Featured In: Forbes | 6 Tips For A Recent Graduate's First Year At An Agency

May 3, 2018

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

6 Tips For A Recent Graduate's First Year At An Agency

By Kelly Ehlers

The secret’s out: Growth in the professional world looks different today than it did for the parents of millennials and Gen Z. The agency landscape is changing and offering opportunities that didn’t even exist for previous generations. As agencies grow, their talent grows along with them in both numbers and capabilities — and often at a fast pace. While company culture and capabilities continue to evolve, the same timeless principles I learned during my first year in the industry continue to help me today. As you enter the agency workforce, keep these tips in mind for a strong start to your first year.

Stay Nimble

During your first year you will learn foundational skills that can prepare you for multiple roles, maybe even a few that aren’t yet on your radar. The advertising and marketing industries require flexibility, whether you’re an entry-level employee or an executive. I learned to expect the unexpected, stay open-minded and identify opportunities in paradigm shifts. Launching my digital marketing agency in 2009, well before social media platforms had millions of users, meant a lot of on-the-job learning and strategic pivots. It also meant being among the first to offer clients innovative services that solved pain points. Staying nimble has helped me year after year to scale my agency and offer new services I couldn’t have imagined offering years before. Take the chance to flex new skills and discover your potential. Remember, you were hired because someone recognized not just what you’ve done but what you can do.

Learn The Rules Of The Game

Your first role at an agency will likely take some adjusting to the realities of the job market you’re entering, from hours worked to pay, during your first year. Try proactively connecting with a trusted colleague or a supervisor to gain a better understanding of workplace expectations and a clear vision of both your current role and prospective roles in the company. At my agency, former interns have worked through the ranks and joined our senior leadership team in less time than it took to earn their college degrees — but it did take showing up and giving their all, day after day.

Practice Patience

During your first year at an agency, it’ll feel like you’re working at lightning speed. Don’t make the mistake of rushing through the lessons that your earliest experiences will teach you. Take stock of each setback, learn from mistakes and enjoy the little milestones along the way. Looking back on my career, it wasn’t always easy for me to be patient and start at the bottom when my visions were so far beyond some of the tasks I had to do in my first year (… or second or third.) But those foundational moments were necessary to build the career I have today. By practicing patience at the start of my career, I was better prepared to manage my resources with each role’s increasing demands.

Step Up

Be open to new challenges. Don’t hesitate to reply to that email asking for support on a small project. You never know if it’ll grow into a bigger opportunity! As you take on new opportunities, listen to feedback on what you bring to the work experience (maybe it’s an eye for efficiency or a positive attitude that keeps the team motivated) and take note. Chances are your supervisor will notice, too. Being a self-starter who can solve problems independently is very valuable in an agency environment. But don’t be afraid to let someone know if you’re stuck. A close working relationship with a peer can help. I established a mentorship program at my agency that connects entry-level employees with experienced team members. In college, your successes and shortcomings impacted your GPA. At an agency, both the client and your team are counting on you. Soft skills, self-awareness and emotional intelligence are often enhanced by on-the-job experience, and following the lead of a colleague you admire is a good starting point.

You Are Your Biggest Competition

Creative spaces thrive within a culture of collaboration, not competition. A healthy sense of competition may motivate you, but your focus should be serving clients -- not yourself. Instead of getting distracted comparing yourself to your colleagues, focus on your strengths. Challenging yourself to continually meet and raise your own standards is much more impressive than outperforming a colleague. Keep in mind that hiring managers are not looking for one cookie-cutter candidate. If your talents and experiences don’t look like those of others in your department, consider it intentional. In fact, you can use those differences to support each other on campaigns. I see this all the time during monthly brainstorming sessions that bring together our creative and strategy teams. Whether you’re a big-picture creative conceptualizer, a detail-oriented analyzer or somewhere in-between, leveraging your strengths to complement the team is always a win.

Set Yourself Up For Success

You owe it to yourself to set and follow-up on professional goals. Whether the company’s infrastructure requires this or not, try to assess your performance about once a quarter. In a few months, you may learn completely new skills that raise the bar for your next round of goals. If you’re struggling with an issue over and over, ask your supervisor how to make a positive change. It might seem counterintuitive to point out an issue that seems to have gone unnoticed, but your boss may be well aware and simply waiting for you to take initiative. There are different types of management styles and you’ll learn which ones bring out the best in your work. When you're doing your best work, the company is doing its best.

Your first job will set the tone for your career. Make the most of it with these tips.

View the full Forbes article here.