My Job Search, Part 1

I arrived in New York in early May, feeling like a kid just out of school. Even though I had been in this position before, things seemed different. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1998 with a B.F.A. in graphic design and a minor in business, I went to New York to find a job in advertising. After three months of searching, I found a great one. For two years I worked in the print-production department of Saatchi & Saatchi. I eventually realized that I wanted to move to the creative department. So I packed up and moved back home to work on my portfolio at Miami Ad School. Three years later, I was back in New York, trying to find a job. This time I knew the position I wanted: junior copywriter.

I was prepared and confident. My portfolio was strong. I stepped into The Art Directors Club’s main gallery, the site of my first portfolio review. Scanning the rows of tables and chairs, I started to realize how many others were looking for a job. I had heard the rumors, but being in the gallery made it all real. I was hoping someone would really like my work and bring me in for an interview. That didn’t happen. One creative manager was particularly critical, saying I needed more consumer-product campaigns and that my guerrilla campaign didn’t work.

I noticed that some reviewers checked to see where I went to school before deciding whether to meet with me, which seemed strange. I was being judged based on where my money went for portfolio school and not on the work I had produced. I saw recent graduates walking up to reviewers in an attempt to get them to look at their books. That seemed desperate. But maybe I needed to try a little harder.

The next day, at The One Club portfolio review, things were more laid-back. I felt like I was getting my book critiqued rather than trying to get a job. I met creatives I had read about in magazines. A copywriter from FCB told me that my campaign to boycott Saudi Arabian oil “hit too close to home.” Then a creative from Cliff Freeman thought I should give the campaign “more thought.” I learned to get all the feedback I could and then decide what I wanted to do with the campaigns myself. I noticed one reviewer putting a star next to the names of some of the people she had met with. As I left The One Club, I hoped there was a star next to my name too. But I knew my portfolio would need to be changed. One campaign was getting mixed reviews. Another had a weak ad.

I kept calling agencies until the end of my stay and met more people, contacts through school and old teachers and friends. But as I had heard at The Art Directors Club: “We are just not in a place to hire people right now. But keep in touch because you never know when something will open up.”

I returned home having learned a few things: I was not going to get a job right away. I needed to figure out a clever way to keep in touch with agency recruiters without annoying them. And my portfolio needed work. The last point was confirmed a few weeks later. A mini-book came back from an agency with a rejection notice, and then two other agencies told me they would be sending my mini-book back as well. Here was this 11-by-17 piece that represented my life during the past two years. I handed my book to anyone who would take one, only to have it shipped back. One even had a food stain.

In the end, the rejection was what I needed. Now I’m trying to find out which agencies are hiring as I work on my book. Some campaigns have completely disappeared, while others need to be revised. I feel that I know what needs to happen to my portfolio to make it better. But the best advice I got in New York was to stay “top of mind” for the creative managers. So when something worth mentioning comes up, I send cards. I got two campaigns into the D&AD Student Awards, so I mailed out samples of the campaigns. (You better believe I will be sending out more cards when this article runs!)

A friend recently offered me a room in her apartment in New York. This led to a week of contemplating whether to move without a job. After thinking things over, I knew I would have to say no. Being in New York might help the interviewing process, but that didn’t outweigh the cost of living there without a steady income. So I took a full-time job in Miami at a mobile-marketing company, Road Tours International, where I have done freelance design work for several years. They understand I am still looking to be a copywriter in an advertising agency.

Back in 1998, I felt confident about getting a job right after graduation. Today I still feel confident about getting a job, but I’m just not sure when it’s going to happen.

Tejada will write in with updates as her job search continues.