Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

How to Infiltrate an Ad Agency — Part 2

In the previous post, I gave you an introduction to where I will be working (Erwin Penland) and why I am excited about it.

As promised in Part 1, this post will be all about how I got this internship. Full disclosure, some of this will be from a popular post on my own personal blog and some of it will be fresh content. It’s a long read, but it will be worth it, believe me. Most of this came from my own personal experience. All winter break, and most of the semester, I would spend hours researching, taking notes, and improving my job-search process. What you have here is what I believe worked out for me.

So how can you get a job in an ad agency like Erwin Penland?

1. Put in the necessary hours.

If you want an ideal internship, you have to think of the application process as a part-time job. It requires a large amount of hours, so expect to put in 5-10 hours a week for this process in order to truly succeed. This time will be spent in a multitude of ways. You’ll be writing and revising your resume, you’ll be constantly improving your cover letter, researching interview tips, cover letter tips, job seeking tips, doing mock interviews, seeking out new companies, filling out applications, finding contacts, emailing, finding more companies, attending interview fairs, having phone interviews, in-person interviews, preparing extensively (at least you better be!) for those interviews, driving to interviews, reading career guides, staying up on industry news, and more.

Phew, that’s a lot! Don’t get disheartened though, especially if you’re an underclassmen. Through this process you will sharpen your job-seeking skills into a finely crafted tool that will put you miles above the rest senior year. So put in the time and effort and enjoy your solid internship experience by following this step and the other nine steps below.

2. Grow your self-awareness.

Self-awareness is key for life. The better you know yourself, the better you’ll understand relationships with those around you. Self-awareness also happens to be highly important for the job-seeking process. If you know yourself, what motivates you, what you’ve done in the past, your life experiences, your job desires, and more, then you will be able to better take all of this information and talk about yourself on your resume, cover letter, e-mails, and interviews.

This awareness will be even more important when you encounter behavioral interviews that as you questions like “tell me a time when you had conflict in the past and how you managed it?”Telling you to be self-aware is all fine and dandy, but how are you going to actually achieve self-awareness? I think there are two easy ways:

    • Journaling- When you journal about how you feel, or what happened to you, or any number of things, you are forced to become more self-aware. Doing regular journaling will help you with this undoubtedly. Don’t get disheartened if you get writer’s block. When you get writer’s block, it forces you to think even deeper to create your journal entry
    • Self-interviews- This can be combined with your journaling efforts. Search for questions (here’s a big list) and then answer them in your journal. This will not only help you understand yourself better, but will also help your interviews! You may encounter some of the same questions, and you will undoubtedly have tons of examples to talk about.

3. Differentiate yourself.

You should write down the steps in your current process and find opportunities to differentiate yourself. Remember that a lot of employers are reviewing and interviewing a ton of applications. Often, the hardest part is being memorable or obtaining a high share-of-mind to use a marketing term. The more memorable applicants will find themselves in a better position. This step can also be really easy and small things can make a big difference. Here are a few examples to get the juices flowing in your brain.

    • Create some interesting attention-grabbing business cards. This type of thing adds an extra degree of professionalism. I know you’re probably thinking that this advice can’t be all that helpful, but put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter at a job fair. When you’ve talked to 100 students through the course of an exhausting day, much of it would’ve meshed together. When you get home, kick off your shoes, and open up your wallet to store an impactful business card, you’re going to remember that student.
    • Don’t send long e-mails. Just don’t. “But Ross, I want to give them as much information as possible so that they can have the necessary information to make a decision.” Yeah, it seems that way. We’re talking about busy people though, very busy people. Every sentence you add to your e-mail decreases the likelihood that they read it all. Besides, it takes more skill to take 3 paragraphs of thinking and distill it into 5 quality sentences. If you keep it short and sweet, your e-mail will actually be read in it’s entirety–something different than a lot of people probably get.
    • Subject lines–don’t be boring with them. More on that later.
    • E-mail key stakeholders. More on that later as well.

4. Create a solid resume.

Don’t worry, i’m not going to give you an extensive how-to on writing a resume. Why? Because there are tons out there and they all seem to say something different and contradictory. There are plenty of templates, how-tos, resume “gurus” and any number of resources. I just want to touch on two key points.

First, your resume needs to be formatted well. Some estimates say that professional recruiters take an average of six seconds viewing a resume before moving on. You want them to get through as much as possible in six seconds. Keep your points to one line, no paragraphs. Use effective bolding, italics, all-caps, and underlining to quickly guide the attention. Use these devices to draw attention to very specific details you want them to focus on in that limited time (but don’t go overboard).

