jobs guide

How to Get a Marketing Job: Landing a Position at Creative and Media Agencies

Chapter II of Marketing Brew's Post-2020 Guide to Getting Hired in the Marketing Industry is now live.
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Francis Scialabba

· 14 min read

By 2021, Forrester estimates that 50,000+ marketing and advertising jobs will be lost on the agency side of the industry alone. Whether you were affected by 2020’s wave of agency layoffs or are looking for a career change, you’ll learn a lot from the experts we consulted for this guide. Inside, top execs from the infamous startup branding agency Red Antler, the director of social media at Brooklyn-based content agency Mustache,marketing career expert Amanda Nachman, and someone who actually managed to land a job at a marketing agency since March give you the scoop on how to get hired in the creative/media agency world right now.

Advice from a hiring manager

Red Antler is a branding company based in Brooklyn.

Emily Heyward

When you’re evaluating candidates, what qualities in a professional are you looking for now that weren’t AS important to you before the pandemic began?

Right now I am very excited to meet people who have more hybrid or eclectic skill sets—a designer who loves photography, a copywriter who puts together gorgeous presentations. We are obviously doing everything we can to facilitate collaboration remotely, but it’s exciting to meet people who either have a broader definition of the type of work they love doing, or are excited to reach beyond their core focus, because it opens up possibilities for how we make stuff in new ways.

- Emily Heyward, Red Antler Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer

How can people trying to find a job at a place like Red Antler stand out in an application?

Jenna Navitsky

Curating work or crafting a presentation that speaks directly to our business or the type of work we do is a great start. If it feels bespoke versus a generic application that could’ve gone to any agency, you have my attention.

I also really appreciate when I feel like I’m learning something about the candidate, their point of view, or their background. I’m always looking for the thing that gives me more of a window into who this person is and what they are interested in. It could be as simple as sharing personal work or passion projects or even more about a random hobby. I find those things the most interesting and memorable.

- Jenna Navitsky, Red Antler Executive Creative Director

How about in interviews?

I always appreciate it when it feels like a person doesn’t just want a job, but wants a job with us. In the case of Red Antler, that means exhibiting a passion for startups—[someone who is] informed about trends in the startup landscape, up on recent launches, and has a perspective about specific brands in the space. I most enjoy the conversations where I walk away having learned something, whether it’s an observation about the world, or an insightful question that really makes me think.

- Emily Heyward, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer

Have you seen an uptick in the number of applications coming in? How has that changed for senior roles?

The overall number of applicants has increased, but the number of senior level applicants has not. I think at that level there’s less of an appetite to move if people don’t absolutely have to, since there are fewer senior roles available and greater risk associated with a move. Our hiring has always relied heavily on referrals and this is even more true right now. People want someone they trust to tell them what it’s really like on the inside. Before, people wanted to know about work/life balance and quality of projects, but now what’s important has changed. People now want to know about the safety and stability of the company. They ask how transparent we are about the health of the business and how much emotional space we create for people.

- Hannah Lindsey, Red Antler Chief People Officer

Has the industry become more competitive for applicants since March?

By the numbers, there are more applicants and fewer jobs across the industry. We are still hiring, but what is important to us has changed and this has created new opportunities for more people. Unsurprisingly, we have come to really see value in the ability to be hyper-adaptable in a time of change, and candidates who demonstrate that ability, even if they don’t have the technical skills for a job, are really exciting.

- Hannah Lindsey, Chief People Officer

Say someone at an agency got laid off early in the pandemic. What should they do in their downtime when they aren’t applying to jobs to boost their resume?

First, I would recommend that they reach out to people in their network to hopefully connect them with some smaller freelance jobs in the short term. In the longer term, I would tell designers in between jobs to rebrand something they think should exist differently in the world, or to create an imaginary brand or product that speaks to who they are or something they are passionate about but maybe never had the time to prioritize. It can be a great time to make work for yourself and to fill gaps in your portfolio. But now more than ever, there are plenty of small businesses and grassroots organizations that need creative or design help. We have the unique ability to communicate visually and in ways that connect with people and get their attention. How can we put those skills to use for good?

