How I Got A Job In Advertising

How I got a graduate junior job in advertising

I’m well aware that the title of this post makes me sound like I think I’m some sort of fully fledged career expert, about to post opinion pieces on LinkedIn and slag off the latest viral ad. My bad.

As some of you may know, I work in advertising as a junior Art Director at TBWA – which basically means I work with my copywriter to come up with campaigns and then spend the rest of my time praying the ideas don’t get ripped apart by the ECDs. Good times.

I’ve been in the industry ‘properly’ for 6 months now (see my post from when I first got my job here), but I did almost 18 months on the placement circuit before that. I’m not claiming to be an expert in advertising, I just know from experience that it’s really bleedin’ hard as an inexperienced graduate and it’s also really bleedin’ impossible to find advice from anyone who’s been through the process recently who isn’t your mate and therefore a ‘lil bit bias.

Placement life is hard. Let’s just establish that.

Like most creative industries, advertising usually requires a year or two experience before you can secure a job. And also like most creative industries, said experience is often unpaid or expenses only.

I managed the 18 months I did thanks to my parents, my boyfriend who I could live with and some sort of stubborn determination that it would all be worth it. My copywriter managed the 18 months we did by selling his possessions and pretty much living on trains, so y’know, two sides of the spectrum and all that.

Now life story aside, I guess you’re here because you want to know how I got a job in advertising because, duh, that’s what I titled the bloody post.

And I guess it’s hard to pinpoint a ‘beginning’, so I’ll start with uni.

I went to uni and spent three years studying advertising. Here I learnt what to do, what not to do, who’s advice you should listen to and who’s you definitely should not. I came up with terrible ideas, I went through scrapbook after scrapbook and spent a fortune at the print shop. I made mistakes, lots of ’em (my ad was in fact the longest standing on the wall of shame). But I also did things I was proud of, projects I’m still proud of now.

You don’t have to go to uni to work in advertising, but if you do choose to study it, make the most of it. Don’t be scared of mistakes. Don’t be disheartened if your tutor doesn’t like your work. That’ll happen a lot until it happens less often. Keep trying. Keep writing and drawing and brainstorming.

After uni I began a placement in the company I now work for full time. Me & my copywriter were there for three weeks. We ate toast, lots of it, showed our book to anyone who would listen. Pestered traffic for more briefs. Made friends with the caretakers. Placements are usually unpaid so you have to get what you can from them. Get opinions on your work, on the industry, on life. Soak it all in. It goes fast. Make it worth your time.

Make contacts. Then get their contacts.

After placement 1 we went on to another placement. Here we learnt a lot about ourselves and the kind of place we wanted to work.

We did some freelance online stuff. I did a stint in M&S’s cafe. Worked on the book in my spare time. Here I learnt three things.

  1. Every cafe has a smelly regular. Don’t be that person.
  2. Pot washing is still the worst task in existence.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with having a career detour to support yourself.


Fast forward to placement number 3, where we stayed for 7 months. We got to work on tons of different accounts, made friends, partied, got work made. It was fun. We got a 4th placement. And a few weeks into that, we got the call to say we had the job at TBWA.

I’m aware I’ve made that process sound like a doddle. It wasn’t. There were late nights, squabbles, tough decisions. There were times we had no money, when a £3 meal deal felt like a treat, when we were grateful for free tea and coffee in the office.

It was hard. We sought advice from everyone who’d give it to us. There’s a reason seniors are seniors. Find out their opinions, ask for their help. Find a mentor. Decide who you’re going to listen to.

And the most important thing? Keep going.  We were so close to quitting when we got our job offer. So close to believing we’d never make it.

Keep going.