When I graduated with my degree in graphic design from Sacramento State University, California, finding the job I wanted was tough. I worked mostly full-time through college for an amazingly talented woman with 3 children who owned an advertising agency she ran out of her home (Hint: Inspiration for starting Bourn Creative). By the time I graduated, I had completed four internships and several intern/student projects — yes, I’ve always been a driven, over-achiever.
Upon graduation I wanted to work at a big agency, I dreamed of working my way up the agency ladder to Creative Director — and I was willing to do the work to make it happen. Then reality hit. I began looking for a job in my last semester of college. I researched the creative companies in and around Sacramento, researched who was hiring, researched who their clients, were, what their mission, was, what they stood for and represented. I figured out who I wanted to work for and why … then I applied.
I applied at agencies whose culture I identified with, companies whose values aligned with mine, companies that were doing awesome things:
- I didn’t write a single cookie-cutter, fill-in-the-blank, impersonal, cover letter
- I took the time to get to know the companies so I could have intelligent conversation about how I would fit in
- I knew WHY I wanted to work there and it was about the company, not about me being a motivated, self starter with mad design skills who enjoys working under pressure in a team environment
- I followed the application instructions to the letter
I got shut down several times. In fact, one agency owner I really respected at THE place to work in town, actually crushed me, but that’s a story for another post. Luckily, before I graduated, I got recruited to work for a local publishing company, and while there was offered a position at a Sacramento PR firm. Then in 2005 I founded Bourn Creative and today …
Bourn Creative is Rapidly Growing
Today I am proud to say Bourn Creative — with small business and entrepreneurial clients in several countries around the world including the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South America, The United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, and Europe — is busier than ever and we’re looking to expand our team!
Before we post position details publicly, I shared the opportunities in a few design/dev groups, and while one or two inquires look promising, the rest drove me to write this blog post, in hopes it will help them land a different opportunity — one that’s a better fit — in the future.
9 Tips On How to Get Hired at A Creative Agency
- Follow the instructions included in the job posting exactly. The instructions are there for a reason, and assume that one of those reasons is to see if you can follow instructions. If you don’t follow the instructions, it is likely your application, resume, and portfolio won’t even be looked at. Example: If the instructions say to email your application and includes an email address, email them using that email address. A private Facebook message is not an email. A LinkedIn InMail message is not an email.
- Read the position requirements carefully. An employer is looking for someone with a specific skill set and carefully crafted the job description and requirements list because that is what they are looking for. If you don’t have the skills needed, or meet the requirements, don’t apply — you’re wasting their time and your own. Example: If the job description requires web design experience, don’t submit a resume void of web design experience, or a portfolio with no web design projects in it. Likewise, if the position requires knowledge of WordPress and you’ve never used it, this isn’t going to a position you should apply for.
- Do your homework and get to know the company. Employers can tell when you’re just blanketing every job posting with the same cookie cutter, half-baked, generic response. Sometimes I look at an application and wonder if they even know what we do. If you want to be noticed and taken seriously as a candidate, you need to get to know the company you are trying to land a position with. Comb through their website, read their blog, check them out on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Example: There’s a good chance your application will hit the trash if your cover letter is generic and not tailored to the company and if it is impersonal. If you can’t show your prospective employer that you “get” them, that you understand their business, and that you understand the industry, you’re toast. Make it personal, relevant, and worth their time to review.
- Think like a marketer and know it’s not about you. Marketers understand that consumer don’t want to hear you talk about yourself all day, they want to hear and talk about themselves. Stop using “I” and start using “You.” When writing to a prospective employer, instead of focusing all of your communication on you, focus it on the company. You need to know why you think they are awesome, what resonates with you about their message, approach, culture, etc., and/or what you particularly admire. Then show them you understand their problem (why they need to hire) and deliver the solution (you). Example: Don’t be afraid to not talk about yourself all the time in your cover letter, portfolio, and resume. Ironically the less you make it about you, the more success you’ll have. Remember, talent is talent and a skill can be taught, but your mindset, and approach, your desire to learn and grow, your passion and desire, and your ability to serve the team and the clients well is where you really set yourself apart.