Have a results-oriented resume. Guess what? Employers want results. They want you to succeed, to help them achieve their business goals. You need to show them that you are also results-oriented. Under every work experience, include at least one results bullet point (e.g. my facebook group achieved an 80% adoption rate amongst targeted users). Bold it–Results: Underline it–Results: Even consider all-capsing it–RESULTS: You want them to see this, this will set you apart amongst the sea of resumes so you should draw their attention to it. Note: Only use bolding, underlining, etc on the results word, not the entire bullet point.

5. Write a great cover letter that effectively sells you.

Do you have preconceived notions about a cover letter? Throw it out the window. Like resumes, people with cover letter advice can be found anywhere and everywhere and it’s often contradictory. Some say cover letters are absolutely useless. Some say they’ll only hire someone with a cover letter. Some say they should be only a few sentences long. Others say there are no page length constrictions (within reason).

Mine happens to be about two pages long with five different things I believe I bring to the table, a description of that thing, and an applicable example. Yeah, it’s long, but I use formatting to break it down into very manageable chunks. If you’d like to see it, or any other documents (resume, business card, etc.) feel free to reach out to me at rasimons1@gmail.com and I’ll share it with you and answer any questions you may have.

6. Go the extra mile and e-mail someone directly.

Do you want to know why the majority of applicants most likely get rejected without an interview? A real person probably never sees their resume. I know, it’s surprising that HR doesn’t review 1,000 applications individually, right? There’s a good chance that a company you applied to is using resume filtering software (often called an Applicant Tracking Sytem (ATS)) that allows them to keyword search. This is especially true of online applications, particularly if they contract with a company like Taleo or HRSmart.

ATS is made to scan documents for keywords. HR managers use it to sort through the simply massive amounts of applicants they receive. How do they do this? They put in 7 keywords they want to see in a resume. For example: self-starter, marketing, social media, team player, detail-oriented, big picture, creative. The software goes through the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of resumes. It returns the top (maybe) 25 resumes that had the most hits for those words. The HR manager looks those 25 over, interviews, etc. If they find people to fill the positions in that first batch of 25 your resume never even gets looked at. If they still have openings, they look at the next top 25.

You get that dreaded “We regret to inform you that all positions are filled” and that’s it. They look at a small fraction of the resumes, so if you’re not perfectly keyword optimized, you’re wasting your time for many applications.

You need to get your resume looked at so there are two ways. One is more difficult, not guaranteed, and not as effective. The other one is easier and will differentiate you from other.

Option 1: Add hours of extra work, painstakingly performing SEO work on your resume, keyword optimizing it for every position. Not guaranteed. Will help your chances if you do it effectively, but not quite as well as option 2.

Option 2: E-mail someone in the company! Go to LinkedIn and Google and find people likely to be reading your application (talent scouts, recruiters, HR managers, marketing managers). You then want to find their e-mail address and e-mail them directly with a short introduction, why you’re interested, and your resume and cover letter. You find their email address like this (note, names and email addresses have been changed to avoid them receiving spam):

  • Go to google and enter “@companyname.com”. In my case, it was “@erwinpenland.com”. Most companies will have e-mail addresses like this. Search and verify that it is the umbrella e-mail. BTW, you must include the quotations.
  • Find out what the format of the names are before the @ symbol. Most companies (just like your school) do a last name-first name thing or some variation. So when you do the google search from the above bullet point, you’ll get results like: “John Harvard (jharvard@erwinpenland.com)”, “Sarah smith (ssmith@erwinpenland.com)”. In this example it’s “first initial plus last name@erwinpenland.com) So take that format, and put the person you want to reach out to in that format.
  • Then verify that it is a correct email address. Don’t send them an e-mail through some obscure e-mail account. Just use an e-mail verifier.
If you do this, you have a great chance at getting your resume viewed by someone which may put you in an exclusive club of only 25 of the 200 applicants. Plus, it’ll show that you’re proactive and dedicated by going the extra step, and those are good qualities to have.
So find a contact, email them with your resume and cover letter and ask them to pass it on. Make sure your e-mail has a witty subject line.

