4 Tips From Ad Execs and Recent Grads on Landing Your First Job in the Industry

And what you definitely shouldn't do

How can you score your first job at your dream ad agency? If you’re a recent marketing grad, chances are you’re asking yourself this question—or Googling it daily in a panic after commencement.

Adweek spoke to several recent graduates and senior hiring managers who shared the best ways to get an offer letter and what to avoid during your job hunt.

Don’t think too highly of yourself

You’ve done all the hard work and earned your degree, so it’s easy to feel like you’re on top of the world and can conquer anything (which, of course, you probably can). It’s important to acknowledge that recent graduates still have a lot to learn though, and creative directors don’t want to bring people with a know-it all-attitude on their team.

John Matejczyk, creative director and co-founder of agency Muh-tay-zik Hof-fer recalled a recent experience when he interviewed a young writer with a strong portfolio. It was a candidate he was “really jazzed on.” But after this person met with a few members of the team, it became clear that the applicant’s attitude and approach just wouldn’t gel with the agency.

“This was as talented a writer as I ever saw at his age, but when three or four of the people he talked to at our agency said that he came off as arrogant, we knew we would probably have a problem with him working here so we elected not to hire him,” Matejczyk explained.   

Leverage your connections, but be thoughtful with how you use them

As with any business, networking is key when you’re trying to get a foot in the door. For Marieme Sall, currently an associate producer at Deutsch who works on clients from Sherwin-Williams to Green Giant, it was all about gathering contacts and email addresses at the end of her internships and touching base with those contacts throughout her senior year. “I would set up a time and ask if I could come and visit just to say hi,” Sall explained.

Overall, Sall said she would get in touch three or four times per year at relevant intervals. If a creative from her former agency just put out a big new campaign for a brand, hit a major milestone at work or even just turned another year older, Sall would reach out. “It’s about keeping yourself on that person’s radar without being overly aggressive about it, without harassing anyone,” she said.

It’s all about finding the right moment and making it feel real and authentic. After using that tactic her senior year, Sall was offered a full-time position at Deutsch following her graduation.

When reaching out to connections or members of the agency world whom you admire, recent grads and execs agree on one thing: Staying patient and not bombarding people with emails and calls is key.

“You have to understand that people are busy, and maybe they didn’t see your email or they didn’t respond for a number of reasons. Emailing them five times in one week isn’t the best idea. Give them some time to respond,” Sall added.

Plan ahead and don’t panic

Along the same lines of not inundating your contacts with tons of emails and pleas for a job offer, recent grads agree that it’s important to remain calm during the job hunt and interviews. Or as Haley Schlatter, administrative account coordinator at RPA, says, practice “proactive planning and not panicking.”

“It’s easy to fall prey to post-graduation sensationalist panic, but this sense of urgency often comes across in interviews and correspondence. You want to seem eager and passionate, not desperate,” Schlatter said.

Schlatter hasn’t graduated yet, but she’s already scored herself a full-time gig at the agency. After interning at RPA and transitioning to a part-time role while still taking some college credits, Schlatter proved to the team that she’s a valuable asset. She also planned her schedule accordingly, taking only three classes during the second semester of her senior year. That gave her more free time to spend at RPA, getting to know the team and having the them become more familiar with her.

A good book is important, but it isn’t everything

For all the creatives out there, building a good book can be a key component to landing your dream job, but for many hiring managers and agency execs it’s not the only (or even the biggest) factor.

“A lot of great creatives don’t have a really great first book to begin with because they are still learning the skills and sharpening the knife,” Tuesday Poliak, evp, chief creative director at Wunderman, said. “So it’s not necessary that the work in the book has to be fabulous. I’m looking at the person’s energy when they walk in that room. I’m looking to see if they are coming in as themselves.”

180LA executive creative director Eduardo Marques echoed the need for passion–passion for the agency you’re applying to, passion for advertising, passion for the work. “The most beautiful thing is when I see a junior or intern creative coming into the industry with fire in their eyes,” Marques said. “A lot of people look for experience or look for portfolios, but when I see it someone that shows they are hungry, that has that fire, that is passionate, that’s when I hire someone.”

For Marques’ colleague and fellow executive creative director at 180LA, Rafael Rizuto, finding people outside of the ad schools who maybe don’t have as robust a book is actually a plus. “The young creatives are learning how to package an idea instead of coming up with concepts and many times we lose the craft, the craft of art direction, the craft of writing,” he argued.