Let’s just say it: This sucks. This is not how you were supposed to wrap up your college careers. No graduation parties, no graduation ceremonies and no jobs (or a lot fewer than there were). I often reference a book written by M. Scott Peck. It’s kind of the original self-help psychology book. The first line says, “Life is difficult.”
I want you to know that it’s OK to mourn. It’s not only OK but necessary to grieve for what you lost. But at some point after that process is done, you’ve got to pick yourself up, look around and figure out what the hell you’re going to do.
I can’t tell you exactly what to do. What do I know? I’m just the CCO of an ad agency. And I’m not saying that out of any sense of false modesty. But what I can tell you and what may give you some hope is that there is no right time or perfect way to land a job or start a career.
But here is the process to advertising success that worked for me:
I got a great internship at NBC Sports after my junior year. I didn’t work the system, didn’t network, didn’t stand out in any way. I blew it. I went back to school in Texas for my senior year beaten down, a little depressed and anxious.
After graduation, I went to Los Angeles for an alumni meet and greet with entertainment executives. And, shockingly, I got offered a job working on a movie. Did I take that job? I did not. Why not? No idea. Maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe I was dumb. I still don’t know. I then lived with my parents for a year and got a job working at the mall as a stock boy at a clothing store. They wouldn’t let me actually sell clothes because I had no experience, but it ws the only job I could get.
After a year working at the mall, my uncle in Atlanta called and offered me a job managing his running shoe store. The new store was 400-square-feet of subleased space in the back of a local bike shop. I took the job and lived in his basement for three and half years, which is about two and a half years longer than expected.
After a year and a half in my uncle’s basement, the shoe store gig made it possible for me to get my first apartment. I still couldn’t find a “real” job, but I could support myself.
I started attending a night class on advertising. Each week, there was a different guest speaker from the ad business. After one particularly compelling class, I went up and introduced myself to the speaker, who was the head of broadcast production at a local agency. He invited me to tour the agency sometime, so I called him the next day. And he hired me to be his assistant. I made $21,000 a year, answered his phone, took notes, got him sweet tea from Chick-Fil-A every morning. I was the first man to hold that position in the agency’s 82-year history.
I got offered a promotion (twice) but didn’t take it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a producer. I did love being at the agency, though. My boss suggested I give copywriting a shot, so I started doing little jobs around the agency and actually sold a couple of things.
He told me to go to school, so I started going to ad school while still working part time. I got fired so I went to school full-time at this wild startup ad school with folding tables and folding chairs in a dumpy building with coffee-stained carpeting called The Creative Circus.