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Advertising Industry Application Guide


If you’re looking for a job that is fast-paced, highly creative, and involves lots of suits and cigarettes (okay maybe that’s just in Mad Men) than advertising is right for you. Advertising agencies are problem solvers. They come up with the how and why of consumer spending. Who is the target audience? What is a products story? How can we sell it? No two campaigns are exactly alike. In much the same vein no two days at an advertising office are exactly the same either. Monday you could be working on TV commercial for Chrysler, Tuesday you could be brainstorming tweets and images for an Oreo campaign. And this is what makes the industry both challenging and rewarding.

Advertising agencies are generally split up into 6 different departments:

  • Accounts — This department manages clients and helps the creative department create campaigns tailored to the needs of each company. These are the extroverts who enjoy building relationships with clients and seeing campaigns through to the end.
  • Account Planners — This department is in charge of researching and aggregating data to better understand how to reach target audiences. These are the numbers people, those comfortable working alone who enjoy turning data into actionable tools.
  • Media — The media department consists of planners and buyers that purchase space to run campaigns. This department is for those who enjoy staying up to date on magazines, newspapers, TV, and websites and are able to assess which outlets fit which campaigns.
  • Creative — The creative department includes the copywriters, art directors, and production artists, the people in charge of writing and designing campaigns. This department is best for artistic/innovative people who can continually look at old problems and think of new ways to fix them. Or look at new problems and find old ways to fix them. The bottom line is that this department has to create ideas, and then sell them to clients, it is one the most difficult yet rewarding jobs
  • Production — The production department consists of the people in charge of making the idea for a campaign a reality. They take the concept from the creative department and then put it into action, getting photographers, typographers, directors, and printers to all make the campaign on a budget.

All of these departments work together to flesh out the client’s needs, turn them into innovative campaigns, and then direct these campaigns at target audiences. It isn’t easy, but seeing your campaign on TV or in a magazine is instant recognition that the work that you do is having a legitimate impact on your client’s business.

High School

During High School it is a good idea to take classes that pertain to each of the above departments. Taking art, accounting, media production, and design will give you an idea of where your strengths and interests lie. If your school doesn’t offer these courses consider taking an online class to brush up on the basics. Although not every class will directly relate to the department you end up in it will help you understand the overall trajectory of the company when you know a little about each part.


Work on the Newspaper/Yearbook

If you can fit in the time to work on your student newspaper or yearbook you should do it. Not only with you gain experience in proofreading and copy-editing, but you’ll have something to put on your resume before you start applying to internships.

Know Analytics

If you think that your work in creative has nothing to do with analytics, think again. No matter what department you end up in you’ll need to defend your work to either clients or the other departments, and the biggest tool you have to do that with is data.


Hone Your Specialty

Hopefully you got a feel for where you want to go in advertising. Now is the time to hone your craft. Major in marketing, business development, design, or accounting. Take classes that crossover to the other departments (e.g. art, economics, business) if you have extra credits to fill. Advertising is a multi-faceted business the best thing you can do is excel at the specific field you have your eye on, then branch out and get a feel for the rest of the business.

Get an Advertising Internship

Advertising internships cross over with marketing, PR, and business development and are an excellent way to break into the industry. Advertising internships can vary from editorial positions at magazines to data analyses at corporations. Regardless of the position you take having real-life experience will help you find a full-time job down the road.


If you are comfortable with the work that you’re doing in art/graphic design etc. consider freelancing. You can set your own rates, and you’ll get the opportunity to work with many different companies. Freelance work is also a good way to beef up your resume.

Make a Portfolio

If you want to be in creative you’ll need a portfolio of work to show what you can do. For those going into art, getting a series of paintings, drawings, and even graphic design work is important to show potential employers the versatility of what you can do. For writers, compiling your published (or unpublished) work in a comprehensive format is crucial to proving your ability to write good copy.

Build Relationships


Building relationships with professors and TA’s is important not only for their recommendations (if you end up needing them) but also for their networks. Go to office hours, take them to lunch (if this is appropriate) or simply speak up in class. When they can recognize your name they will be more apt to help you in your job search later on. As a bonus, the professors and TAs in your core classes probably have experience applying to advertising/marketing/PR jobs and will be able to give you tips on how to apply or even hook you up with a reputable referral.



Tap Your Network

When you’re ready to apply for a job in advertising you should go back and talk to anyone you know who has experience in the business. Teachers, family friends, and people who worked or interned with will all be helpful resources in referring you to companies or giving you tips on your application. If you ‘re in a club, on a sports team, or part of a fraternity/sorority see if any of the alumni from those organizations work in advertising. Check Facebook and LinkedIn for possible alumni groups you can be a part of then post a message asking if anyone has leads.

Study Up on the Company

Know the companies you’re applying for, the campaigns they’ve done, and successes they’ve had. In advertising it is especially important to know the ins and outs of the different agencies. Be able to talk in depth about why you want to work there as opposed to somewhere else.

Dress the Part

As with any interview it is important to dress conservatively, however, in advertising it is good to get slightly creative to show your personality. An interesting tie or scarf will make you stand out and leave a lasting impression, although it isn’t in anyway required. The most important thing to remember is that you want your appearance to show your personality, so if you aren’t comfortable dressing creatively, don’t sweat it.

Update your Resume and Portfolio

Make sure your resume and portfolio show all your most recent work, you want to be able to show a range of abilities and display new and innovative designs. In the design/creative field it is not only appropriate but also recommended to link to an online portfolio on a site like Dribbble, Behance or CarbonMade (or your own personal site) either in your resume or cover letter. Oftentimes, recruiters will only look briefly at your resume, and it will be your project-based work that shows your true mettle and fit for the field.


Clean Up Your Social Media

Advertisers are up on their social media. Don’t take a chance by leaving inappropriate pictures on your profiles; the worst thing is to get passed over for a job because you looked irresponsible in your profile picture

Reading List

  • Ogilvy on Advertising—David Ogilvy
  • Things I have Learned in My Life So Far—Stefan Sagmeister
  • Thinking Fast and Slow—Daniel Kahneman
  • Where Good Ideas Come From—Steven Johns
  • Positioning, The Battle for Your Mind—Al Ries and Jack Trout



Advertising is a field for people who don’t like monotony, who want continual challenge and innovation, and are able to take on a variety of different tasks. Although the field can be challenging to break into, with the right resume, portfolio, and network you will have no problem landing the job of your dreams in the advertising industry!