- Jenna Navitsky, Executive Creative Director

Anthony Hagan

Anthony Hagan is the director of social media at Brooklyn-based content agency Mustache.

How has hiring in the creative agency world changed since March?

In the absence of physical events, more emphasis has been placed on social media efforts in an "unprecedented" WFH world—hence the need for social-literate creative voices is greater than ever. We have obviously moved into an all-virtual hiring process that leans heavier on fixed, short-term contracts, given the uncertainty across all areas of business during the pandemic.

How about hiring for social media roles in particular?

Despite the pandemic, my social media team has continued to grow as clients have invested more in their suite of brand platforms. Personally, I've been looking for more entry-level support for my social media managers and writing teams to keep up with the growing needs and goals of our clients' social presence.

When you’re evaluating candidates, what qualities in a professional are you looking for now that weren’t AS important to you before the pandemic began?

Since I'm not able to train a new team member IRL, I'm increasingly looking for candidates with more diverse skill sets and prior experience working within a social team structure. Interviewees stand out if they are already familiar with remote working tools like Slack and have broad competency within Google Suite.

One major aspect that has changed is the base location of applicants. Social media is an industry that can and has continued to work efficiently in this WFH world, and I don't see that changing once companies start to return to physical workspaces. Job hunters in the field of social media can and should cast a wider net when searching for positions which, in 2020, don't necessarily need to be in the same city or state as the companies you're applying for.

How can people trying to find a job at a place like Mustache stand out in an application?

I'm looking for applicants that have current websites of work relevant to the position, updated LinkedIn pages, a presence on social platforms, and concise cover letters that are laced with the positivity and personality you hope to bring to my team. Some applicants make the mistake of putting channel or post success metrics on their applications, but a hiring manager often lacks the total context needed to understand what defines that success. I would rather see the types of day-to-day tasks and longer-term initiatives that helped define you in a particular role.

How about in interviews?

I want to see your personality shine through in a video interview and feel assured that you can speak confidently to your skill set. I also have heart for interviewees that are earnest when they don't know the answer to a question, but instead ask questions to learn more about an aspect of the job. As social media professionals, we're not an endless encyclopedia of all platforms or functionalities, which is why it's important to be curious and want to continue being a student of an ever-evolving craft.

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Have you seen an uptick in the number of applications coming in? How has that changed for senior roles?

I'm mainly hiring for entry-level positions, which means the number of applicants is typically quite high, but since the pandemic hit, the number of applications has at least doubled, if not tripled. I'm receiving more mid- to senior-level applicants for entry level positions, as many have been laid off over the course of this year.

What’s one thing you wish every applicant knew about getting hired at an agency right now?

Agency hiring managers are receiving an extra high volume of applicants, which means that the process is taking longer than usual. Submitting multiple applications or pounding our LinkedIn inboxes is likely not an efficient way to break through to earn an interview. Put time into updating your website and penning concise cover letters that are tailored to the jobs you really want.

Has the industry become more competitive for applicants since March?

From my vantage point, the industry has become much more competitive since March. Even though social media is a booming industry, companies/agencies/brands have still been making cuts due to our current economic crisis. We also saw an entire collegiate class graduate into a pandemic world who are hungry to start their careers. The challenge they most often and most likely face is that they lack the professional experience to make it to the interview process. I graduated college into the last recession in 2009, so I feel their struggle and urge them to keep getting experience wherever they can to keep their social toolkit growing, even if that means making your opportunities.

Advice from someone who got a job during the pandemic

Chris Meador

Chris Meador is a newly hired Vice President of Marketing at Cambridge-based Wistia, a video marketing software company.

So you got a job during the pandemic. How’d you end up in that situation?

