“Agency Experience Required”

Marketing agency workers having coffee break at comfortable relax zone

For years, I’d read these three little words strung together at the bottom of a job description that piqued my interest and they stopped me dead in my tracks. No, I don’t have agency experience – that’s why I’m applying for this job, silly! A classic catch-22.

Much like other industries, agency hiring managers add requirements to job descriptions in order to drain the candidate pool to what they believe to be the best, most qualified droplets. But what does having agency experience actually mean? Beyond the literal, that is. And required? Like – required required?

As always, the answer is: it depends. And as always, you’ll have to keep reading this article to find out. (Sorry, but that’s showbiz baby). By the way, for all the skimmers out there, I’ve added a special notation just for you: look for TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) to skip right to the point.

How an agency runs

America may run on Dunkin, but an agency runs on a cute little catch phrase all their own; and you need to be in the club to get it. The process, terminology, and organizational chart can all look pretty different from an in-house agency, and it’s safer for the success of the agency if a new hire ‘gets it’ right away.

TL;DR: Connect with someone in the agency and learn about their internal ticks prior to applying.

Client is king

A client’s satisfaction is the lifeblood of a creative agency. Hiring a person who is not only creatively talented but understands this is crucial to the success of a company. One project an agency churns out is representative of the entire company’s work and reputation; whereas a larger company’s success doesn’t hinge on the outstanding work of an internal ad campaign.

TL;DR: There is intense pressure that falls behind the quality of work and meeting each client’s unique needs; these are paramount to your and the company’s success.

Unforgiving grind

Rise and grind, then stay risen and grind into the wee hours of the night. (Did someone mention coffee earlier?) There can be quite a difference in the amount of blood, sweat, coffee and tears a hire is expected to have in an agency setting, versus corporate life. It’s a culture, and an intense lifestyle, but it can also mean some pretty cool work and high-profile projects at the end of the sleep-deprived day you can (artistically) scribble your name all over.

TL;DR: Make sure you’re passionate enough about this job that the emphasis on work versus life balance is your jam right now.

The proof is in the portfolio

For creatives, having reputable agency experience on your resume supplements your portfolio. A portfolio is living, digital proof of doing agency-type work. Don’t have a portfolio? Collaborate with professional peers on spec work to get you started.

TL;DR: That was pretty short already, but OK: A strong portfolio alone can get you in the door.

If you’re still reading at the end of this article. First of all – thank you, that’s so nice. Second of all if you don’t have agency experience already, and aren’t able to swing an unpaid internship – here are a few more tips for jumping through this hoop:

1.     Spec work. No one likes to work for free but if you want to build a portfolio, you have to start somewhere.

2.     Brand yourself smartly and consistently online. If you’re trying to sell yourself, people have to understand and want to buy.

3.     Start with a smaller agency and walk in the door, if you can. The leaders will admire your passion, your grit and most will be empathetic remembering the hoops they jumped through in order to get their first ‘big break’.

4.     Think big picture. You might need to take a title hit, or pay cut in order to get your foot through a door that then leads up a few stairwells to the top.

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