How to get hired: a 10 step plan for getting a job in advertising, guaranteed.

A friend of the family is looking to get into the advertising business, and he sent me an email asking for my advice. I sent him back a list of 10 things he should do, and I gave him a 90% guarantee that it would work. These days that’s not a bad number…so I figured I would share with everyone and spread the love:)

Note: I ran this by the Adboardingpass legal department, and they had me add 4 disclaimers:

  1. This applies to account management, and perhaps to planning. If you want to be a creative that’s a whole other ballgame.
  2. This applies to NYC or other big metropolitan areas with lots of agencies and overall creativity. If you aren’t living there – consider moving, or it’s going to be a little harder.
  3. The “guarantee” applies to entry-level positions. At an account director level and beyond the pyramid gets a little smaller, and your past accomplishments, timing and other variables come into play.
  4. If you do exactly as instructed and still don’t get a job, let me know and I’ll change the title to “10 step plan for getting a job in advertising, guaranteed, except if your name is X”

And now…the list!

  1. Aim for the right entry-level job. If you’re still in college, look into the internship programs. But be aware that at large agencies these are sometimes more competitive than getting a real job! If you’ve graduated, go for entry-level, don’t go for an internship – you’ve earned the right to get paid, even though it won’t be much! If you’ve got past experience (internships) an advertising degree, or some kind of advance degree, by all means don’t sell yourself short and go for an AE job, not some group assistant gig.
  2. Read everything you can find online on advertising, and do this every day for 30 minutes, minimum. Forget textbooks and academic write-ups on branding…stick to blogs, industry publications, and creativity showcase sites, anything that gets updated very often. Start with adage, adsoftheworld, Adboardingpass, theadbuzz, ihaveanidea. Then check out the links on the left column of Adboardingpass. And everything else that you can find! Build a list of bookmarks (this will be easy), and then start editing down – you’ll find a lot of sites repeat the same news/articles, so start dropping and stick to the ones you like. There are industry news aggregators both international and local, opinion blogs by ex industry pros of all types, blogs run by agencies, sites that show creativity from around the world – pick your favorite and keep looking for new ones.
  3. Once again: It’s very important that you do this every single day. It’s like going to the gym, if you don’t keep at it, it simply won’t work. After just 1 month you’ll start to develop a sense about the industry (what is going on, who’s hot, who’s not, what works, what’s bogus,) that you just won’t acquire from going to class and learning theory. Of course, this is the beginning. The longer you do this, the more nuanced your view will be, you’ll be able to notice subtler ripples that before would have gone right over your head.
  4. Talk to anyone you know who is in advertising. Friends, friends of friends, friends of your parents, alumni, anyone. Ask them what they like, what they don’t, how they got into the business, where they think the business is headed, what advice they have for you. You’re not looking to unearth any big answers…this is about subliminally building your knowledge of the business, and your inner sense of why you’re looking to get into it.
  5. Get a twitter account and start following people who tweet about advertising. If you have one already, get a new account, because you’re going to want this one to be more specific. Stick to advertising, marketing, and related topics such as design, photography, branding, etc. Definitely follow the agency feeds and those of interesting people who work at agency and tweet about advertising (it’s useless if you follow an advertising guru that only tweets about his dogs). An easy way to start is to go to my profile (@martinmurphy72), see who I follow, and follow anyone who seems interesting to you.
  6. Contribute to the conversation. Comment on blogs and tweet as often as possible. Frequency is important so that you build the discipline of being active…but even more important is to make your comments count. Don’t contribute empty praise or snark, contribute a point of view. Add something to the conversation. Share something related that might be of interest. Build upon, don’t just be a bystander. This is an important balance: it’s better to not say anything than to say generalities…but you really want to push yourself to learn, think deep, and contribute where you can. You’ll be surprised at how many people engage with you.
  7. Give thanks that you’re in NYC/London/Shanghai. Now get off the couch and go explore. You’re so lucky that you are in the epicenter of advertising, design and just about everything else. So all those things that you are doing online to soak up info like a sponge, you have the chance to do in person. Go to lectures, sneak into cocktails by the advertising agency association, go to exhibits that the cool creatives and designers go to, go see smart movies, go see live music, go to boutiques, audit a course, get a girlfriend that works in HR at a major agency! You don’t have to do this every day, but then again you don’t have to sit in your apartment playing Playstation3 either. You live in a special place, make it count.
  8. Consider starting a blog. If it’s linked to “the search” (documenting your thoughts on advertising, or even your job hunt), even better. This is not for everyone and it can be time-consuming, so read up on it first: there are lots of great tips on the web about starting and maintaining a blog, and they’ll give you a sense for whether it’s for you or not. Why go through the trouble at all? Because it’s a behind-the-curtains look at the basic inner workings of web communications: how traffic gets generated and sustained, the interlocking relationship between Facebook, twitter, blogs, similar web sites, etc. It will give you talking points on the all-important digital arena that you wouldn’t have had otherwise (just because you’re young doesn’t mean you get digital.)
  9. All of the above will help you develop a point of view. Why advertising, what about it interests you, where you think the industry is headed, where you think you can contribute with a unique angle that others can’t, etc. Once you have an interesting and nuanced point of view that you can discuss at length, with specificity and enthusiasm…trust me you are in very good shape. You now have the confidence to contact headhunters and HR people, directly or through Linkedin, and tell them that there’s a talent out there (you), looking for an opportunity.
  10. You are in control. Remember this, embrace it, and make it work for you (but with modesty, please – there’s nothing worse in life than an outwardly cocky 22-year-old). Trust me when I tell you that if you’ve been doing all of the above for a couple of months and have developed a unique point of view on advertising, you are a more interesting prospect than 70% of those looking (make that 90% if you happen to know multiple languages or have some other differentiating element in your background). And, having interviewed tons of people, I’ll let you in on a little secret: we want you to be awesome, we’re hoping you’ll be great. There are not that many good people out there, and when we get an inkling that you are one of those, we keep cool on the outside but inwardly we start drooling! It’s exactly like American Idol…they go up on stage and in the very first line, when you can tell that there is something there, you just breathe a sigh of sweet relief! Make this count for you – if you have prepared well, you can afford to feel good about it when you talk to people.

