How to Get a Job at an Agency
Even the word itself is interesting. Agency. It's origin includes 350-year-old terms meaning "to produce effect" or "to set in motion." Until 1861, when the word came into its modern meaning of "doing business for another," the word agency was a word full of movement, energy, and creativity.
So it's no wonder that here at TradeMark Media—a digital transformation and marketing agency—the work we do relies so heavily on (a) effective communication and (b) technical skills.
When we hire someone (which we've been doing more and more lately), we focus almost exclusively on fit. We want team members with significant emotional intelligence—i.e., they can operate, day in and out, with their fellow creative professionals. They know how to present their ideas, how to challenge others' ideas respectfully, and what true collaboration looks like. This goes for both internal and client-facing communications—at every step, we want people to speak their minds clearly, plainly, and authentically.
Part two of the equation is the skillset. Obviously, we're keen to provide the very best deliverables to our clients. This means we want people who know their stuff—e.g., content marketing, online advertising, strategy, research, SEO/SEM, design, project management, web development.
Combine these two—skilled professionals who know how to tell a story—and you've gotten the receipe for a great agency.
How We (And Many Agencies) Hire
Most of our new staff come from personal referrals.
So my suggestion to agency job-seekers is: Network. Network a lot. Find agencies, and more importantly people, you want to work alongside and then get to know them—usually through professional groups, meet-ups, events, conferences, etc. Volunteer at nonprofit organizations that attract the kind of people you want to collaborate with. If you’re still a student, get agency experience that you can place on your portfolio via internships and volunteer work. (Very few agencies will turn down the offer of a passionate and pro-active intern.) And be very open to networking conversations, really in any setting.
When it's time to actually apply for jobs, please conduct extensive research about the places you’re applying. This includes:
- Reading their website front to back. Really read it. Go back 12 months in their blog. Track, to the extent you can, how the company has been changing or evolving.
- Get to know one or two of their case studies inside and out. Read them twice, three times. Understand the story they're trying to tell about their work.
- As you do this online reading, take notes—especially writing down questions that occur to you.
- Follow them on social media. What do they post? How often? Why this one social media platform and not another?
- If you have any connections to the agency—which can often be seen on LinkedIn—use your connections to ask questions. Focus your questions on the culture, the vibe of the place. (And if it doesn't fit you, don't be afraid to pass.)
Send your resume and/or portfolio along with a cover letter that demonstrates your deep understanding of the organization. It'll separate you from the mass of applicants who don't bother.
And finally, practice—literally, actually practice out loud—how you talk about yourself. Focus on your professional and creative goals. Explain why those are your goals. Demonstrate some sense of the industry you're entering—its recent history, its current state, where it seems to be headed. And finally, develop direct connections between your skillset and the agency's needs. How can you help them be bigger, better, and bolder?
Reach out to your friends, former co-workers, family—whoever—and listen to their advice on your resume, portfolio, and interview pitch. You don't have to accept all of their advice, of course. But the difference between the successful applicant and the frustrated one is almost always a metter of preparation. With the right amount of preparation—along with some good luck on timing and opportunity—you’ll be in a good position to land that next juicy agency gig!