Welcome to Adgradland – Home of the fresh-from-university graduates and young-gun final years looking for their first job in the greatest industry in the world. Whether you’re an aspiring Creative, Planner or Suit, you have probably had a pretty full-on winter preparing your book, filling out kooky application forms, attending interviews, assessment days and a few of you will have already secured those top-jobs. For those lucky few, congratulations! For those still searching, some of the top schemes are only just opening up.
In this post, I want to share some of my experiences of magical yet often misunderstood world of ‘Adgradland’. This isn’t the last post so expect more coming your way soon!
Tip #1 There are many ways to get your foot in the door (but you should be aware those people climbing through the window or landing on the roof).
This tired metaphor is there for a reason. A graduate scheme is up there with one of the toughest routes into advertising but it isn’t the only way in. If graduate schemes were houses in ‘Adgradland’, very few grads have a roof over their heads. The top agencies receive thousands of account handler/ planner applications and only offer up to five places each year. It is scarily competitive out there but, in the words of the JWT application, ‘You’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge’.
Consider that ‘Adgradland’ has as many applications as Harvard Law and as few places. If you’re Harvey Specter (Excuse the Suits reference), you’re in luck but few of us are.
When I was first going for roles, I had no idea about the merits of alternative routes into the industry and never even entertained the creative route in fear of a longer stay in ‘Adgradland’.
Other ways in: Work Experience | Internships
I have had far more success in getting agency experience (in both account handling and creative) through work experience and internships than through graduate schemes.
Time to choose:
a) Assessment day - A one-day job interview.
b) Work experience - A two – four week job interview.
Make yourself invaluable on a work experience/internship. Producing great work is rarely enough. You won’t get that job by running the errand to pick up someone’s dry-cleaning but you might get entrusted with something more important after. I have been back to the same agency three times having made contacts, great friends and produced great work. Admittedly, I am not an Account Handler so my first work experience was a shock to the system. That said, it was helpful to know that I didn’t suit (sorry) that role. This time, i’m in creative working with placement teams and current teams on live briefs, retouching, video editing, portfolio viewing and scamping. My internship has been extended into the new year and i’m looking forward to getting back to the agency on Thursday.
In my short 3 weeks, I have seen how a creative isn’t something that switches off at 6pm when everyone leaves the agency. If you want to be a creative, it’s a 24 hour commitment.
I have taken a fairly ‘through the window’ route with getting my first experience in creative. Traditionally, Creative teams have only one route in through the placement circuit. There are no graduate schemes and it is tough to get your first placement. A great book of 8-10 speculative campaigns is a start. YCC has a lot of support from agency teams which can help you get constructive feedback on your books before rushing to the first Creative Director you can find.
Creatives commonly spend between two months and two years before they are offered their first junior positions. All the above is from my research rather than experience so don’t take my word for it! I start my first placements in April and June so expect a post then.
My last four months in ‘Adgradland’.
Back in September, as a naïve and wide-eyed student, I started applying for Account Handling graduate schemes. Anyone who has applied to these schemes will know that they are fraught with tricks and traps. Beyond that, they aren’t all application forms. BMB skyped their 400 applicants and CHI got their applicants to make a showreel. Advertising applications were never likely to be straight-forward. Did you really want to work in an industry where the application is a cover letter and CV? Probably not.
Alex (a uni friend) and I sent along several applications to our favourite agencies and waited impatiently for the responses. We had incredibly different responses and feedback from our handful of applications but both escaped the first-round paper application cuts with a handful of interviews. I even found myself at an Assessment day before mid-October with the end in sight!
Alex went to JWT, RKCR, Leo Burnett’s Foundry and I got through to RKCR and BBH. Of course, there were plenty of rejections. Remember that you are looking for the one ‘yes’, not the ‘no’s’ that went before. I moved into a creative route off the feedback i received from both agencies and haven’t looked back since.
A universal rule for advertising interviews. You need to be interesting, charismatic, pro-active, read-up and savvy to get a job. Some of those traits matter more than others but those getting the roles are definitely interesting. Interesting people do interesting things and I haven’t met one non-interesting person in the industry. Although it can be tough as a final year, keep up your interests and passions. It remains a common thing amongst advertising applicants to take on lists of extra-curriculars. I have been lucky enough to work as a busy freelancer in design and photography whilst at university. I’m through Glasgow photographing for NME and The Skinny Magazines twice a week. I really love what I do and that makes it a lot easier to talk about.
Tip #2: Really know your strengths.
I have done no less than thirteen theatrical shows at University and no amount of acting, scripted interview answers or ‘passion for the industry’ will get you through that assessment day. A full day being observed by current industry and recent grads is one hell of an interview. If you’re not going for the right role, you will find out quick enough. That was my experience of my first assessment day. I have always been a creative. I work as a photographer, videographer and designer. Above all, I love coming up with the ideas. I was in the right place at the wrong time. What I did do was make a tonne of fantastic contacts, great friends going through Adgradland and, later on, I received an offer of a creative placement.
Tip #3 Build your knowledge. It isn’t something you can do overnight and it isn’t specific to advertising. Mick Mahoney (ECD at RKCR) once said that he is always ’ Suspect of young Creatives who are ‘passionate about advertising’. I’m used to young Creatives loving specific filmmakers, photographers, illustrators and normally clawing their eyes out at the sight of a idea they wish they’d thought of first. Your cultural surroundings are integral to your knowledge of communications. Build your awareness of the day-to-day things you take in and the things you pass by. Look for the things you usually miss. Make yourself hyper aware of your surroundings. Having that cultural awareness is integral to you as an ‘Adgradlander’ regardless of role.
For Account Handlers/Planners, the great applicants on assessment day (job or not) weren’t the sleep deprived ones forcing themselves to know everything and anything about the agency and industry the night before. They had built the knowledge over time. The great applicants got feedback if it didn’t work out and kept in touch with the other applicants and the adfolk at the agency after the assessment day.
Tip #4 Quality not Quantity
Believe it or not, Agencies want to know where else you are applying. It is difficult to know whether this is a loaded question and how to approach the answer. The important point to be made is to treat an interview at an agency like a date with the girl/guy you have wanted to ask out for ages. You need to make them feel special and you need to know your shit about them. You should know why you want to be there in the first place. Moreover, if you don’t ask questions at the end of your interview, you’ll only be talking about yourself on this ‘date’ and that’s not ok now is it!
Tip #5 If you do get the interview, know your answers to the obvious questions and discussion points.
- What are the problems facing the industry?
- What is the relevancy of Digital?
- What are your thoughts on the future of advertising?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why advertising?
- What are your favourite and least favourite ads?
- Which Brands do you like and which ones do you think could be advertised better? What would you do to improve their advertising?
To be continued…
Background on Me:
I am a Creative Intern at M&C Saatchi but I also work as a photographer, filmmaker and designer within the music and theatre industries. I recently started working for NME Magazine & The Skinny and I love being actively involved in the craft as well as the art direction. As an aspiring Art Director, having a foundation in the craft has bolstered my ability to talk about what I want from outsourced production and facilitated my ideas to be bigger and bolder across the different artistic modalities.