D&AD: So you want

Struggling to get through to your first interview? In despair of finding a job in the industry? Five recent graduate entrants offer advice, experience and observations on how to get in.

For the past 18 months, Campaign has been tracking the careers of five new recruits to the advertising industry. From their reasons for entering the business, their routes in, their ambitions and first impressions, the five have been revealing what it's really like to start out in advertising.

Our graduates work in a range of communications disciplines and agencies, from the traditional account executive position in a large London agency to placement schemes, involving travel all over the world. Across the board, though, these graduates all have one thing in common - they have all faced the hurdle of the application forms, they have triumphed at the terrifying assessment days and, as well as surviving that first day, they have survived their first few years in the business (although, interestingly, one has decided to change career track).

All of which means that they are pretty well-placed to offer some handy hints to the graduates of tomorrow. Here, the five Campaign graduates pass on some advice to those wishing to follow in their footsteps.

DAMIAN BRADFIELD - A senior account manager at the creative agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

If you are even in the running for a job in advertising this year, I am going to make a couple of assumptions. First, that you know a bit about the industry: the job you think you want; the long working hours; the poor pay and the fact that some people in the industry believe that this is still 1982. You will have read Campaign, Marketing and Marketing Week religiously over the past few weeks, at least have skim read No Logo and visited the IPA website.

The next step should be to produce a list of agencies you would like to work for. Consider some of the younger, sexier agencies, as well as those with global clients and don't dismiss even the smallest of companies.

Advertising is about people and, as it is as fickle as a fashion label, what is small today may well be cool tomorrow, but it relies on the cohesion of the employees.

Advertising agencies win business by pitching themselves and their ideas to potential clients. Treat the interview process as a "pitch". If you can confidently talk about yourself, your ideas and beliefs in a convincing, honest manner with true enthusiasm for the industry and the agency you are seeing, you will get a job. Don't rely on a Hoxton fin, Paul Smith suit and Dunlop Green Flash combo to get you in. If the employer sees that you don't have real passion for their agency, a true interest for strategy or creativity and most importantly that you are not being true to yourself (excuse the cliche) you will not get the job.

There are many ways to get a job in advertising. However, the best way to get a career in advertising is to really want to be involved in producing something, not being a broker, but an influencer in the creative process.

If you show you have genuine enthusiasm and are prepared to muck in, responsibility, money and a little glamour will follow. Or at least one hopes so.

SARA-JANE FLEMING - Started out as a media planner and buyer at Walker Media, but in a change of tack has left the ad industry for a job at Accenture

How best to get into the business is always a tricky question, but whenever you see advice on this, the main message seems to be that work experience is vital.

I found this to be an unrealistic requirement because so few companies have the capacity or inclination to offer it, but I also didn't find my lack of work experience an obstacle.

Working in the business is fun. It's a young industry and one in which you can get responsibility at an early stage. You may find if everybody else is out you will be expected to deal with stuff that may exceed your experience level. In smaller agencies, it is common to have client contact within your first year and generally greater responsibility comes with years of service.

Perks of the job include great parties, entertainment and lunches courtesy of media owners. However, you can't expect to pay off your debts very quickly and if you break even after paying rent, you're doing OK. Also, be realistic regarding your lifestyle - long hours are the norm in some agencies.

I recently made the decision to move out of the industry but I found the experience I gained in the past two years invaluable.

JAMES MORRIS - An account handler at the creative agency TBWA\London

There aren't many more varied careers than advertising. A not untypical day last week was spent developing the pan-European marketing strategy for a new product in the morning, and helping a vulture wrangler wrangle his vulture on to an actor's lap in the afternoon. It's not all deep thought and savannah wildlife, and there will be days (and nights) fighting with photocopiers or interviewing middle-aged women about their favourite toilet cleaner; but more often than not you'll go home having had an interesting day.

Getting into advertising is hard - good agencies get at least 100 applications for every graduate position. There aren't any tricks to guarantee an interview, or turn an interview into a job offer, but these are five tips that should help you cut the odds:

The textbook answer isn't always the best one. Don't write "zany" answers, don't be "wacky", but do use your imagination more than your library.

Attention to detail is vital. The agency wouldn't let a document out the door with a spelling mistake on it and neither should you. As a general rule, people stop reading at the second error.

Do your research. Telling an ad agency you have applied to it because it is creative is like saying to a woman you are interested in her because she is fit. Agencies all have different cultures, processes and clients, so if you don't have a specific reason to apply, don't.

You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Don't be arrogant, but equally don't act like a clumsy 15-year-old at the school disco.

Chill out. Agencies want to see your real personality, and you want to work in a place where you can be yourself, so don't put on a special interview persona.

Applications are the window to your advertising soul and can quickly lose that creative edge or inherent enthusiasm necessary to get a first interview.

JOE HEATH - On a placement job in the US as part of a WPP marketing fellowship scheme and has spent the past few months as a political lobbyist at Burson-Marsteller

So it's your first day at your dream job and from the plasma screens, bars in reception and sexy girls in creative you'd be forgiven for thinking you just stepped into an uber-cool Soho drinking hole, with a dress code to match. But beware: the liberal stance on dress may not apply to you.

Account people may be expected to reflect the image or brand of their client. It's worth remembering, a well-dressed ad executive will be placed in higher esteem by those in authority than one who looks as if they just stepped out of a Jay-Z video.

It's definitely down to the individual to carve out a role within their agency, so be proactive. If you're talented and capable then the avenues to shine are aplenty. I was fortunate to work for a client that churned out ads a minute, so my boss had no choice but to surrender early responsibility - capable or not. Advertising for the most part is a healthy meritocracy; hard work is openly rewarded and remains a fool-proof method to climb the agency ladder.

The lifestyle of a young ad executive can be pretty cool, with the people you work with, the TV shoots, recording studios, close encounters of a celebrity kind and, of course, the agency parties at London's hippest hangouts. But remember: the more glamorous aspects are nothing more than rewards for prolonged and exhausting periods of hard work.

Finally, you've explored every possible nepotistic route to get a job in advertising with no success - how to improve your chances? Get any kind of experience you can. Prove you are committed to a future in advertising and you're halfway there already.

SAM D'AMATO - An account manager at the media agency OMD UK

I joined OMD as a graduate media planner a little more than a year ago now. Getting the job was a result of a combination of research, hard work, enthusiasm and luck.

It is definitely worth visiting the IPA website (www.ipa.co.uk). If you follow the careers section, it defines the different roles in our industry.

I'd recommend reading this. Understanding the difference between a media planner, strategist, buyer, account manager or planner, for example, may save you some embarrassment on the day.

As for interviews and assessment days, it helped me to remember that in those artificial circumstances you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so if you can overcome fear, it can give you momentum for the rest of the day to be yourself.

If you choose media, the pay will probably be low and you may be surprised by the depth of systems and statistical analysis the job demands. But the more you push for responsibility and prove yourself, the broader, more rewarding and interesting it gets. Add this to the fact the company atmosphere will be lively and that the prospects, despite the downturn, are still excellent, and I'd say the industry will offer you a rewarding career - once you get in.


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