- Write a killer personal message — always no matter what. The days of the old “why I’m so great” impersonal, jargon and buzzword-filled, template cover letters are over. Telling me you’re a team player that thrives in a deadline-oriented creative environment, or writing that your skills with the Adobe Creative Suite and your desire to learn will be a benefit to our company aren’t going to win you anything but a yawn. Instead, opt for a personal, heartfelt letter or message to the employer about WHY you want to work for them, why you’re passionate about what you do, and why you think you’d be a good fit. (HINT: Use the information from the previous tip in your letter.) Example: Your certificates, degrees, credentials, and experience are important. But not as important as your understanding of what your prospective employer does, who they serve, and how you’ll fit in. Again, think like a marketer and first deliver the be
- Check your social profiles and Google yourself. Potential employers will google you to see what comes up and how you’re presenting yourself in the world. Most will search for you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and the more tech savvy will also search for you on Google+, Pintrest, and Instagram. Example: If a Google search for your name results in photos of you half naked, drunk, flipping off the camera, or returns other inappropriate content, clean that mess up. If your social feeds are littered with profanity, negativity, and complaining, or show you bashing your current employer, your industry, or your peers, you’ll be viewed as a high risk — a liability to the brand and you won’t get the job.
- Have an awesome portfolio site that’s easy to use. When design is what you do, or code is your specialty, your site better be stellar — it needs to be a showcase of what you can do, your style of work, and the quality your clients and employers can expect. You wouldn’t show up to an interview unshowered and looking like a slob (I hope), so do let your website show up that way either. Every detail needs to be considered and thought out. The code needs to be immaculate. And it better look great and be easy to use on a mobile phone. Your personal site is the center of how your personal brand shows up in the world, and it says a lot about who you are as a human and as a designer. Example: There is no excuse for a designer’s site to have broken links, typos, poorly written code, and bad graphics. Likewise, if your site is broken on a smart phone or tablet and the content or portfolio can’t be viewed, or there are glaring errors in the responsive design, fix it immediately. It’s better to have a non-responsive site, than one that doesn’t work and looks bad — especially if you’re a designer. Remember, your site doesn’t have to be super advanced or complicated, but it does need to be clean and it needs to work. It’s more than okay so say, “I don’t have much experience with that yet, but I’m learning and here’s how.”
- Don’t Be Lazy. Do the work. No business owner wants to hire someone who is lazy, does the minimum acceptable, and missed deadlines — especially at a creative agency, where everything that leaves the office is a representation of the brand, their reputation, and the work they do. Creative agencies are looking for team members they can count on to get the job done no matter what. They are looking for designers and developers who have so much pride in their work that they’ll go above and beyond because their work is their reputation. Example: Two quick paragraphs in an email do not replace a professional cover letter or personal letter of interest. That just shows the employer you didn’t care enough to put effort into trying to get the job. Remember, how you do anything is how you do everything. How you respond to a job posting will be judged. If you half-@ss trying to get the job, you demonstrate that you’ll half-@ss your work on the job.
- Follow up and show you really want the job. Agency life is crazy life, agency owners are crazy busy, and paying client work (and deadlines) will always come first. Show you really care about the opportunity and that you want the job. Follow up if you don’t hear back or receive a response and show your prospective employer you understand the power of persistency, follow up, and staying top of mind. Example: Follow up doesn’t always have to be in the form of a phone call or email. If your prospective employer attends networking meetings or chamber events, volunteers at a non-profit, or you happy to see from their social feeds that they’ll be at a certain event, figure out how you can be in the same place, attend the same event, or go to the same networking meeting. Introduce yourself, start an interesting conversation, and let them know you applied for the position and are looking forward to hearing from them.
That’s It! 9 Tips on how to get hired as a designer or developer at a creative agency
If you follow the tips I’ve outlined below, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the other designers and developers trying to land the same position — and if you ever apply for a position with us at Bourn Creative, you’ll know exactly what we’re looking for.
If you’re a graphic designer, web designer, developer, or a creative employer, or you’re a business owner or entrepreneur that hires freelancers, I’d love to hear what you think or some of your experiences in the comments below.