12 Tips To Stand Out And Get Hired At A Creative Agency

Love working with a creative team but not running a business? Get twelve tips to land your next agency job.

Woman holding coffee mug that says adventure begins

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Sacramento State University, finding a job I actually wanted was tough.

I worked mostly full-time through college for a brilliant woman who ran an advertising agency out of her home, and completed four internships and two intern/student projects by the time I graduated. I was driven and determined to be the best candidate for my dream job…

I dreamed of getting a job at a big agency and working my way up the agency ladder to someday be a 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 and it the job market was so rough that many of my friends opted to stay in college and pursue their Master’s degrees.

Trying To Get Hired By An Agency

I researched the creative companies in and around Sacramento — who was hiring, who their clients were, what their mission was, and what they stood for and represented. I figured out who I wanted to work for and why… and then I applied. I applied at agencies whose culture I identified with and whose values aligned with mine:

  • 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 conversations.
  • 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 and followed up on every application submitted.

I got shut down several times.

I was too experienced for entry level positions yet didn’t have management experience to land something higher up in the organization.

One agency owner I really respected at THE place to work in town, actually completely crushed me. He said to my face, “For a woman, you’re too confident and assertive to ever be successful in this industry.”

That day, I almost gave up.

Luckily, before I graduated, I received two job offers and got recruited to work for a local publishing company. Two years in, I was offered my next position at a growing Sacramento PR firm. A year later, I founded Bourn Creative and started my freelancing journey.

Hiring As An Agency

Over time, my agency grew with small business and entrepreneurial clients in several countries around the world including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South America, The United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, and Europe — and eventually, I had to expand the team.

I started with my husband, who joined my business full-time — first, to handle running the business, and later to lead development and engineering. Then we brought on another developer, a designer, and an administrative assistant.

Each time, before posting the job description publicly, I shared the opportunities in a few web design and web development groups, and while one or two inquires always looked promising, the rest of the responses drove me to write this blog post in the hope that it will help them, and others like them, land a different opportunity — one that’s a better fit.

How To Get Hired At A Creative Agency

Most of the content on this website is aimed at helping freelancers start, manage, and grow a more profitable, freedom-based freelance business. It’s also created to help microagency owners do better business with less stress. But for those of you who don’t want to work alone and don’t want all the work of running a business, here are twelve tips to land your next agency job.

1. Follow The Instructions In The Job Posting

Instructions are there for a reason. Assume that one of those reasons is to see if you can follow instructions. If you don’t follow the instructions, your application, resume, and portfolio may get ignored.

  • Example: if the instructions say to email your application, you must email your application to the address provided. A private Facebook message, Twitter DM, or LinkedIn message is not an email.

2. Read The Job Requirements Carefully

An employer is looking for someone with a specific skill set. They carefully crafted the job description and requirements to match what they are looking for. If you don’t have the skills needed for the job or meet the requirements, don’t apply — you’re wasting both their time and your own.

  • Example: if the job description requires web design experience, don’t submit a resume void of web design experience. Likewise, if the position requires knowledge of WordPress and you’ve never used WordPress, don’t apply.

3. Do Your Homework

Employers can tell when you’re blanketing every job posting with the same cookie-cutter, half-baked, generic response. To be noticed and taken seriously, get to know the company you want to land a position with. You need to understand the industry and their unique position in the market, their clientele and why clients hire them, and their mission and vision for the future.

  • Example: Read through a prospective employer’s entire website and check out their social profiles. Learn what they are known for and why clients hire them. If the agency owner has been interviewed on podcasts, listen to a few of the episodes.

4. Think Like A Marketer

Marketers understand that buyers don’t want to hear you talk about yourself. They want to hear you talk about them and how you can solve their problems. When writing to a prospective employer, communicate why you think they are awesome; what resonates with you about their message, work, or culture; and how you see yourself fitting into the organization.

  • Example: Demonstrate that you understand their problem (why they need to hire someone and what concerns they may have), offer the perfect solution (you, of course), and communicate what’s possible if they hire you (less stress, more success).

5. Write A Personal Message

Skip the generic, impersonal, buzzword-filled, template cover letter. When reaching out to an organization or communicating with a potential employer get personal and be personable.