So to summarize: put in the time, develop a voice, and don’t give up. I guarantee you will find success. What you do once you get in is a different story, and perhaps for a different post!

Is this advice free? No, but it’s pretty inexpensive, all I ask is this: if you put it all into practice and it lands you a job – let me know.

Now go out and kick some ass!



28 thoughts on “How to get hired: a 10 step plan for getting a job in advertising, guaranteed.

  1. Ha ha, you are reading my mind, many thanks Martin… I was considering reaching out to you about this very topic! Great advice that’s actually intuitive too, given the prolific nature of advertising. I love that this industry allows those who are interested to grab and learn at every sighting of advertising or marketing vessel. How fortunate we are to merely poke around the web, scan the city, or even consider the target market of favorite magazines to begin an education.

    Of course now a natural follow-up question to your post is, what do you suggest for those looking to get into creative; is there an IN for those without a portfolio based on real client work? I double-majored in advertising and marketing and worked briefly in the industry when I graduated. Now, years later (we won’t say how many), I oh-so-want to go back. I’m wondering where it makes sense for someone like me (writer) to start. I’ve got years of production management experience for a design firm – at least it’s something, no?

    • Hi Carolina – I’d love to tell you that I know the answer because I’m brilliant…but neither of those is true! Here are a few thoughts from an account guy:
      1. Creative is a different beast. You need to have much more than the above, you need something called talent…and the means to “prove” it. If there was one advice I’d give you is that you’re going to need something to showcase your talent, and a school degree won’t be enough.
      2. This “proof of talent” is in the shape of a portfolio, or previous work, or a book, or a magazine article, or a collection of Haikus, or anything. For an AE that “inner voice”, that interesting point of view has to come out of their mouth in the interviews. For you, you have to be able to show it in written words. So I suggest you start writing and keep writing and never stop.
      3. You’ve already hit upon the fact that the web is a fantastic resource. I haven’t hunted much for copywriting specific web sites but I’ve seen a few so there must be tons out there, and they will be able to guide you for sure. Many “general” sites like have whole sections on copywriting (one of my posts: “copywriting is dead. long live copywriting” is featured!). Check them out, and there are tons of others.

      I’ll ask around and get back to you with more specifics, ok?

      Cheers, and thanks for reading.

      • Much appreciated, Martin and thanks again for your great posts! I need to “just do it” and commit myself to putting ideas down. No more dilly-dallying…

  2. Great post. I forwarded it along to a few friends looking to get positions on the account side. Now, I’ve heard from a few people that having a portfolio (even as a non-creative) can also be a big plus. Any thoughts on this?

    Your next challenge is to make a list with a 90% success rate for creatives. I look forward to it!

    • Hi Joe, thank you for your post and for spreading the word!

      Interesting question about non-creatives having a portfolio. Honestly, in the traditional sense of the world “portfolio”…I just don’t see it – any more than I would expect a creative to come in with some powerpoints, or timelines or creative briefs! I’ve interviewed plenty of account folks, none of them have had portfolios, and I haven’t missed it not expected it.

