The 6-step cure for senioritis

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A former creative director and associate professor of advertising design shares strategies to shake off the doubt and land that first job.

At this time of the year, my students start looking for a job. It’s when the pituitary-adrenal part of their brains starts to kick in. Insecurity, doubt, and second-guessing plague our college hallways. If seniors would adhere to the following regimen, they would soon recover:

Ditch the gimmicks
First, I want to disabuse students from thinking that they should come up with some gimmick to capture a creative director’s attention—one sent a fortune cookie with a tiny resume inside. (The portfolio sucked.) These stratagems are corny. It’s axiomatic that the more time spent on a gimmick, the worse the portfolio.

Don’t email-blast creative directors
Another mistake is to do an email blast based on a list culled from a directory. Blindly asking for an interview with a creative director doesn’t work. They’re inundated with student inquiries all the time. I used to get 30 a week. Rather, try sending emails requesting an informal meeting to associate creative directors. They aren’t flooded with them, and like most creatives, they’re egocentric and crave attention. Make sure you know their work and compliment them on it. If they like you and your portfolio, they’ll bring it up to the creative directors above them. 

Never ask for a job
Once you land an informational meeting, make sure you don’t inquire about a job. Asking for employment puts pressure on the people who meet with you. It makes them feel uncomfortable (especially if they don’t have a position available). They know why you’re contacting them. If they’re interested in you, they’ll talk about hiring you. Usually, they don’t have a job available at that moment, but they might have one within a couple of months.

Ask for three contacts
Have a list of the agencies that interest you. At the end of your meeting, show your list and ask if they know anyone on it and if they could refer you. Try to get at least three contacts. Then when you see those three connections get another three from each of them. Now your interviews will become exponential. The more people you interview, the sooner you will get a job.

Stay in touch, but don’t pester
Some candidates feel that they’ll be too intrusive by trying to keep in touch with a creative director. The way around this is to keep reminding them with the following three different approaches: email, call, send a letter ... repeat. It is important that you do each of these a month apart. Now, you're always in touch without being a nuisance.

Be wary of recruiters
Recruiters like to troll for candidates by placing positions on LinkedIn. These jobs don’t exist and are used to lure you into their fold. They claim the positions were filled but they would like to know you better just in case something comes up. Then they will try to drop your salary or your freelance rate down. They assert that you don’t know what the going rate is. Recruiters already have established the budget with their clients, so the lower they can get yours down, the more money they will make. 

Most students wish they could only send out an email blast and get an interview quickly and land a job. It doesn’t work that way. You must network. The only way to network is to get interviews and references for other contacts. The more you network the closer you are to getting a job. It’s that simple. Good luck and take two aspirin.

—Tom McManus, a former creative director at Young & Rubicam and TBWA\Chiat\Day, is an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the Advertising Design department.