7. Use a witty subject line, think of it as a marketing headline!

Sometimes the first exposure they will have to you will be in your e-mail subject line. What do you want that to say about you? Most students say “seeking internship” or something like that. BORING. More importantly, NOT DIFFERENT. Again, put yourself in the shoes of the e-mail viewer. They open up their e-mail to 50 new e-mails. Some of them are from co-workers, maybe their CEO, and 30 of them are from students with the subject line “seeking internship”. They’re most likely going to skip most of those to deal with the more important e-mails.

Just like a marketing headline is used to get consumers to read your copy, your subject line needs to get an HR manager to view your e-mail. So make it fun, make it witty, make it stand out. Once I finalized my subject line, I used it on all of my e-mails. It says: “Not your average college student, find out why inside.” That subject line had to make some people unexpectedly stop and view my e-mail. This is the type of differentiation i’m talking about. Small changes with a big impact.

8. Followup e-mails are your best friend!

You are wasting opportunities if you don’t follow up your e-mails. After 7-12 days, do a follow-up. Don’t miss this step, it’s one of the most often missed. Sometimes they got to work and just had too many e-mails and your resume just wasn’t a priority when met with other pressing matters. Sometimes they forgot about your stuff. Sometimes they never looked at it. Sometimes they will not respond to your materials unless you do a follow-up — it shows dedication and follow-through. A follow-up e-mail has gotten me an interview multiple times already. Just say:

“Dear _____, Just doing a follow-up to show my continued interest in the _____ position. Hopefully we can find a time to connect. I’ve attached my resume and cover letter. Sincerely, _____”

It’s really that simple. I applied to Mr Youth and did a follow-up directly through Helene DeVries at Mr Youth one afternoon. She got in touch with the hiring team, and that night a team member e-mailed me to set up a phone interview. Had an interview the next day and found out I was on the tail-end of the first round, and they were planning on setting up second rounds next week. I saved myself from missing a fantastic opportunity just by following up. Don’t miss this step.

9. Constantly find and apply for new jobs until you have an accepted offer in hand.

Don’t stop applying to jobs. Constantly seek out new companies and apply for them. I lucked out with Erwin Penland. Because I was in this state of constant job search, I came across Erwin Penland literally five hours before the application deadline. Five hours! So I frantically applied (it had some essay questions) and sent it off with about an hour to spare. Two months later and I’m working for them. Had I not been constantly finding new prospective companies, I would’ve missed Erwin Penland.

There are a couple of ways to find new companies:

    • Industry magazines and journals. I found a lot of companies through AdAge’s best places to work in Marketing. I also found a lot of agencies by reading the pages and viewing the companies mentioned in the journals or advertising themselves on its pages.
    • LinkedIn. LinkedIn is phenomenal when you use it the right way. An easy way to find new companies is to find people in a company you currently know about. So let’s say you’re already a big fan of Hill Holliday or P&G. Go to their LinkedIn page, and find influential people in the company. Go to their personal pages and look at their career progressions. Did the head of the media division of Digitas get internship experience at PGR Media? Well you just added a company to your list. You can find a lot of great companies to apply for this way.
10. Practice, practice, practice; prepare, prepare, prepare!

And last but not least is to practice and prepare. Prepare for every interview. Spend a solid hour researching the company. Spend 30 minutes composing a list of questions. Research your interviewers. The most well-prepared people will generally be the most successful. The funny thing about interviewing is that it can be easier than people think it is. Almost every interviewers asks you two questions that you should just blast out of the park. They always ask you to tell them about yourself (i.e. your elevator pitch) and why you want to work for them. I don’t think I had a single interview that didn’t ask that. These should be homeruns for your because you know you’re going to get them. Write down and practice very good answers to both. Internalize it. Make it yours. And when the questions come, swing for the fences.

And then practice. You can practice with friends, or your significant other, or your career development center, or mock interviews, or even other interviews. Early on, there were some places I applied to that I wasn’t crazy interested in. I got interviews, and I went to them knowing there was a chance they would exceed my expectations, and that I would get some well-needed practice in real-life interviewing.  I’m sure that my early interviews allowed me to hone my skills to be better later on at the companies I really wanted to work for.

In my own experience, these things have been a massive help. They allowed me to take a looming, scary task and break it down to somewhat of a formula–a 10-step process. This is the culmination of a semesters worth of job-seeking experience and research, and it’s something that I constantly adapt and improve as I learn more and more. So check back or email me at rasimons1@gmail.com if you have any questions at all.

Stay tuned for my third blog where i’ll be talking about my in-depth interview with one of my supervisors: Lance Ford


Ross Andrew Simons