How Do I Get a Job in an Advertising Agency?

job at advertising agency

If you want to get a job in an advertising agency, you will need both a formal degree and real-world experience so that you can show that you are a great candidate. Advertising is a competitive field that is challenging and exciting for the right type of individual. While it is a great field to work in, you will need to know how to get your first big break into an agency’s doors before you get discouraged as you submit your applications. Many barriers exist in advertising for entry-level applicants and knowing how to break through these barriers will give you an advantage. Here are some ways to get a job with a reputable ad agency.

Decide Your Focus

work in advertising

There are many paths into advertising, so before you do anything else, try to narrow down your focus areas.

If you’re the creative type, for example, you might consider getting a degree in art or graphic design. If you’re more into the business side of things, you can study finance, production, administration or account management.

Highly social people might thrive in communications or public relations careers. Those with a specific skill set might study writing, drawing, animating or web designing.

There are also different types of advertising to consider. Product advertising is the most well-known kind, but there’s also brand and institutional advertising for companies rather than their creations. You can also choose to specialize in print, digital or mobile advertising specifically.

Consider all of your options before deciding on a career path in advertising. Even within the same field, different jobs can require different degrees, internships and portfolios.

Choose an Appropriate Undergraduate Degree

Many advertising companies will expect you to hold a bachelor’s degree at the minimum. It isn’t impossible to find jobs, especially internships, with lesser qualifications, but a four-year degree is considered standard.

As for the type of degree that you should pursue, many aspiring advertisers major in things like marketing, broadcasting, communications and public relations. However, these aren’t the only majors accepted by advertising agencies. Depending on the role that you want to play in the company, you could also consider an undergraduate degree in everything from graphic design to business management.

Here are a few bachelor’s degree to consider if you want to get a job in advertising:

  • Advertising or Marketing: While there are technical differences between these degrees, they cover much of the same ground, and colleges rarely make a distinction between them. Both will familiarize you with the infrastructure of the industry and help you to develop skills related to media, business, communications, consumer behavior and product development.
  • Art, Art Design or Graphic Design: These degrees will develop your creative skills. They’ll also introduce you to the tools and technology of the trade while preparing you for the kinds of projects that you’ll be expected to complete as an advertiser.
  • Communications: A communications degree will cover things like broadcasting, public speaking, media strategy, public relations and interpersonal communication. It can be leveraged into a position with many kinds of front-facing advertising careers that require interaction with the public.
  • Business: Business is a common and useful major for advertising students who want to work behind the scenes as executives, administrators and marketing coordinators. Business classes can teach you about everything from balancing budgets to delegating tasks during a project.
  • Technology: It’s less common than other advertising majors, but if you’re interested in digital forms of marketing, a technology degree can give you the necessary skills for developing or managing 21st century ad campaigns.

Some of these degrees are based on nothing but coursework completion. Others will require in-person practicums or internships. Depending on your school, the degree might be offered online, or it might necessitate classroom-based instruction.

If your school doesn’t offer your first choice as a major, see if it’s available as a minor or a certification program. You can often find skill-based qualifications for things like graphic design even if there isn’t an official degree program for it.

Consider a Master’s Degree to Strengthen Your Resume

Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree, you can continue your education with a master’s. This isn’t usually a requirement of advertising agencies, but it can set you apart from other job seekers in a competitive market.

One of the most common master’s degrees for advertisers is a Master of Science (MS) in Marketing. It will focus on high-level skills and concepts in the world of advertising, including content development, brand management, consumer behavior, and market research and analysis.

Another useful degree is a Master of Business Administration (MBA), especially if you’re interested in the practical side of marketing as opposed to the creative one. An MBA can prepare you for careers like media planner, marketing manager and production coordinator. There are even universities that offer an MBA with an emphasis in advertising and marketing if you want to concentrate your studies on your future industry.

You can also check and see if there’s a graduate degree that expands on your undergraduate studies. For example, if you majored in communications, you can continue your education with a Master of Arts in Communications. This can increase your expertise in a niche market and make you more attractive to advertising companies looking for employees to fill specialized, high-level positions.

Break Into the Industry by Interning

Most advertising students are familiar with the fact that a degree in marketing or advertising will help them land a position. While a degree is important, the majority of applicants will have the same degree that you have, so you’ll need to think about ways to set yourself apart from the competition.

One possibility is completing an internship. These can run anywhere from a few weeks to an entire year or more, and they’ll allow you to work in an advertising agency right alongside the pros.

