Looking for a Job in Advertising? Think Creatively

HR professionals in the industry share their tips for standing out

Illustration: Tenzin Tsepel

Finding a job in any industry can be difficult, and this is especially true for finding a job at an advertising agency. Filled with some of the most creative people across the country, the competition for landing a job at a creative agency can be fierce. No matter what agency you’re gunning for, one thing is for sure: to get noticed, you have to flex your creative muscles during the application process.

Before sprucing up your resume or writing yet another cover letter, you have to a find a job that’s a good fit.

This is where your creative thinking should start, explained Aimee Pagano, senior vice president of global talent acquisition at McCann Worldgroup. “You need to think creatively about where you’re going,” she said. “Don’t just look at those typical job boards. There are other places where jobs are posted: The Drum, The Dots and even in trade magazines.”

For recent graduates especially, Pagano encourages tapping into your university’s alumni network through Facebook groups and networking events.

Once you find a position you believe you’re a fit for, start creating a resume, cover letter and flagging projects in your portfolio that will highlight what you can bring to that specific company and role.

Patti Clarke, chief talent officer at Havas said this step is key. “Surprisingly enough, the No. 1 thing people get wrong is not really knowing enough about the company they are interviewing for,” she explained. “An example is if someone is coming to interview at Havas they should know that we were acquired by Vivendi and ask how this impacts the agency.” Clarke goes on to say that applicants need to remember that while the company wants to get to know them, the applicant needs to also use the hiring process to see if the company is a place they’d like to end up as well. She said “It’s not a one-way street, we should both see if it’s a fit.”

After hours of researching and tweaking your application, getting an interview can feel like a golden ticket, and in a lot of ways, it is. Advertising agencies—especially the larger ones—get thousands of applications a year, so landing an interview is no small feat. But don’t go into an interview thinking a regurgitation of your resume is enough. Pagano said this is your time to speak to your ability to collaborate and problem solve, this is especially true for applicants new to the advertising industry.

“Sometimes people will come in and stick to discussing what they’ve done by themselves. But we really like to see people come in and show humility,” she said. “If you land an interview, make sure you really know the briefs. Know what it is you’re applying for and understand what [the agency] is trying to accomplish in that role. Talk about how what you’ve done in the past can help them accomplish that.”

It should be said that there are plenty of job seekers who have great experience, but just don’t fit with where the company is headed. Don’t let that deter you. Both Pagano and Clarke agree that you should always be networking, whether you’re a job seeker or not. But Pagano cautions those networking for the opportunity to slip their business card in someone’s hand.

“You want to be authentic. In other words, you shouldn’t just walk up to someone and expect them to get you a job,” she explains. “It’s about remembering [an acquaintance] likes such and such restaurant and shooting them an email about it when you visit. That’s making a genuine connection. Then, it’s easier for you to follow up and ask if there’s an opportunity at their organization. I really don’t like the idea of elevator pitches or cold calling.”

If all else fails, applicants can go the unconventional route. Recently, a hopeful copywriter stood outside McCann Bristol offices dressed as the fearless girl statue from Wall Street to pique the company’s interest. It worked. But Jeremy Miller, global chief communications officer at McCann, suggests if you insist on going this route, reserving it for a company whose work you’re really enamored with.

“If you want to get noticed and you really love the company, doing something unique is not a bad idea,” he said. “However, if it becomes the norm it loses its caché.”

No matter what you do to stand out, all three professionals agree you must think outside the box at every step of your job search.

is a freelance writer.