Everyone has their pandemic career story–I’m just lucky that mine has a happy ending. After six months of searching, I left Facebook on March 13 to start a new job on Monday, March 23. As I exited the subway after my last day, I got a text message that NYC public schools were closing and, a few days later, I got furloughed from the new job. Having just come off of a search, I followed back up with recruiters and was lucky that a search I had passed on was still active and they were open to adding me to the mix. Fast forward three months and I started at Wistia as their VP of Marketing.

What was your job search like overall?

This job search was like nothing I had experienced before—kids yelling in the background, piles of laundry needing to be hidden from camera view, and outfits styled from the chest up. But what I appreciated most about this search was through the entire process I was just me –—there was no artifice, fake smiles, attempts to cover my blemishes, or strong personality traits. I did not have the energy to fake it so I just showed up authentically me.

The other piece that was different during this search is that I completely shifted my decision-making criteria for accepting job offers—in the past I would rank location and office culture high on the list. In today’s world, I made the decision based on two factors:

  1. What is a job that will make me excited to jump the 8 feet from my bed to the couch?
  2. What is a company that has the potential to emerge strong out of COVID-19?

Do you think going through a job hunt right now is easier for senior employees with more experience than it is for junior employees, like recent college grads?

I think in the short term the job hunt is going to be easier for employees with more experience—employees who can prove they know what to do and the only shift they need to make is doing it remotely. Part of this shift to remote working is learning how to build remote trust—and inherently it is easier to trust someone with a track record vs. someone new to the workplace.

What can other senior-level applicants do to make themselves stand out, both on their resumes and in interviews?

Ultimately, if you’re qualified for a senior-level position, you likely have the professional skills that the company is looking for. What is more important to showcase in the interview process is the way you think and how you would fit into the company’s existing structure. What kind of dynamic do you bring to team meetings? How do you respond when there is a marketing rut or lack of energy and creativity? What scrappy ideas are you bringing to the table when the budget is cut?

Career expert’s opinion

Amanda Nachman

Amanda Nachman is the Founder and CEO of College Magazine, a TEDx Speaker, and the author of #QUALIFIED.

The ad agency world has taken a huge hit during the pandemic. I feel like I’ve seen more layoffs in this space than many other places marketers could work. Does anyone have a chance of getting hired at an agency in this type of climate?

If a business is struggling financially, it’s likely to reduce their agency spend or cut an agency completely, so it makes sense that agencies are experiencing layoffs. However, not all businesses are struggling.

If you are passionate about agency life and feel that you can offer value that connects to their adapting needs, you can make this case when applying. And you can look for agencies that represent companies thriving in a virtual world—think in-home workout equipment or home office products and tech, for instance. Show that you’re prepared for agency work that’s focused on digital and virtual marketing—talk about the identity branding project you worked on for a virtual workshop or how you led the marketing efforts for a virtual panel event.

What's your favorite piece of advice for virtual interviewing at a cool agency?

Cool agencies ooze with creativity, especially in their digs. Flex your creativity when it comes to your background. I often encourage a simple professional background that won’t distract from you, but for an agency, you can mix it up. Hang your favorite artwork behind you, set up the books you’re reading in a funky pattern, create a plant jungle in your background. Let your Zoom window market you by demonstrating your eye for design and communicating your creativity.

What should someone applying for an agency role do differently now than pre-pandemic?

Someone applying for an agency role should reach out to people that work at the agency and start making courageous connections. I encourage a DM a day. That way you’re building your network in the agency world. Don’t reach out for a job, simply reach out to learn how that person followed their passion to work at an agency. You will then get the blueprint for how you can do the same.

How can agency applicants give themselves an edge right now?

Agency applicants can give themselves an edge by demonstrating their passion, talents and experiences in the form of a personally branded website portfolio, branded IG account, or podcast (focused on agency life, for instance—interviewing agency owners or creatives). Start showing that you’re learning and growing in this field by creating an online space for your work. It takes time and effort to build a personal brand that goes beyond with your bio and photo. Just imagine if you could show that you’ve recorded, edited and published 10 episodes of a podcast interviewing agency employees on how their work has adapted in the wake of the pandemic—efforts like this will, without a doubt, make an impression.

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