In just a few months, those of you who are in portfolio schools will be graduating. High-fives on that. This industry is a lot of fun.
You’re probably too busy putting your final books together to even be reading this blog. But for those of you who could use a little last minute advice, here are some of the things the time-traveling version of myself would have told the portfolio student version of myself more than a decade ago:
1. Look for work in any city you can.
Don’t limit yourself to a single geographic location. Cast a wide net. Got your fingers crossed for a gig in New York? Fine. But don’t rule out Boston, Dallas, San Francisco or anywhere else that might be hiring. I’ve seen students say, “I’m looking for work in [fill in the blank],” only to spend month after unemployed month in that city, scheduling and rescheduling interviews, hoping somehow, someday a window would open.
Tony Marin’s a friend of mine that I taught at the Chicago Portfolio School. He, like everyone else in his class, wanted to land a job in Chicago. And after he graduated, he did some nice work freelancing for some decent shops in town. But then he took a job at R&R in Las Vegas. I don’t think anyone in his class even knew there was an agency in Las Vegas. But he moved to the desert and ended up producing some of that great “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” work. Not long ago, he returned to Chicago where he’s working as an ACD. He was willing to go anywhere to build a great book. And that let him go exactly where he wanted to go.
2. Check out the outliers.
Every graduate coming out of portfolio school wants to work at Wieden, Goodby, and Crispin. Why wouldn’t they? What a great way to start your career, right? But what about Boone/Oakley? Or Walrus? Or Stick and Move? Or Richter7? Or Trumpet? There are great agencies everywhere. Make sure you know about them. And make sure they get a good look at your book.
3. Know what success means.
If there’s a downside to portfolio schools, it’s the competitive nature that fertilizes the idea that if you don’t get a job at a Wieden, a Goodby or a Crispin, you’ve failed. That’s one of the biggest lies you can tell yourself. Go where you can do great work. Might be at Wieden. Might be in Omaha or Baltimore. Take the interviews and find out for yourself.
4. Do your homework.
Know who the leaders in the agency are, not just the marquee names. Know who the writers and art directors on your favorite work are. Find out what the ECD has said in recent interviews. I once read that Teddy Roosevelt would stay up all night before an important meeting reading up on whatever interested the person he was going to meet with. You can at least invest a little time finding out about the individuals you might be meeting with. And in the Age of Google, there’s no reason not to know any of this stuff.
5. Be thoroughly prepared.
Make sure you bring a hardcopy book to any interview. Even if your book’s all online, you’ll be glad you have the backup. Make sure any CDs, DVDs, or apps are working properly the week before, the night before, and the morning of any interview. If you don’t care enough to be thoroughly prepared for your interview, how can they expect you to do any better with their clients?
6. Know what you want to know more about.
When you start going to interviews, don’t just plan on sitting in the chair like you’re on trial. You should be interviewing the agency as much as they’re interviewing you. Here are a handful of questions I’ve usually kept as standards:
- What’s the culture here like?
- What’s the best thing about working here?
- What’s the worst thing about working here?
- Who’s the creative engine of the agency? Would I be working with them? How much exposure would I have to them?
- What’s your opinion of award shows?
- Say you hired me; what would you expect me to have done within the first six months?