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Some advice for the kids

June 18, 2012 at 9:40am by Guest Author

Each year I return to Sheridan College where I completed a 1 year post-graduate certificate in Marketing Management to speak to the advertising class in what was my former program. And each year, the students invariably perk up during the portion of my talk where I focus on job hunting. With another job season over, and having met with several eager job hunters making several of the mistakes I ask the students to watch out for, I thought I would share this portion of my presentation as a blog post.

But before we continue, a disclaimer: this advice is not gospel. It is my opinion alone, and describes what I look for when hiring someone. I know I’m not alone in these beliefs, but I’m sure they aren’t universal. In fact, if you disagree or have questions, please join the discussion in the comments section below.

Oh, and if you’re a creative, stop reading now and get to work on your portfolio. Have a portfolio and didn’t get a job/internship? Work harder on your portfolio; ask some people in advertising to rip it apart, and then get back to work. Repeat this process until your portfolio looks nothing like it did the first time you were proud to show it. For the rest of you…

The Résumé

This should go without saying, but having a grammatical or spelling error on your résumé or cover letter is simply inexcusable. If I find an error, your résumé goes in the garbage. If I find an error AND you’ve listed “attention to detail” as one of your skills, I will make fun of you to my colleagues and then throw it in the garbage. Sure, not everyone cares, but it is definitely not worth the risk.

When writing your résumé, be thorough but more importantly be concise! When your audience is someone scanning hundreds of them, less is definitely more.

Don’t include any more than 3 jobs unless they are all extremely relevant. All you’re doing by including your summer stint at Dairy Queen in 2009 is adding unnecessary length.

Résumés are all typically very similar; they all sound and look the same, especially at the entry level. So stand out by telling us about yourself. What are you in to? How do you spend your free time? Don’t be too conservative, maybe even take a risk or two, you never know what’s going to pique the interest of the person on the other end.

Take it easy on the hyperbole. Listen, I get it, you’re well educated. You’re a smart person. You’ve been kicking ass for years. But you are still an inexperienced advertising wannabe in my eyes and no amount of self-congratulatory language is going to change that. Unless of course you really and truly are an exceptional public speaker, with exemplary organizational skills and an outstanding aptitude for team leadership, then by all means say so.

Email (aka the new cover letter)

People often forget that unless you know someone personally, your first contact with an agency is going to be your introductory email. So when you’re writing it, remember that THIS is your first impression. Not your cover letter. Not your résumé. So don’t kill yourself writing the perfect résumé and cover letter and then spend 2 minutes on the submission email. Take your time. Write it, check it for spelling and grammatical errors, read it out loud, show it to someone else, and then send it.

The same goes for when you do get a response. Don’t blindly email back in your moment of excitement. It’s okay to take your time, think about your response and again, check it over for spelling and grammatical errors. After you respond it’s okay to follow up, once, about a week later.

The Interview

I firmly believe that (especially at the entry level) it doesn’t matter what you say in the interview, but how you say it. As I mentioned before, the person interviewing you is aware that you don’t know everything there is to know about advertising. What they’re looking for is someone that seems eager, intelligent and would be enjoyable to work with. So focus on sounding like someone that genuinely cares about getting the job and if you don’t know something, it’s okay to say so. Better that than ramble on for 2 minutes about absolutely nothing (this happens more often than you’d think, and not just at the entry level).


Ryan O'Hagan


By: Elizabeth Hibbert
At: 10:50am | June 18, 2012

Great write- up and so beneficial for those starting out to know.
A lot of this is common sense but as you mentioned, even senior level people tend to make these mistakes (unnecessary rambling when the answer is not known). People can read through that so it's better to say you do not know but will find out. People appreciate that more.

By: Lorrie Zwer
At: 11:29am | June 18, 2012

Well said, Ryan!

By: Ryan O'Hagan
At: 11:36am | June 18, 2012

Thanks Elizabeth, I agree, rambling and not treating email like it's a part of the interview are the two most consistent mistakes I see people make at every level.

By: Niki
At: 11:56am | June 18, 2012

Also - take out "proficiency with Outlook, Word, Powerpoint, and Excel" from your resume. To me, that's like a doctor saying "proficient with a stethoscope". No duh, we all use email.

By: Niki
At: 11:56am | June 18, 2012

Also - take out "proficiency with Outlook, Word, Powerpoint, and Excel" from your resume. To me, that's like a doctor saying "proficient with a stethoscope". No duh, we all use email.

By: Kevin Simard
At: 14:48pm | June 18, 2012

Ryan, some great advise that I wish I had before I began my job search.

Niki, you would be surprised at how many people don't know how to use those programs. At the end of third year a quarter of my class only knew how to use basic features in Word, Excel, and Power Point.

By: Samantha
At: 17:12pm | September 24, 2012

Ryan, love your advice.

I'm a fourth year student about to graduate with a degree in Creative Advertising and I'm looking for an internship as an Accounts person. I have zero relevant work experience as I've spent my summers backpacking & bar tending. How do I prove that I've got what it takes?

Creatives have their portfolios. It's so straightforward "Here's my work. Here's proof that I'm awesome."

But as an aspiring accounts person you can't really demonstrate you have the necessary skills through a portfolio.

Not sure how to set up my Resume.

I know I'm a people person, and I know I'd be great at the job. Resumes just seem so cheesy. They don't do me any justice.

Any advice?

By: Nancy Trudrew
At: 22:03pm | October 29, 2013

Sorry for my french, but I think it's a narrow thinking. Canada is multicultural and multinational country. A lot of creative people live here not long enough to speak and write perfectly in English. You are losing opportunity to meet extraordinary people, who speak 5 - 6 languages, who have been in different countries, just because their language skills are not as perfect as yours. OK I am sitting here trying to find mistakes in my writing. No ass licking today!

By: Kaitlynn Roberts
At: 20:41pm | November 30, 2013

Great advise Ryan! I'm currently starting the hunt for an internship myself, so those are some great tips to live by.

I do have a question for you though. I'd like to start applying for a creative internship within the next few weeks, but I haven't quite yet finished my book (although it will probably never be finished). Is your book extremely important to have prepared and finished for an internship interview? How does John st. typically choose a creative intern?

Thanks Ryan, any advise would be appreciated!

By: Emily Fraccaro
At: 16:54pm | October 17, 2016

Very reassuring Ryan. Especially since I spend (from what I think) way too much time on the e-mail itself, and I am one to ramble so need to be more to-the-point!


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On the blog of john you’ll find short articles written by our people. It will include thoughts and opinions on advertising, brand strategy, planning, digital, social media, design, careers, pop culture and relevant trends.