Recently, my agency were looking for an entry-level account handler, and I went looking for wannabe ad-men amongst the grads in the Facebook advertising applicants group. I was a grad not so long ago, and I think it’s really important to include them when looking for a new recruit. The old conundrum of needing experience but no-one being willing to offer it is a stinging reality for youngsters trying to get into the industry.
Duly I found quite a few promising candidates. I briefed them on the role and offered to check over their CVs and covering letters before passing them on to HR.
It was then that I realised quite why it’s difficult for grads to get noticed in the pile of more experienced CVs. It’s at least partly because they don’t have a clue how to write one.
I’m not blaming anyone for this, and I understand completely. Most newbies don’t have any more experienced people’s CVs to look at and compare to, and most of the advice on the internet is vague or irrelevant to advertising. So perhaps this post will help a bit for those inventive enough to scour Google for guidance.
This is a thorny one, and hotly contested between different sources. One page, two pages, as many pages as you need?
Well, in this case, you’re new to the industry. If you’ve got some work experience or internships, that’s fantastic, and they should definitely be on your CV. But today, I saw a three page CV from someone who’s never had a job. That would be too much even for Martin Sorrell. Admittedly, Martin Sorrell doesn’t need a CV – his name does all the work. But if he did, three pages would still be far too long.
If you can, keep it to a page. Two is maximum, and that’s including LOTS of paragraph breaks, wide margins and generous line spacing. White space on a page is universally appealing to look at, so if you can, cut the copy down and space things out a bit more.
What not to include
It’s an inescapable fact that a lot of people go into account handling with an eye on the creative or design departments. That’s fair enough, it’s a well-established path (that I trod myself) and really the only way to get in if you can’t do heaps of unpaid placements or don’t get a creative job straight away.
However, when you’re applying for said stepping-stone job, for the love of god don’t tell your prospective employer that. I saw a CV for our Account Exec job that was absolutely bursting with design experience. Drawing skills, painting skills, Photoshop, InDesign. Next to nothing about account handling skills. What’s this telling me? That you’re creative and well-rounded?
No. It’s telling me you’ll be a rubbish employee because your heart is somewhere else. While that might not be true (a lot of creatives who made the leap from account handling were perfectly good suits), it’s really not a thought you want to plant in the recruiter’s mind. Your CV should be completely tailored to the job you’re going for. If that means having three different versions, so be it. Just don’t send the wrong one.
It goes without saying that if you haven’t had a job before, every last bit of relevant work experience should be on your CV. Advertising agencies, marketing agencies, clients, PR, and anything you can (sensibly) relate to the job you’re going for. Put the name of the agency, and if it’s not well-known or it’s in a different sector (PR, for instance), give a little summary of what it does. This is especially important for trendily named new-media companies, who are all called daft things like Blue MonkeyParrot, giving nothing away.
You need a couple of lines to explain what you did at your work experience there. Put the emphasis on the bits that are relevant to the role. So if you did a week each in planning, creative and account handling, and you’re going for a planning job, putting something like “including coaching by a senior planner in brief writing, presentation skills and insight seeking” is fine. You’re not saying that’s all you did there. You’re just putting the spotlight where it should be. The relevant bits.
Whether to include other jobs is tricky. If you’ve got enough relevant work experience to comfortably fill the page, I’d say don’t. If you haven’t, and the job can be related to the one you’re going for in some way, it might be excusable. For instance, if you had a long-held bar job, you could explain how it demonstrated reliability and taught you punctuality, grace under pressure and the rudiments of client service. Virtually any retail job can be related to client service, as can admin and office-based roles. But if the job can’t be related to the one you want without bending the truth or making ridiculous links, leave it off.
Hobbies and whatnot
This section is optional, but I think it’s a good idea. Your personality might come across in the covering letter, but what if that gets separated from the CV, or you weren’t given the opportunity to include one? I think your CV should be able to stand alone. If your potential employer found it on a bench at Euston, would it sell you by itself?
The interests section, or whatever else you might like to call it, should be short and at the end. Two short paragraphs is usually about right. Here you can talk about other things that make you interesting. Do you have a blog? Do you play sport? Have you raised money for charity? These are all things that agencies are interested in, and get involved with themselves. If you can demonstrate that you’ll be an interesting and welcome person to see on Monday mornings, you’re in.
If you only read one section, make it this one
The most important thing is relevance. Cut your CV right down to only the relevant bits, and explain them well. Take out anything that suggests you’d be happier in another career. Take out anything that has nothing to do with the job you’re going for. Sell yourself succinctly and make your pages look good. I use a sans-serif font and, like I said, lots of white space. Pick a style for headings and stick to it. Space everything evenly, and of course, spell check. Ten times. And give it to everyone you can think of to read over and comment on. Now’s the time to call on those people you met at work experience, and beg them to run an experienced eye over it. If they’re at all willing, ask them to send you their CV to compare. It might be for the wrong job, but it’s invaluable nonetheless.
If there’s anything I haven’t covered here, feel free to leave me a comment.
It’s a hard slog getting into advertising. But once you’ve got your first job, it’s easy from then on. I promise.
Update: If you’re after work experience in an ad agency, you need to read this.