CAREER DEVELOPMENT / MAR. 22, 2014
version 13, draft 13

How I Got a Job in Advertising Without a Qualification

Fancy a career in the exciting world of advertising? Maybe you’ve watched one too many episodes of The Crazy Ones or Mad Men, and now you’re fixated on getting into this sought-after creative industry. There’s just one problem: you don’t have any kind of advertising qualification. Well, neither did I, but I managed to land myself a copywriter position at a leading agency with one simple e-mail.

Without...

  • Any advertising agency experience
  • A contact in the company
  • Applying for the job

Now if you know ad agencies at all, you’ll know that most of them have a high expectation of the type of staff they hire. Especially when it comes to where they’ve studied and how much experience they’ve got. That’s not to say that the company that hired me didn’t have these views; I was just in the right place at the right time. If you really want to follow your dream career and make it happen, you need to get out of your comfort zone and do a cold call. Even if you're quaking in your boots a little (or a lot like I was!).

Here’s what I did to land a dream career as a copywriter without experience or a qualification, and what could work for you too... 

1. Scour the internet

In this digital modern age, we literally have the world at our fingertips. The first thing I did was look at different job sites to find copywriter positions to apply for. There were none. But I didn’t give up. Instead I did a couple of searches to find companies that would hire copywriters. One of them was an advertising agency. So I looked for advertising agencies near to where I lived. That’s your first step: look for companies you’d want to work at. 

2. Use social media to your advantage

I realised long ago that applying anywhere for the sake of having a job was a no win situation. So I spent a good amount of time reading through these companies and seeing how long they’d been around, what their company culture was like, etc. I even checked out the Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of some of the people working there. Employers will look at all your profiles before bringing you in for an interview, so you should do the same.

3. Send the HR manager an e-mail

When I’d narrowed down my list to about three or four companies, I e-mailed the HR manager a copy of my CV. But I didn’t just attach it, click away, and hope for the best. Companies get hundreds of e-mails every day; I didn’t want mine getting ignored or, worse – deleted. So I some took time to read up on the most attention-grabbing subject lines and interesting cover letter layouts. This was my e-mail subject line…

"Copywriter to join your team"

Next, I went about writing my cover letter that would be in the actual e-mail message. Don’t bother attaching a separate cover letter because it's a waste of time - you want to get the reader's attention straight away.  Keep it short, relevant, and to the point. And most importantly, you need to give them a reason to want to hire you, since you’re not applying for an advertised job.

4. Write the cover letter

My cover letter was just under 300 words and five paragraphs long. It covered everything, without waffling on. Here’s a quick breakdown of what I included...

  • Paragraph 1: I introduced myself, explained that I was a freelance writer, and let them know how impressed I was with their company and website. It’s important to include one or two specifics here.
  • Paragraph 2: Next, I asked for a meeting to discuss copywriting requirements and also briefly explained my goal for the next year. (Working hard for a creative company, broadening experience, etc.)
  • Paragraph 3: I gave a brief rundown of my previous work history. Even if you have no experience or qualifications, I find that employers love it when you’re able to show how adaptable you are in different environments. Job hopping in my early career played in my favour here.
  • Paragraph 4: Mention one or two things that make you stand out. Focus on your strengths and winning qualities. I highlighted how entering a competition for a 3-month internship had turned into a permanent freelance job.
  • Paragraph 5: I acknowledged that the company might not be hiring at that moment, but that I was hungry for the opportunity, and that I just had to take the chance and e-mail them. Close by saying that you look forward to joining their team and hearing from them.

5. Attach your CV

Once an employer opens your CV in a cold call e-mail, you’re halfway to the interview. It means that your cover letter has done the job, so you definitely don’t want to lose them with a boring CV! Keep it short, two pages if possible. If they want to know more, they’ll save it for a phone call or the interview. You’ve got to make your CV stand out here, so add a good professional photo of yourself, and your social media links on the side (they’re going to look anyway). Start with your most relevant experience that relates in some way to the job you want, and then list your previous jobs. Keep education and skills for the bottom, and always make sure that all your contact information (phone and e-mail) is clearly displayed.

6. Rock the interview

Out of the five cold call CVs I sent out, I got three replies back. One of them was an interview confirmation for the next day. Now interviews are scary in general, but when you’re not replying to a job advert, they’re terrifying. If you get to this stage, know this: they’re already pretty keen on you, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken time out of their busy day to see you. So don’t feel too nervous, but you’ve still got to impress the hell out of them. Dress the part, take a spare copy of your CV (even in this day and age some interviewers like to see how prepared you are), and rock the interview!

So there you have it; proof that you don’t need a qualification or experience to land the job of your dreams. Just sheer determination, and something within your work ability that sets you apart. I worked at this agency for five months until the copywriter on maternity leave decided to return. This wasn't ideal for me, but the experience I gained while working there was phenomenal. When you put your mind to something, you’ll be surprised by just how far you can go. If an introvert like me can do it, then so can you! 

Image source credit: Alan Levine via Flickr

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