How does a young person get a job in advertising or PR in a recession?

Llama Llama LlamaI was one of three panelists for a talk with AAF-HIMA Houston a few weeks ago. My PPT slides are posted. Each presenter only had 10 minutes, which is a rough format, but it did force me to distill the content down. Two slides with recommendations for individuals and agencies to get through the recession are:

  1. What can I, the employee or job seeker, do?
    1. Build your personal brand
    2. Participate in social networks
    3. Stay close to billable work
    4. Be humble (arrogant people suck)
  2. What can my agency do?
    1. Relationships – build and maintain (hint – see social networks above)
    2. Recurring revenue – focus on recurring
    3. Retrain, retool and recruit (biggest weakness of the old slow agencies)
    4. Get rid of dead weight NOW
    5. Charge for creative (most hopefully already do this)

After that talk I received numerous emails from young people in the audience looking for employment. This is ok initiative, although it is noted that they all said “what do I do?” instead of “here is my plan, do you think this will work?”. The difference again being one of initiative, but I’ll leave that for another blog post. So some advice with candor.

How does a young person get a job in advertising or PR in a recession?

  1. Network – yes Dorothy when times are tough it really does matter who you know. But right now with social media and being active in arts and non-profits you have NO EXCUSE not to know the right people. So drop that excuse.
  2. Avoid obvious errors. One email I received had a typo in the subject line. See this previous post on an email I received from a brilliant job seeker once.
  3. Experience – get some. In a recession the negotiating power is to the employer and people ALWAYS learn through experience. So you almost always favor the experienced. How do you get experience?
    1. Internships – the most obvious
    2. Internships – design your own. Contact your church, present an outline of your “custom designed three week internship”. Odds are they will say no, but at least try. Get off your duff and try it.
    3. Arts and Non Profits – they always need free labor. Again, make it easy for them to say yes by doing the legwork.
    4. Charities – donate your time over the holidays, anything, just somehow focus on skills where you want employment.
  4. Seek referrals – many of our best employees come from referrals. So it doesn’t hurt to meet people who work where you want to work. Plus you might find out they are jerks and you don’t want to work there. Or it may reinforce a positive impression. But again, show some initiative.
  5. Do your homework – the fastest way out of an interview if you get one is to not have done your homework on the company you are applying with.
  6. Send your resume anyway – even with no job listings, you can submit. Ideally through a friend who works there and can vouch for you. There probably aren’t any openings, but why not try?
  7. Submit your resume to the right person – For example, at our firm I am usually NOT the right person. Find the RIGHT person and submit to them. If you know a principal at the agency do a “cc” if you want, but sending it to the right person is critical. Do your homework.
  8. Resubmit your resume – companies have to have an applicant
    tracking system or they won’t keep the resumes. (hint – few have ATS
    systems) HR lawyers tell companies not to retain unless they are
    retaining all resumes and are indeed looking at them. So most people
    will just delete the resumes after filling a position. Yes really. So
    don’t think once you are in “the database” at an agency you will be
    considered in the future. It just isn’t so.
  9. Lose the attitude – it worked in HS, maybe in your Greek, but a bit of deference is always required when working with clients. You can be humble and be a bad-ass. In fact most REAL bad-ass creatives I know are actually quite humble in person. They are SO good, they let their work speak for them. Find these people and learn from them.
  10. Don’t be too polished – it makes you look untrustworthy. If your facebook profile (you do have one right?) looks like Mr. Clean worked it over, well its pretty obvious you’re a poser, right? Just sayin’. I can watch paint dry if I am looking for excitement, so why work with you?
  11. Do NOT say “I’m not good at math” – duh, advertising definitely requires basic math. I’m not talking about diffy-q, but come on. If you can’t reconcile media buying you make yourself sound like a fool. This burns a lot of applicants IMHO.
  12. Build your personal brand – facebook? yes. Twitter? yes. Blogging, Flickr, myspace, delicious, etc definitely consider. For example at our company these are huge advantages, but maybe not at other companies. Again – do your research.
  13. You’ve got 7 Seconds to make a first impression – read it.
  14. Learn about bloggingKatie has a great “blogging for business” presentation on slideshare.
  15. Realize details, large and small, are the same – if you can’t remember to clean the coffee pot it is the same as saying “hey, I’ll fly to Tokyo and then oversleep past the big meeting”. Yes really, basic human psychology. So watch out for those simple questions because it is an experienced interviewer’s way of asking if you are careless.
  16. Know where you are going – If you don’t know where you want to be in two years, and you are a millenial, you are saying you are floating with the wind. Why on earth would you hire someone drifting, train them, only to hvae them then leave to fish off the coast of Alaska? I mean that person makes an awesome and interesting friend, but perhaps a less than ideal person to invest 20k training in. Right? Candor is good. Find out where you are going.
  17. Read books – life is too short to not learn from others who have gone before you. Be smart – read. Nuf said.
  18. Don’t look like a job hopper – I hear what Penelope says about job hopping. I also know squirrels can run on power lines. But like the Electric Company says YOU ARE NOT A SQUIRREL! On the flip side, she has some good news for young job searchers here.
  19. Buy people lunch or a beer – one of the joys of being a manager, or a ceo, is that you always get the tab. Offer to buy someone lunch and you invoke the law of reciprocation. Yes, spend the money.  (pet peeve – people you KNOW have savings who say “I don’t have any money” because we call this a “lie”. Sheesh. Say “not in my budget” instead.)

Well I rambled a bit. Many of those are clearly not recession or advertising agency specific. But that is what came to mind this afternoon on November 28th 2008. Good luck with your job search!