Applying for jobs? Read this first

Applying for jobs? Read this firstAdvice from the Trenches

I wanted to share some thoughts and tips about landing a job in digital because it can be an awesome experience but also one that requires quite a bit of preparation to land you that dream job.

I hope you find this useful or at least some food for thought.

Depending on where you work and your role in a digital agency, you might be exposed to cutting-edge technology, all manner of innovations and challenged to think in ways that more conservative businesses don’t tend to adopt.

So what happens when you decide you either want to move agencies or you want to set foot into digital?

Job hunting is an investment. It’s time consuming. It can be emotional and frustrating but can also be hugely rewarding when you find the role for which you’ve been looking and eventually land.

This article is not about developing your career to land you an agency gig. If you’re after something like that, my colleague, Rowan Barnes wrote a great piece on tips to improve your career in digital marketing.

This article is all about your application and your interview.

Let me set the scene. You’ve got the networking down, you’re reading heaps of blogs, and you’ve found a job ad at an agency that you’d give your all to win. So how do you make sure you get the job?

Here are sixteen tips that might help you on your way.

Your application.

1. Read the job advertisement in full.

You might think this is a no-brainer. And it is. But it’s messed up more often than you’d think.

Don’t rush. Read the ad multiple times. Check you haven’t missed anything. Especially if there are specific application instructions that the company has given you.

Ensure you get the basics right. Errors such as not following application instructions become glaringly obvious when your application is compared to other candidates who have followed the instructions.

Take note of language, tone and important words used in the job advertisement. Make sure your application features some of those key words and responds to key phrases. There’s nothing better than seeing an application that clearly demonstrates the person has read the job ad and makes a few strategic hat tips to the original job advertisement in their cover letter.

2. Make your online presence solid.

It’s now common for most companies to Google potential employees. You should expect it when you apply for a digital job. The web is our playground, our library, our hub. So the agency is going to Google you.

Keeping this brief…

  • Make your LinkedIn profile the best version it can be. Get advice if you have to.
  • Check your LinkedIn photo. Don’t use a social photo. Put up something high quality and professional.
  • If you have a website, is it up-to-date and live? Double check that.
  • Is your website designed and built on a platform that is using current technology? Double check that too.
  • If you don’t want your prospective employer to find something on your social media profiles, then hide it.
  • If you have absolutely no online presence and you want to work in digital, consider changing this, fast.

3. Find out who will be receiving your application.

When I first started applying for jobs, it was commonplace to call the company where you were applying, find out whom you address your application to and, all things going well, have a quick chat with them to learn more about the role. At least, that’s what I was taught.

It seems rare now that people pick up the phone to talk about a role before they apply for it. It’s even rarer that someone finds out who to address their application to in the first place.

Please, break the trend.

Find out to whom your application is going. See if you can speak with them to learn more about the role and their expectations. You’ll immediately get a sense of the company, the team and that person will also start to form an impression of you based on the questions you ask. What better way to start the process than with a chat?

Calling someone before you apply also helps you in the interview process. You’ve already started to build rapport with that person. I know from experience that in the lead up to interviewing a candidate in person, I know I’m looking forward to meeting them if I’ve already spoken with them on the phone.

If the thought of calling someone gives you the heebie jeebies, this article gives some good pointers on cold calling about a job. This Forbes piece also has some good points. Make sure you’re genuinely interested to ask these questions and listen to the response — you’ll get a lot out of it that you can then include in your application.

4. Make your application stand out.

I could write a single article just on this point.

Digital agencies are beehives of creativity. We’re thinkers, makers, talkers, doers… there’s too many post-its around the office, there’s a table tennis table and there are gadgets all over the shop. We like it that way.

We don’t like plain boring Word documents.

Do something different with your application. Make us remember you. Whether it’s typographical, design, web development or something tangible — stand out.