Your responsibilities as an intern might include things like distributing promotional materials, managing social media accounts or performing administrative tasks for more senior employees. You might be asked to take notes at meetings, fetch coffee during photo shoots or complete research related to ads, markets and consumers. Depending on your employer, you might be allowed to shadow others and ask questions.

Not only will an internship help you decide if advertising is right for you, but it will also help you gain valuable experience in the industry. You’ll be working on real projects, familiarizing yourself with real industry practices and processes, and confronting the real challenges of the job. Additionally, once your internship is complete, you can put it on your resume to distinguish yourself from other job applicants.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to leverage your internship into an actual job. Some students who get their foot in the door by interning for an agency will be offered a permanent position if they prove themselves.

All things considered, it’s worth biting the bullet and interning so that you can increase your chances of getting hired by an advertising agency.

Apply for the Appropriate Positions

Many people “work their way up” in the marketing world. If you’re wondering how to get a job in advertising, the answer might be starting at the bottom with an entry-level position such as junior marketing associate or assistant to the creative director.

If you possess a bachelor’s or baster’s degree, the idea of applying for an entry-level position may not sound appealing. You might have years of education and experience under your belt and think that you deserve something a little more advanced.

Every company is different, however, and they have their own way of running things. This is especially true of major brands and labels that are known for their exclusivity. They tend to promote from within rather than bringing in outsiders who don’t understand their cultures or work environments.

You might have a solid educational background in advertising, but without years of experience to go along with it, many agencies will only hire you as an advertising assistant or an administrative professional. This is why it behooves you to take an entry-level position when it is offered to you through a Fortune 500 company. By working hard, you can climb the corporate ladder into managing your own projects or becoming a creative or managerial member of a team.

Work on Your Own or Freelance

freelance advertising

Advertising agencies want to evaluate your abilities. While some firms are willing to take a risk on you if you have the right personality or background for the position, a majority of firms will want to see work that you’ve actually done. A great way to build your portfolio to work in advertising is to work as a freelancer while you are in school or while you are looking for employment.

Freelancers can work as copywriters, editors, content writers, graphic designers or even branding specialists. With a fair rate, you can seek projects with clients and companies in the advertising business.

Freelancing has many benefits. Not only will you have something to add to your portfolio to show off, but you can also polish your skills through the experience that you gain with your work. Additionally, since you don’t need any qualifications to become a freelancer, you don’t have to wait for graduation to get started. You can make some money and gain some experience even as you’re studying for your degree.

Freelancing isn’t for everyone, of course, but it’s something to consider when weighing your options as an aspiring advertiser.

Reach Out to Clients Directly

If freelancing does not interest you, there are other, non-traditional ways to get yourself noticed by advertising executives. They can have potential if you’re wondering how to get a job in advertising through unconventional means.

One option is to develop a speculative (spec) ad. This is an ad for a product or service that you weren’t commissioned to do. It’s used to show off your skills to potential employers and to entice them into hiring you, especially if it’s a targeted ad for a specific company. For example, if you’re trying to get a job with a business that sells smartphones, you might create an ad about their specific smartphone models.

Spec ads can also be used to show how you would improve on an existing ad campaign. They can show the direction that you would go with a current ad by pretending that you took the assignment and did the artwork. If you have something that is intriguing, you may be offered a job on the spot. Some creative directors will even deliberately seek out spec ads and freelance work to recruit fresh talent.

Another option is to create non-targeted spec ads. These can go into a general portfolio that showcases your creativity, ingenuity and technical skill. Since they aren’t tied to any specific product or brand, they might be the better option if you’re approaching multiple agencies in search of work. They’ll have a broader appeal, and you can flex your talents in multiple areas.

Develop Your Professional Network

advertising jobs

Last but not least, in order to maximize your chances of getting a job in advertising, start building your professional network.

As with many other industries, the advertising business is built on the foundation of networking. The connections that you make are often just as important as the degree that you have or the internship that you completed.

The best time to start networking is in university. You can ask professors for references and referrals; you can join clubs and professional associations with student charters. You can also seek opportunities at job fairs, career centers and networking events.

Internships are also a great way to build relationships. Even if you decide that you don’t want to work for that specific company, you can create professional connections with mentors, vendors, clients and co-workers.

If you’ve already graduated, you can still develop a career network as a professional. Start attending expos and other industry events where you can hand out your business card. Get on social media and create profiles and portfolios to reach potential employers. Rather than waiting for jobs to come to you, reach out and find the jobs yourself.

Working in advertising can be difficult, but with drive and persistence, you can land a position. Consider these tips to get a job in an advertising agency and you will have a much better chance of receiving an offer. Whether you’re interested in creative design or business and account management, the advertising industry always has use for smart, dedicated workers.

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