach out to multiple times before they respond. And by that I mean once or twice a week for about a month, tops. These are HR reps or recruiters (known as the “talent” department at agencies). Essentially, people whose job it is to take inquiries.
  • Seldom Reach Out - Creatives you know in agencies, creative directors, non-talent folks. Don’t overwhelm these people with your job inquiries. It’s not their job to keep track of it, but when they see good talent, they’ll keep you in mind and even push you through the system faster sometimes.
  • They’re Just Not That Into You - After a certain point, get the hint. If they don’t follow up to you, they’re not interested. That even means friends you’ve contacted. If they haven’t submitted your information, or keep deflecting, they may not want to recommend you. Don’t take it personally, not everyone is a good fit for every agency. And they’re putting their reputation on the line referring you. So, if they do recommend you, make sure you deliver.

4) Fool the Robots, then Impress the People (aka - Who Does The Hiring?)

Here’s a little tangent I’ll leave you with. Once you reach out, getting your work through the front door, in their inbox, or on the desk of the agency, there are a few different people you need to please. And each of these people are looking for something different:

  • Recruitment Software - Believe it or not, the agency’s gatekeeper for the hundreds (if not thousands) of applicants for a position is a computer. Your resume is fed into software, it looks for specific keywords, and then it gives you a rating of how appropriate you are for the qualifications it’s looking for. So, make sure your resume is immaculate.
  • Agency Recruiters - These folks bring the humanity back into the search process. And what they’re looking for is somewhere between a machine and a creative. They’ll be able to generally see good work, but they’re looking more at your experience, your expectations, and your recommendations. They have a knack for finding talent.
  • Creative Directors - If your work comes to this person, you’re on the short list. You’ve worked your way through the filters and now it’s down to your work. Does your book speak for itself? Did you use every trick you can to make your portfolio perfect? There’s a little bias when it comes to your resume, but in general, a talented writer or art director will be noticed.

Work It

Job searches aren’t fun, but be respectful to the people you reach out to and it will go much smoother. People’s memories are very good when it comes to bad experiences, even more so than good experiences, so don’t piss anyone off.

But, in the end, pass along the goodwill that will be given to you along the journey. Not only is it good karma, but at some other fork in the road, it may come down to reciprocation.

Thanks for reading!

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