It does not matter if your elevator speech is perfected or if you are enrolled in a great program – at the end of the day, the advertising industry is looking for advanced knowledge, skills, and abilities. As an undergraduate who studied Strategic Communication in Advertising, I learned how to critically think, execute, and solve problems. However, I was not taught how to construct a portfolio showcasing my work or to utilize analytic tools. As I attend more social and networking events hosted by advertising organizations, I gain a better understanding of what I need to accomplish to succeed as a professional.
When I sat down with the Luis Fitch, co-founder of UNO Branding, he asked me about my expertise and what I had studied in college. After reviewing my portfolio, he was confused with my career goal because my portfolio included design work unrelated to my main pursuit, which is project management. Before he critiqued my portfolio, he told me, “I’m going to be very blunt.” I embraced his bluntness with enthusiasm.
After talking to Fitch, I made a list of five things I needed to learn now that I’ve graduated:
1. Find your niche and focus on it
There’s a possibility that you are enrolled in a class where you have to choose between being a Designer or Copywriter. Fast. While many university courses emphasize many areas of advertising, they may not offer the ones which you are truly interested in. Although it is beneficial to acquire some skills in all advertising areas, you want to reach full potential in your field of interest. While core courses give you optional roles, they may not focus on your professional goal.
2. How to construct a portfolio
There was never an exit portfolio review on individual work during my final semester, but there was an exit portfolio review on campaigns that were constructed. There were classes revolved around developing campaigns and real-campaign work, but there were not any classes that focused on constructing a personal portfolio. Things you should be aware of when making a portfolio are:
- The front cover should include your name, phone, number, and/or a personalized motif
- The first page should explain your objective and a brief summary your work
- Your work should provide well-organized visuals and/or text (if your portfolio is printed, make sure all pages are printed and placed in the same direction)
- Portfolios should only include five to six examples of your best work
3. How to network
I was always told, “Don’t be afraid of networking.” Strengthen your connections by requesting informational interviews, asking someone if they know a person who holds a position you are interested in, and exchanging contact information. Do not be afraid to approach someone and start a conversation by saying, “I’m interested in learning more about _” or “If you have any positions opened in _, I’m interested.” Do not forget to thank the person for his or her time and follow-up by saying, “I would like to keep in touch.” Ask if it is okay to connect with the person on LinkedIn, trade business cards, and/or treat the the person to coffee. I’ve asked many people to review my resume and received great advice. Remember, networking is about expanding your connections and creating conversations – it is not necessarily always about landing a job.
4. Read, watch, and listen
Stay book smart and street smart. Read renown advertising books, articles, and blogs. Read subjects that correlate to advertising, such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, etc. This will help you understand demographics and societies on a larger scale. The more information you know, the better equipped you are in the industry. I’d recommend reading case studies of successful companies and campaigns, such as Starbucks and “Got Milk?”, and I’d also recommend watching viral videos. I follow agencies, firms, news about advertising, and news about the world on Twitter so all links are just a click away. Real-time response is crucial and it is important to listen and engage in conversations.
5. Trends and digital skills
Trends are constantly changing. Spend 20-30 minutes everyday learning the latest trends as well as acquiring a digital skills set. Although I learned how to cite and attain trustworthy sources in a research course, I wanted to learn about recent digital analytic skills (Google Analytics, SEO, mobile development, or WordPress) in class – these skills are valuable and can be integrated into future projects, even if you aren’t pursuing a position in Digital. Once you acquire these skills, you just pushed yourself ahead of the game. It will look good on your resume and you will stand out. I highly recommend self-teaching or getting a certification that verifies an advanced digital skills set.
These five compilations are essential in establishing your purpose and goals as a young professional in the advertising industry. I’ve learned about them late in my college career and post-college. Fitch’s networking advice, professional career insights, and critical feedback on my portfolio were helpful. He is disappointed with university structures, but his criticism along with other professionals’ criticism provide important information about what we must do to succeed as a professional. Explore new technologies and advertising areas, but most importantly, focus on your niche and grow from there. Find new projects for fun or for the community when you have the opportunity to build your portfolio. You can make improvements and advancements by investing in yourself, being curious, and learning what you didn’t learn in school.