Friday, 26 December 2008

The Gatekeeper to agency experience..

They give with one hand...and can sort you out. Photo via benaspenod, usual rules apply.

Hello there. In between bouts of turkey, drinking, presents and sitting, I've had a few notes about that mythical beast, work experience.

If you've not been one of the lucky ones who've gotten in through the grad scheme milkround, perhaps it's the right time to start to think about a spot of time in an agency. It may not be paid, it may not be the most exciting job in the world, but it's vital in order to beef up your cv and prove that you really want to be here.

Personally, I found it invaluable, doing a few bouts of work experience (though don't go mad with it - you don't want to look like a bridesmaid and never a bride). Certainly helped me decide what job I thought i'd be best suited for (though work experience did sort of seem to be either superb fun, and somewhat unreal, or work the account execs couldn't be buggered to do themselves).

It's also good, because it teaches you about what sort of agency environment you'd like to be involved with - are you a big agency person, or a small one? Do you value a place which places great emphasis on creativity, but is a bit of a sweatshop? What do you thrive on?

Annnnyway...those are some of its benefits. But how'd you get it?

The simple answer is - it's not easy, but it can be done. There has been some chat about nepotism, but let me assure you - though it may exist, it can be overcome through persistence. I used to rant and rave about it too, but hell, it's just another barrier, and one which exists in pretty much every industry. Grit your teeth and get on with it; i'd suggest doing the following:

1) Blanket email - but with a caveat. Write a couple of short paragraphs about yourself and why you think you'd be suitable for some work experience. Try to be original, but short. HR people don't have all day to read these things, and they get enough of them.

2) Ring. Ring at the right time. Anyone can pick up the phone to an agency. 's not hard...christ, embattled account execs have to deal with a large variety of mad requests from clients. But HR people aren't used to such weird requests ("Can you make the colour a little bit more...sympathetic?). So, pick your moments. Just after you've sent your email, phone the agency, ask to speak to the head of HR (or someone similar - if you've done your homework, you should have a reasonable idea of whom it is) and say you've sent a note through.

Be warned though, phone during the day, rather than early morning or late in the working day, and you'll get a short shrift. HR folk don't have time during the day to deal with you. If you are the first email to get their attention, you'll do ok. And they'll be more likely to bear you in mind.

3) Do something different. This being advertising, people often try 'creative' ways to get in. One of the best i've ever heard about was an ad being placed by the agency with a pair of shoes, and the line "Think you could walk a mile in these shoes?", recruiting for agency staffers. Well, the chap in question found a life sized dummy, the pair of shoes, and wrote his CV on the side of the dummy, with the line "I think i've filled them", and posted the lot. Needless to say, he got in.

In recent years, i've seen people post cake or try to scare W&K, and some have been successful. Others, less so - but it gets your name in front of people, and means they remember you. Heck, even our own Sammy and Anton both got on in the industry by doing it.

Obviously, it's best if there is a point, and it's not just 'wacky' for the sake of it. The Saatchi examples worked well because there was a reason.

4) Above all - be charming. HR people (or even the account execs/managers/planners involved with recruitment) are few. They have other responsibilities to be getting on with than catering for you at this point. An agency isn't Deloitte, with a whole department dedicated to getting the best from you. So be patient, and be nice. As my mum is fond of saying - 'Manners cost nothing'.

And they really don't. The HR person who says yes to you has tremendous power, and even if you get in and on, and are rude to them, they'll do for you. Hell, same applies for receptionists, security guards and postroom folk. They make the agency tick, and you'd do well to remember that, you fortunate bugger.

Obviously, if you are nice, more chance of getting in and on, and you'll be remembered even if you aren't successful.

That's your lot. To those still doubting the point of work experience, if you've had a few unstructured ones, well - just let me put it this way...I got 1 grad interview straight out of university. A year later, with 3 pieces of work experience under my belt, I got to all (barring one) of them.


Unknown said...

Trying to get your foot through the door may be easier for some rather than others but it is something everybody has to start with. I often find it is often overshadowed by other types of advertising posts.

So thanks for posting this!


Anonymous said...

Having a bit of experience goes a long way when applying for a grad job, that's for sure.



Will said...

Hey Rob - thanks for posting.

True, but then there's an argument to make to say that work experience isn't 'real', in that there's minimal client contact, and it's often quite admin focused.

I think it's most useful in getting a handle on agency cultures, and where suits you. Some will...some won't. The 3 I went to were all different, that's for certain.

Saira - Thanks for the comment. Here's hoping it helps.

Jam said...

The right agency and the right attitude can see you getting much more experience than you might think. Winning business on my placements was certainly a great boost to the CV :)

Plus, it's less of a commitment so you can actually decide if you like advertising or not!

Anonymous said...

I found I got quite a lot of client contact on my placement, and due to certain issues within the agency I often found myself in positions of more responsibility than perhaps I should have had.

I must say, I really pushed to get the experience I knew I needed, and could have quite easily let the job become admin based, like you say.

Even so, a bit of experience has got to be better than none at all, even from a culture fit point of view.

I'm going for interviews at the moment without applying to grad schemes, and I feel there's a pretty good chance I wouldn't be sitting there without my interning stint.


Unknown said...

I have been rejected by all of my applications, I have experience, but not in an agency. I think has to make a huge difference to your application (at least I hope so!).