In this guest post, Edge’s executive creative director, Matt Batten (pictured below), looks at the pitfalls of creatives trying to find their place in the advertising industry…
There is no shortage of online articles espousing the tips and tricks for landing that dream job. The problem is they’re all written for regular office jobs, focusing on cover letters and tie colours.
What about creative roles? While pointers on interview etiquette are still essential for seeking a creative job in advertising (Millennials especially take note), the requirements of a creative role make the criteria of the process different, and therefore the requirements of the applicant.
I’m always on the look out for new talent. At the moment, I’m wading through CVs for several open roles, not to mention the constant stream of applicants for Edge’s internship program. But it never ceases to amaze me the mistakes young creatives and wannabe-creatives make in their applications.
Below is a list of the most common – and they really are incredibly common – bugbears that immediately move an applicant into the ‘out’ pile. Avoid all these issues to dramatically improve your chances of success.
- Where’s the work?
When you’re a bonafide working creative in advertising, your portfolio is your life. Everything you do in a job is focused on ensuring you produce great work (ideally award-winning) that goes straight to the pool-room of your portfolio. Your portfolio shows others what you are capable of.
My process – probably not unlike that of other ECDs – is to look at the applicant’s portfolio first and foremost. If it doesn’t have good/great/interesting work, then the CV doesn’t even get opened (see also Point 6).
It baffles me when creatives apply for roles without a portfolio. No portfolio sends you straight to the ‘no’ pile.
If you’ve already had a creative role, then you should have work to show for it. And if you don’t think your work is good enough, include proactive and spec samples that prove your capabilities, alongside some of the genuine work to show you’ve been through agency life for real.
If you’re just starting out and don’t have any work, you need to come up with something – scamp ads and ideas for creative roles (wannabe Art Directors and Copywriters), some examples of writing ability for writer roles, designs for designer roles. Show that you want this career and have a talent for it (see also Point 5).
- Lost in the Ether
It used to be standard practice for creatives to ‘shop around their book’, calling agency after agency to arrange a string of appointments with ECDs and then schlepping around from one to the next to sit on a couch while these exalted luminaries thumbed through your pages at a rapid pace, as you silently hoped they’d spot something that made them pause long enough to indicate you had something they liked. Or, you’d package your portfolio and send it to the ECD (via their PA) in the vain hope they eventually find 30-seconds in their day to open it, with the trick being to package the folio in such a way as to attract attention.
These days, it’s all emails and attachments, which flow to an inbox among the daily deluge of digital communications, have no way of attracting attention and get lost in the ether.
While online folios and emailed CVs are fine when being sent in response to a job advertisement, hopeful creatives going through the cold-call process of looking for an opportunity aren’t doing themselves any favours by emailing from the comfort of their couch. You’ve got to get yourself – and your book – out there, on the streets and to the faux-woodgrain desktops of ECDs and senior creatives.
- Typograhpical Errors
Nothing shows a lack of attention to detail more than a CV that lists capabilities including ‘attention to detial’. This was actually in a CV I recently received.
Sure, mistakes happen. But when your CV is your sales pitch, your proof of quality, you can’t afford such mistakes. Especially when they’re easily prevented by spellchecking your document and proofreading. A tip for proofreading: read it once, then read it again, but this time backwards. When you read forwards, your brain has the uncanny abilty to corectly read mispeled wrds by contxtualising each wrd wth th wrds eithr side of it. By going backwards, from bottom to top, last word to first, you disrupt the context and force your brain to focus on each word individually.
But worse than the occasional erroneous typo is a complete disregard for grammar, sentence structure, or the English language. Beyond the primary task of a creative to have ideas, they also need to communicate, build presentations, and present to clients. If you write your CV like a 13-year old TXTs, then that’s the impression you’re going to leave. No-one wants to leave a client brand in the hands of a teenager speaking emoji, LOL.
- What’s a JD?
In response to an ad for a “Shit Hot Creative Team in Sydney” which clearly asked for agency experience and a portfolio to show it, I once received a CV from a former chef now telesales operator. In Mumbai. No kidding.
While this is an extreme example, it is merely the tip of the iceberg of obviously inappropriate candidates. Even if you’re going for a career change, or playing the odds out of desperation, you need to be honest with yourself on your suitability for a role, and how to pitch it.
You might be wasting the time of the ECD, but you’re also wasting your own time which should be better spent improving your CV, applying for the right roles and getting a job.
Read the job ad carefully. If you have the required skills but your current CV doesn’t quite show it, then make the necessary changes. There is no ‘one size fits all’ CV. Build your master version, then tweak it to match the requirements of the role, the company or even the person who’ll be reading it. The same goes for your portfolio. If you’re applying for a role at a digital agency, then your TV scamps take a back seat to your tech ideas.
