The Rising Marketer’s Guide to Critical Mass’ Trailhead Program

By Olivia Morley 

An illustration of an employee presenting to others in a conference room environment.

This is part of Adweek’s series covering advertising internships and fellowships. As agencies continue to face a talent crunch, many recent graduates or career changers are seeking a way into the industry. Here, we cover programs for entry-level marketers at top agencies.

This fall, Canada-based digital agency Critical Mass formally launched Trailhead, a 115-person large program comprised of 40 interns and 75 full-time employees who have either recently graduated or are switching industries. The launch follows the pilot program that ran this summer.

The program is an extension of Critical Mass’ legacy internship program, which hosted between 40 and 50 interns. Launching Trailhead was about scaling that program to over 100 participants, according to Sara Anhorn, chief talent officer at Critical Mass.


The program affords permanent employees, called Trailhead associates, a three-month transitional period focused on learning, mentorship and establishing community. Interns, who are often between their junior and senior years in college, complete the program in 12 weeks.

The learning period is ideal for career switchers like Nikita Parmar, a member of the summer 2022 cohort who is now an associate user experience designer at the agency. Parmar worked in criminal justice and law enforcement for 13 years before attending an online user experience program in 2020 and switching to the marketing industry. She’d had two user experience jobs before joining Critical Mass’ Trailhead pilot program this May.

“Being a career switcher with a little bit of that experience in user experience design—plus a whole other career before—it made sense to start [as a Trailhead associate], versus at an internship where you’d be fresh out of school,” said Parmar.

Launching Trailhead injected “fresh ideas and fresh energy” into the agency, according to Anhorn. Her team evaluated Trailhead participants’ experience on a 30, 60 and 90 day basis to gauge whether participants found educational materials effective and how well mentors delivered training.

Associates that complete the program can choose to mentor incoming cohorts, and learning and development (L&D) is split between those mentors and a dedicated L&D team.

“We wanted to also make sure that it wasn’t just L&D crafting content—that we’re getting it from the real skill masters, and the people that were really most involved and experts in their function,” said Anhorn.

The program’s workshops helped Parmar, who was new to agency life, learn about Critical Mass’ agency structure and how to work with clients, while introducing her to colleagues. Trailhead offers skill development workshops, including one focused on building presentation skills and others that center group work. Associates balance workshops with their client account work.

Those who are in the Trailhead internship program may receive full-time offers by the end of the 12-week program, but receiving the offer is competitive, with 27% of the summer 2022 intern cohort converting to permanent employees.

TLDR: Check out program details, including how to apply, in our Q&A with Critical Mass below. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

When did Critical Mass found the program?

It officially launched September 2022. The pilot cohort joined this summer.

How many cohorts do you welcome each year?

We’re planning for 115 individuals in 2023—40 interns and 75 entry-level permanent hires. Total agency size is 1,100.

How long does the program run?

For Trailhead interns: 12 weeks.

For Trailhead associates: Hired into a permanent role with three initial months of curated learning and development programming, dedicated mentorship and community.

What does your program pay?

Pay for our Trailhead hires is based off where you are located and the type of role. For our full-time associate-level hires, they have all the benefits of salaried employees, and our interns have selected benefits during their 12 weeks with the agency.

How many fellows do you hire or plan to hire for each class?

Summer 2022: 33 interns, 74 associate-level permanent hires.
Winter 2023: 25 associate-level permanent hires.
Summer 2023: 40 interns, 25 associate-level permanent hires

What percentage of your most recent cohort are historically underrepresented?

54% are historically underrepresented; 56% are women.

Is a college degree required for your program?

A standard college degree is not required.

How long is the application process from start to finish?

The application process takes approximately two months from start to finish.

What do you require from applicants as part of the hiring process?

All applicants need to submit a resume. Each will have a screening call with a member of our Trailhead talent acquisition team and a virtual interview with a hiring manager. Some roles, like associate designer, associate copywriter, junior developer, etc., will require a portfolio or skills test. The recruiting team will reach out with all the specific information and process based on the role to which you have applied.

What percentage of your fellows receive full-time offers by the end of your program?

From our summer 2022 cohort: We hired nine out of 33 interns, or 27%. We brought on 74 associate-level permanent hires.

When are you hiring your next class of fellows?

This November, Critical Mass will post its spring 2023 cohort application on its Trailhead website.

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