What You Can Learn From the Crazy Ways These Job Seekers Got a Foot in the Door

It’s not about the coolest gimmick

Sander Saar, Jessica Stahl, Lukas Yla

Getting agencies to notice your resume when it’s buried in a stack of hundreds isn’t easy, even if you’re coming from a top-tier ad school and have killer internships under your belt. That’s why some job seekers have tried to circumvent the traditional application process—from creating agency-inspired Bloody Mary mixes to mimicking Kickstarter—young creatives are putting their skills to use and it’s helping them catch potential employers’ attention.

But what are the dos and don’ts? Adweek asked some creatives and agencies to find out what job seekers need to know if they’re looking to do something outside of the box to get noticed by agencies. Here’s what we learned:

Show your personality

Whatever you create should tell the agencies you’re sending it to something about you and how you think. Instead of a package of cookies or cakes with your face or resume on them (yes, agencies like Deutsch have seen this tactic before, according to senior vp and creative director Zaid Al-Asady) create something that feels true to you and the kind of thinking that you will bring to the agency.

“The things that work really well, the things that stand out, are when you can kind of see people’s personality come through,” said Al-Asady. “It has to feel authentic and like an accurate insight into that person’s personality.”

Kurt Gassman

One current employee of Deutsch, junior copywriter Kurt Gassman, did just that with his application to D-Prep, the agency’s summer internship program. He took the application’s call to “make something” literally—he made origami cranes—but he didn’t stop there, noted Al-Asady. Gassman then posted a thread on Reddit showing a journey of sorts that the origami cranes went on, which went viral and eventually Deutsch accepted him to the program.

Tuesday Poliak, evp, chief creative officer of Wunderman D.C., created fake wallets for big name creative directors like Lee Clow and Jeff Goodby to get her first job. The detail-oriented approach took initiative—she made fake I.D.s, fake phone cards, shrunk her work to fit into the wallets, talked her way into agencies where she dropped the wallets on the floor for someone to find and deliver to the creative directors—and showed potential employers what her imagination was like.

Know your market

Last fall two students, Cat DeLong and Micah Wilkes, creative directors for the Brigham Young University AdLab, created Brandsgiving. For the 30-day project, they spent an hour each day creating art and copy for a specific brand.

“Part of being able to identify a target market and create enticing content is know who you’re talking to,” said DeLong, who now lives in Los Angeles and freelances for TBWA\Media Arts Lab. “The ad agency world is one that’s unlike any other and creating content that’s entertaining for them is really key for getting noticed. It’s working smarter and harder.”

Micah Wilkes, Cat Delong

Al-Asady echoed that sentiment: “People who have created small targeted Facebook campaigns, where they target people who work at a specific agency, [in the hopes of getting a] meeting with a specific person, that stands out a lot.”

“I was on Facebook and got served an ad that said ‘You work at Deutsch. Can you introduce me to Pete?’ like in the copy with a photo of Pete in the ad,” said Al-Asady. “It’s very targeted and [shows] how you can target people who are part of the Deutsch group in our area. It’s very specific and very pointed and it’s very quick to make and cheap but it also shows their understanding of that social media platform and of media targeting, which is kind of really impressive for someone at grad level.”

Show rather than tell

DeLong noted that it was important for their project to show that they’re makers and have the tenacity to start and finish a project like Brandsgiving. “What was cool about Brandsgiving was that it wasn’t just once. It was every day for a month,” she said. “I think that was attractive to ad agencies because we all know that it’s not easy and that coming up with good ideas takes hard work, so to see that we did that every day shows people that we’re serious about what we’re doing and that we knew what we were getting into.”

American art director Jessica Stahl took a similar approach with her project, Get Bloody Creative, a series of Bloody Mary mixes inspired by various agencies. Stahl recently relocated to the Netherlands and was looking to get the attention of various Amsterdam-based agencies. Sending emails wasn’t working when she got the idea.

“I kind of got to this place where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled—I already loved Bloody Marys and had been making custom Bloody Marys for years—and so I thought this was a fun creative solution and it was the most fulfilled I’ve been in months,” said Stahl. “I wanted to show that I’m not just a really conceptual art director but that I can execute and that, if needed, I can execute by myself. I know that a lot of agencies are really hands on and by doing this work I’ve realized that I can be really involved in a lot of the process.”

Stahl has yet to land a job but the effort has gotten her meetings with all of the featured agencies and she’s gotten opportunities to do content creation work for other agencies.

It can’t just be a gimmick

While there are certainly success stories that break this rule, pure gimmicks, like dressing up as a pastry delivery man, is something agency execs advise against.

Lukas Yla

The issue seems to be that gimmicks don’t necessarily show agencies the potential value of that employee or what they could do for the agency if they were hired.

If a gimmick takes up more time, like “when you have people who send a big package and then you have someone in the mail room who has to walk around the entire agency handing individual things out … it can be a little off-putting and it also lacks personality,” said Deutsch’s Al-Asady.

“I personally don’t really appreciate the gimmicks,” said Lynn Power, CEO of JWT in New York. “What I do respond to, though, I’ve had some recent grads that have reached out to me on LinkedIn with a really thoughtful note. Say, ‘Hey I’m looking to get into the business. I’d love to pick your brain for 10 minutes.’ Yes, I’ll do that. I will respond.”

It’s all about value

For Sander Saar, head of strategy and business development for non-linear media, international for Maker Studios, creating a mock Kickstarter page, called HireSander, wasn’t just a clever trick. In 2012, when Saar was a recent graduate looking for work, he wanted to show that he could come up with strategies and execute them. At that time Kickstarter was still a newer platform and by showing that he could find what works about a new medium, apply it in a new and innovative way and promote it helped him score 15 interview requests in the first day.

“That’s the only way to do it,” said Saar. “To show specific value for that company, before you get hired. You look for the company you want to work for, you do something small that adds value—whether it’s strategy, marketing, whatever area you want to go into—and then you present that.”