- Basic Training
It’s admirable that newbies fresh out of school want to get a job in advertising. But actually being a creative is harder than many people think. You’ve got to think strategically, understand consumer psyches, know behaviour triggers, adhere to a brand’s tone of voice and guidelines, know what those things are, know the rules of advertising, have ideas that tick many corporate boxes while still being ‘out of the box’, and be able to logically express the suitability of those ideas for the brand’s business objectives.
Your marketing diploma from the University of Toffeenose (Hons.) might have taught you about the industry, but it takes a long time to learn all the skills required from day one. Most tertiary courses don’t prepare you for a creative role, or assess your ability at being creative. That’s why there are industry-specific independent associations that have developed courses, short and long: Miami AdSchool, AWARD School, Creative School, etc.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a current Aussie ECD who hasn’t done one of these. It’s not only essential training. It’s a right of passage. These courses teach the basics of creative ideation techniques, consistency of thinking, how to read briefs, how to judge one’s own ideas, what makes a great idea, what makes a viable idea, applying ideas to media channels, and much more. Possibly the most important lesson of these courses is that of rejection – having your ideas critiqued, sometimes harshly, by an experienced creative or ECD, which teaches you to try again with more passion, more direction, more purpose, and more understanding.
Plus, students leave the course with a portfolio of scamp ideas that (hopefully) show how good they are.
I almost never hire a junior creative who hasn’t done one of these courses. Seek them out, apply, apply yourself, graduate, then apply for jobs.
If your portfolio is good, then your CV gets read to provide background information and perhaps a little personal character. If the CV is good, then you get a job interview.
While your CV is mostly a chronological record of your employment and education, it’s actually an insight into what you can bring to your employer. A bachelor’s degree is good – it shows intellect and application – but a diversity of useful skills mean you have added value.
Your Ssummer job at the pizza place doesn’t count unless you can still get unlimited free pizza for life. What your potential employer is looking for are creative abilities that could be applied within the agency if needed, especially given the ever-tightening budgets and ever-broadening demands of clients.
If you can sketch and draw, you could bring storyboarding skills in-house. If you’re in a band, you may be able to provide music to a project that would otherwise remain silent. If you make your own short films, you could be a handy resource for that proactive job they need to get done. If you prototype your own tech, you’re more than a digital native.
Extra-curricular activities with an obvious creative application are always a benefit.
- Dear <insert name here>
Get the ECD’s name right, for Pete’s sake. This could be your new boss.
- Geographically Challenged
It’s exceptionally difficult to apply for roles in a country where you currently are not. Senior creatives and ECDs can do it because they have built a reputation and a network, and they’re usually poached by the agency from overseas.
But if you’re just starting out and trying to get a junior creative role or an internship in another country, it’s probably not going to happen. Firstly, there are legal complications for a company trying to hire foreign staff, from proving they haven’t found a suitable candidate locally to the management of visas.
Secondly, it’s an added expense and responsibility particularly if sponsorship is required, but also for the actual process of the job application with videocall interviews and the need to meet in person before the contract is offered.
None of this will happen for junior roles. And you’ve got to be damn good for it to happen with mid-weight roles. If you’ve got the experience, the portfolio, the awards, and the reputation, then you won’t be reading this article.
- Pants on Fire
Your CV and portfolio are your personal advertisements. They need to paint as positive a picture of you as possible. Just like a brand only tells you the good stuff about their products and services, embellishing where they can and glossing over or hiding the flaws, your CV needs to do the same.
But just like those brands cannot falsely advertise, neither can you.
Your portfolio can include the ‘director’s cut’ of a TV commercial and your preferred design of the campaign poster. ECDs know all too well how frustrating it is when a client’s decisions impact on what could have been a great idea.
It’s OK to include work that never ran – those concepts and ideas that never saw the light of day – provided they are good enough to help you get a job. You are being judged and hired on your ability to have great ideas, not just on the work that potentially uncreative clients allowed to happen.
However, you cannot include work you didn’t do.
I once encountered a portfolio from a Junior Art Director that included one of my very own first print ads. On that occasion, I actually invited them to interview to hear them talk about that ad. Then I talked about that ad. My ad. Needless to say, they did not get the job.
On another occasion I received three portfolios in response to a single open role, each containing the exact same print campaign. And while it’s not uncommon for multiple creatives to work on a campaign together, it was implausible for three midweight Art Directors to all have worked on these three rather basic print ads at the same time. Especially when their CVs showed that they hadn’t worked at the same agency ever.
Some studies have shown that up to 63% of CVs contain lies. Again, the occasional embellishment is par for the course, but you cannot lie. Nor should you overstate responsibilities and capabilities. You may be expected to live up to those standards in your new role.
Finally, over-egging your CV becomes obvious. An appropriation of diffusive morphemes implementing marketing hyperbole only hints that you’re trying to compensate for something. If you are a Copywriter, don’t call yourself a Specialist Marketing Communicator. There’s no such job title.
- One Reason
As a former ECD of mine once imparted as I moved up the ranks: “ECDs aren’t looking for a reason to hire you. They’re looking for a reason to NOT hire you.” Just don’t give them one.
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