  • Example: Include a heartfelt note or letter about WHY you want to be a part of their company, how you see yourself fitting in, and what you hope to achieve in your new role — for you and the company.

6. Showcase Your Personality

Talent is talent and skills needed to do a job can be taught. What can’t be taught are things like mindset, grit, passion, drive, dedication, responsibility, integrity, desire to learn, and pride in a job well done. Your personality is your personal brand and it will shape how you interact with a team, how you work with clients, and how you find success for yourself and the company you work for.

  • Example: When discussing your experience, highlight your soft skills and unique yet desirable personality traits that contributed to a project’s success or great relationships with past clients.

7. Create A Digital Portfolio

If you’re a designer or developer, the design and code powering your portfolio will be held to a higher standard. Your personal website must demonstrate the attention to detail and quality of work you will deliver for your potential employer. It must also feature your resume and highlight your experience.

Each portfolio entry should represent the type of work you want to do and help tell a part of your story. Include a mini case study with each entry that explains why the project is in your portfolio and what about it you’re especially proud of, as well as the problem/reason for the project, the work done, and the results. If the work was done with a team for another employer, detail your specific role and responsibilities on the project.

  • Example: Consider the saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” If you’re a developer and the code powering your personal site is messy, a potential employer will assume your client work will also be messy. If the design shows a lack of attention to detail, a potential employer will assume your work for them will suffer the same way.

8. Review Your Published Blog Posts

If you have a personal blog, be sure to review all of your published posts and actually read any posts on potentially sensitive topics. Refine, edit, cull down, and refine what posts show up on your blog to ensure you present the best version of yourself to the world and future employers.

  • Example: If your personal blog is littered with posts that badmouth previous employers, posts filled with complaining, or posts that highlight problems but offer no solutions, it may make a future employer think twice about inviting you to join their team.

9. Google Yourself

Potential employers will google you to see what comes up and how you’re presenting yourself in the world. Google yourself before beginning your job search to ensure you’re aware of what they may find. This also gives you an opportunity to address/remove any potentially damaging content.

  • Example: Did someone make false claims against you that you didn’t know about? Are there bad reviews for your business? Did someone with the same name as you do something awful? You need to know what’s out there, so you’re not caught off-guard.

10. Clean Up Your Social Profiles

Potential employers will also check out your social media profiles to get a better idea of who you are and how you interact with others. They may even evaluate your social media brand by browsing your posts.

Clean up your social media profiles before starting your job search and remove posts that may damage your reputation, position you a liability, or paint you in a negative light. You want your social media presence to present you as a fabulous choice rather than a risk.

  • Example: Did you forget about that video a friend posted of you to YouTube or that half-naked drunk photo you posted to your Instagram feed instead of your stories? Are you tagged in controversial posts that appear in your feed? Do your posts repel potential employers or attract them?

11. Follow Up And Follow Up Some More

Agency life is a nutty life. It’s fast-paced, challenging, frustrating, and incredibly rewarding. In client services, it’s all about the clients and your potential employers are likely putting out fires, supporting their teams, taking meetings, and tackling long to-do lists. Be persistent and help them keep you top of mind by following up until you get an official no.

  • Example: The person who stops following up first loses. Remember, the people in charge of hiring are also extremely busy. Don’t assume that no response means you didn’t get the job. Do them a favor by continuing to check in and following up.

12. Make A Personal Connection

Facing stiff competition for the position you want most? Don’t be the stranger on the candidate list. Do whatever it takes to connect personally with your potential employer so they know who you are. If your prospective employer regularly attends networking meetings, virtual happy hours, or chamber events, or you’ve discovered they’ll be attending a specific event or conference, register, show up, and introduce yourself.

  • Example: Are they part of an online community you can join and participate in? Do they attend virtual happy hours or business conferences? If so, show up and add value. Also follow potential employers and their key team members on social media, and prioritize building relationships with them.

That’s It! Twelve Tips To Get Hired

If you follow the tips I’ve outlined, you’ll stand out among other graphic designers, web designers, and web developers trying to land the same job — and if I’m ever hiring again, you’ll know exactly what I’m looking for.