How to break into advertising

We speak to people in industries that seem impossible to get into to find out how they did it. First up: advertising.


Hollie and Rheana both work in advertising. Hollie is a Group Account Director who has worked in the industry for 10 years. Rheana is an Account Executive and City alumna (Psychology, 2016).

After graduating, Rheana met Hollie Alexander through a contact made at an alumni networking event. They met for coffee and after completing work experience at the agency, Rheana was offered a full time position.

Rheana and Hollie share their tips on finding a job in advertising.

Take your time to work out what you want to do

“When I graduated, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Hollie said. “I studied psychology at York, but didn’t want to pursue it as a career. Instead I found a temporary job which gave me the chance to do lots of work placements. This really helped me to work out what I wanted to do and I narrowed it down to advertising.”

Get a professional mentor

“I would really recommend the mentoring scheme to all City students,” Rheana said. “My mentor gave me loads of great advice, encouraged me to find work experience and helped me to work out what I wanted to do.”

Get your foot in the door

It can be hard work to gain work experience when you don’t have any experience to begin with. The key, Hollie says, is to be proactive, persevere and make use of any networking opportunities you can.

“I got my first few internships by doing my research, finding the right person to approach and then emailing them out of the blue,” Hollie says. “Once you’ve made one connection, it’s a lot easier to get other roles and hear about other opportunities.”

Making contacts and networking is really important. “Make use of any contacts you have — for example, if you’re unsuccessful with a particular role, see if that person can introduce you to someone else.”

Do your research

“I started following the industry press, read a lot and basically just googled the hell out of it!” Hollie says. “Through my research I found out that grad schemes are a great place to start your career. The IPA and AdMission are two websites I used to find opportunities in advertising.”

It’s a good idea to understand which aspect of advertising you are interested in. There are three main areas:

  • Account Handling — the team that manage relationships with the clients
  • Creative — the people that come up with the ideas for the advertising campaigns
  • Strategists — the brains behind the campaigns who draw up the briefs for the Creative teams

Hollie works in Account Handling. “To use an analogy, I see myself as a sort of Maitre D,” she says. “While things are going crazy in the kitchen, my job is to keep the customers happy.”

Make use of transferable skills

When Hollie applied for her grad scheme, she only had a few short internships under her belt. So in her cover letter she made use of skills she’d developed through her temporary job. “Skills like communicating with people, confidence on the phone and prioritising workloads, are all things I knew recruiters would be looking for.”

Make yourself stand out

Find a way to show off your creativity. “For example, I recently received some beautifully designed CVs and business cards at a careers fair. Even if it’s just writing an opening statement on your CV that doesn’t sound like everyone else — you need to find a way to make your application unique.”

Be specific. “Make it clear why you want to get into advertising, and specifically why you want to work for that agency. You can find out a lot about an agency, their recent projects and the company ethos by visiting their social feeds and website.”

Network, network network

“Advertising is a people industry and networking is really important,” Hollie says. “Advertising role aren’t always advertised, so the key is to get to know people in the industry and make them want to work with you.”

Make use of your contacts, and if you don’t have any? Make them. “Do your research to identify the right person at the agency and then ask to take them for a coffee. Send them an enthusiastic and well-written email that makes the person you’re sending it to want to meet you. When you meet them face to face, they’ll be looking for someone who is a people person, who brings something new to the table. If you can’t sell yourself, how will you sell an ad?”

Don’t give up…

…it’s a great industry to work in. “It’s so fast-paced and there’s always something fun going on. Plus, you get to spend time with different types of people you may not cross paths with in normal life.” Rheana says. “I didn’t wanted a job where I wake up in the morning and feel dread — I never get that with advertising.”

“We get hundreds of emails, but if it’s a well-written, well thought-through application I will get back to you… eventually!” Hollies says. “If you don’t hear back within two weeks, follow up. And don’t take it personally if you get rejected, keep going and keep applying.”