      NOW, that being said…

      …let’s say I’m looking for a job, and I had compiled the “Ad of the Day” section of this blog for a few months. I’d go into an interview, print it up or have give them the link, and say “this is the work that move me, and here’s why”. In a sense, this is a portfolio…it’s a tangible expression of your creativity or your thoughts about the business. It’s a sign that you’re specific thinker and also a doer…not just a person that has general ideas about things. All of this would be very valuable, and in this context I can imagine a “portfolio” making a difference for a non-creative! So thank you for this, I hadn’t really thought of it that way.

      As to the tips for creatives…I’m out of my depth! But I’m going to ask around and see if I can share something from those in the know.


  3. Fabulous post! It always amazes me how many people interview at ad agencies without being prepared and don’t know a lot (if not anything) about the industry. Here’s hoping those that read this take it to heart and follow it! and it’s a fabulous reminder for the rest of us who have been doing this (and loving it) for a long time.
    thanks again,t

    • Thank you Tina, I really appreciate your comment.

      It’s puzzling to me too…although not so much because I still remember being 22 and clueless:) The good thing about the advice above is that (assuming you’re passionate about advertising, or think you might be), it’s not hard, it’s not expensive, it doesn’t take an eternal amount of time, and it doesn’t involve a catch 22 of needing work experience before you can get work experience.

      Thanks for spreading the word, and hope to see you back on Adboardingpass.


  4. Great Post Martin! It is clear that you speak with experience and wisdom and also from the heart. It is also evident that you have a true love for advertising. When you have a passion, it’s natural that you want to spread the word and help/teach others.

    Another point to be made is that working in various departments within an agency allows you the strength of obtaining the multiple disciplines (research, PR, media, production, creative) needed to be a strong ad executive. This experience and knowledge will carry you throughout your career. There are no short cuts in obtaining Wisdom!

    Thanks again,

    • Thanks, Gillian. You bring up a good point about rotations within an agency. It’s not like the old days when there was only “accounts” “media” and “creative” – there is so much to be done inside an agency, and so many outlets for ones one creativity and skills. If you can find the right channel to go after you are in great shape. And a way to do that is to live it – get in and find out!


  5. I would really like one of these for someone looking to going into the creative side of graphic design but I’m sure a lot of these still apply! Thanks for the article, definitely taking it on board!

  6. Any advice for someone like me. I have 2-3 years experience working in small shop in Chicago that has a niche with automotive retailers. I’ve been trying to move to a bigger shop but I feel like that size of the agency and the niche has pigeon-holed me.

    I recently interviewed with Arnold and right when the person conducting the interview found out my shop is only 8 people it was an obvious turn-off.

    Is there anything you would suggest that doesn’t require me having to going into a Junior AE role? Or am I pigeon-holed?

    • Hi Patrick. Not to get too new age on you, but honestly what you describe is going to be a problem only if you lay back and let it be a problem.

      Follow the steps above and have a point of view on the business, what you want from it, what you can contribute to it, what excites you, etc.

      I mean, if you’re smart, if you know who you are and what you want, and can articulate it convincingly and with enthusiasm, then you should be fine.

      For example, take the whole “8 people shop” issue. Who cares? Think about it this way: by virtue of working in a small shop you’ve acquired an entrepreneurial spirit, a special type of creativity towards problem solving, and a level of exposure to senior level clients and decisions that you would NEVER get at a bigger, more hierarchical shop. Now…you’re offering to leverage all of that experience for the benefit of the larger shop. See?

      Take the whole “niche auto retailer” issue. Who cares? Think about it this way: the retail side of things has trained you to work under a pressure that exists in few other categories, with a variety of clients, short timings, etc. And working in the auto industry during its near death and slow revival has taught you about working under pressure and about having a steely grit to plow on through believing in yourself when everyone else leaves you for dead. Etc.

      If you believe in yourself, then make it happen. If you don’t, then prepare yourself until you do.

      Wow, that did end up sounding very new-agey…

  7. Martin,

    As a recent college graduate I must admit this is the post I have been looking for, for months. It provides great insight on what recent graduates should be doing. Since first reading this article about three weeks back my job search has been far more productive than I ever would have imagined. Although I have not recieved any interviews since revamping my approach, I can tell this is the way. My knowledge on the industry has more than doubled, and I have never been more excited to start my dream career in advertising.

    There is one question I have for you. When applying to jobs online, most entry level positions require that you have 2-4 years agency experience. I find it baffling that you need 2-4 years “experience” for an “entry” level job. I have held a marketing internship for a year, but advertising is my sought after career. Do you have any advice on ways to get around the 2-4 years of experience, or ways that experience can be gained? It just seems like a major road block.

  8. Pingback: How to get hired: a 10 step plan for getting a job in advertising, guaranteed. -

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s