Do’s and Don’ts: How to Get Hired by An Agency

When I was a student, I was obsessed with agencies. To me, it was always big news when a friend or someone in my network scored a job or internship with an agency. I’d quickly sit them down and dig for their secrets. How did they approach them? What did they do? Who did they talk to and how?

And you know what? Most students studying communications were and are very much in the same boat.

Now, I’m on the other side of the table. Top Hat IMC is boutique, but we receive 10–20 resumes a week from undergraduates and post-graduates looking for jobs or internships. Through this process, I’ve come across a lot of things that I’ve really liked about candidates and things that have honestly been cringe worthy.

It’s my privilege to finally reveal some secrets. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you get hired by an agency.

Don’t Just Reach Out to An Agency Because It’s An Agency

I can’t speak for all agencies when I say this, but our website uses inbound marketing software that tracks conversion paths of visitors. Case and point, if you submit a contact form on our website, we have detailed recap of what pages you viewed and how long you’ve spent on each page.

Based on conversion path, it’s apparent right away who is really interested in us for who we are (someone who’s viewed a lot of pages) and who’s simply submitting messages to as many agencies as possible (someone who’s only viewed the home page and contact page).

The bottom line here is this—don’t just reach out to an agency because they’re an agency. Explore their website. View their work. Read their blog. Get to know them and when you’re reaching out, tell them why you’re interested in being part of the team.

Do Request a Private Agency Tour

If you’re interested in an agency, one of the best moves you can make is to request an agency tour. I’d encourage you to not take along classmates—go it alone for what I’m talking about.

Not only do you get to learn more about the culture of the agency, you get to make some one-on-one connections with people within the agency. This is your opportunity to stand out and really show them your personality. Ask questions, crack a joke, enjoy your visit and be thankful for everything.

When it comes time to apply for that job or internship, reach out to your point of contact and ask for some pointers. They’ll then be on the lookout for your resume amongst the flood. They’ll also have a face to a name.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Don’t Use That Resume Template Everyone Else is Using

About 97 percent of the resumes I’ve reviewed are utilizing what looks like the exact same resume template. This always baffles me.

My advice—don’t use the template that your professor or career development center is equipping everyone in your school with. This is especially important if you’re dealing with an agency that is on the creative side. In that case, you’ll want to have a creative resume. I’m not saying that the paper needs to be blue and it needs to be overwhelmed in images—I’m just saying that it should look like it belongs to someone who’s creative.

If you need help, be creative. Try recruiting someone who’s studying graphic design to give you a hand.

Don’t Use a Copy and Pasted Message

Are you copy and pasting a message into the agency’s contact form or to their generic info email address? Trust me, it looks like a copy and pasted message.

This goes back to doing your research. What do you like about the agency? What struck you? Why do you want to join the team? Also, longer, overly formal messages aren’t necessarily better. Pretend like you’re pitching a reporter—concise and compelling.

Do Say Thank You for Everything

Been to that agency for a tour? Did that agency team member give you some time on the phone? Did you get and attend an interview? Don’t just say thank you in person or on the phone—send a follow up email at the very least.

You might be sitting there thinking, “Yeah, everybody does that.” The honest truth, however, is that not that many people follow up with a thank you via email. I know—I’m always baffled by it too. If you want to take it a step further, send a handwritten thank you note. If you’re going to do this though, be sure to send it in a timely manner.

Don’t Show Up Unannounced

It might seem clever to stumble into an agency without being invited or prior notice, but it’s not. Agencies are busy places where the calendars are always booked. If you want to show up, book your visit in advance.

Photo taken by Lauren Turner.
You can enhance your professional identity through simple steps, such as having an appropriate email address and a great headshot. Photo taken by Lauren Turner.

Do Have an Online Portfolio

One of the biggest differentiators today can be the online portfolio. I’m talking a well-designed website that has work samples, relevant experience and some personable details. If you have no development expertise, you might have to be a bit creative. Recruit that developer who’s studying computer science, or invest time working at it in Squarespace. Make sure you include that website link in your resume.

Do Have a Professional Identity

Some of the strangest things I come across are often the emails of people submitting their resumes. Some of them I know for a fact are remnants of high school. Make sure you have a professional email address. For LinkedIn and that online portfolio, have a professional photo. If it’s a selfie, I guarantee you that, yes, it looks like a selfie. Need some help? Check in with your career development center or recruit a photography student to help. Professional headshots make all the difference.

And you’ve heard this again and again, but make sure your social media profiles are behooving. Personally, that’s usually the first place I look when I’m evaluating a candidate. You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would because they’re in your News Feed) some of things I come across.

Other questions about how to get hired by an agency? Sound off below.

Ben Butler is an entrepreneur, marketing communications professional and founder of Top Hat IMC—a fully integrated marketing communications firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can connect with Ben on LinkedIn and on Twitter @BenButlerPR.

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