You could be like these people… but you don’t have to be. The most important thing about doing something to make yourself stand out, is making sure you remain you. There’s nothing worse than doing something epic only for the company to discover you’re a wallflower. Or perhaps you write in a tone that doesn’t represent you at all. It creates a disconnect for the person interviewing you and it raises alarm bells. Be authentic.

You could say in response to this point that everyone is trying to stand out. I agree. This, brings me to my next point.

5. Go overboard.

Daniel Banik recently shared an article shared by Eric Ravenscraft on The original piece is by Adam Chudy. Adam’s statement is clear yet one we easily forget — ‘the extra mile is never crowded’. So go there: go the extra mile. Yes, it takes more effort and time. It’s also risky and sometimes lonely… but the benefits outweigh the extra sweat, right?

Make your application sharp, accurate, tailored and unique so that someone reviewing it can’t put it down. But don’t stop there. Make the entire experience for the person reviewing your application awesome. This means replying promptly to communication, being assertive and respectful. If you can reply today, instead of tomorrow, then do it. If you can send a handwritten thank you note, instead of a quick email, then do it. Go overboard.

These are some more examples of awesome applications. This isn’t the standard that every agency expects — sometimes a clean and simple application is the way to go. If that’s your approach, then make it all class and give it everything you’ve got.

6. Tailor your application to the role.

If you’re a designer, don’t submit a plain Word doc cover letter. Use colour palettes, typography and all manner of design techniques at your fingertips. Make every element of your application a reflection of your skills. It is reflective of your personal brand after all.

The same thing applies for developers and account managers.

Your application is more than just the words on a page when you’re applying for a job. Especially when you’re applying for a job at a digital agency.

Keep the experience consistent. Your application needs to flow through to your interview. Prospective employers don’t want to hear rehearsed answers. I know they’re helpful when you’re nervous but, if you’re going to use them, make sure they sound natural.

7. Get someone to check it… and then get someone else to check it again.

Typos aren’t fun. They’re like a stone in your shoe. That little niggle that forces you to screw your face up for a moment.

Ask someone to proofread your application. A fresh pair of eyes can pick up on sentence structure and typos quicker than you might after you’ve read your application 100+ times. Plus, having someone else read your application might prevent these kinds of typos too.

8. Do your research (but don’t be weird).

So you’ve read the job advertisement, you’ve tailored your application and you’ve found a little niche to make yourself stand out. You’re on the right track. Awesome.

Research the company you want to work for. Show them you’ve done your homework by finding a way to weave it into your application. But keep a number of things up your sleeve for the interview. The more you can demonstrate that you’ve learnt about the company, the better. The agency you’re applying to work at wants to know that you’ve checked out their social media pages, that you know what they write about and you’re interested in it.

When it comes to research, keep it measured. No one wants to know of a news item they published five years ago that’s buried in the site somewhere. Or that you’ve remembered tweets from the founders and are now reciting them back during the interview with hashtags included.

9. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.

You hit the submit button on the application and it’s now in the hands of the agency that you’re hoping to work at. Woohoo!

Now is not the time to sit and wait.

Follow up.

Contact the person to whom you addressed your application and check to see that they received it. Be respectful and friendly, but don’t overdo it. Take the initiative and go for it.

In the interview.

10. Dress appropriately.

Research the dress code of the agency before you show up for the interview. If you’re applying to work at a digital agency then there is a high probability they’ll be on social media. Find their Instagram feed, check out their Facebook page.

What does the team wear? Do they wear suits? Are you applying for a suit role? This is probably a no-brainer, but I’m going to say it anyway — don’t come to an interview in a suit and tie if that’s not how the agency dresses normally or the role doesn’t require it.

Why? Because it shows that you don’t know the culture, that you haven’t done your homework.

Dress like you, be comfortable, but also be aware of who you are meeting. You can generally wear smart casual attire to an interview at a digital agency and look damn fine. Invest in good shoes, do your hair and nails, and you’ll be rockin’ it.

11. Be memorable.

You’re going to be up against other candidates, so it’s important to be memorable. Being able to quickly engage in small talk while you’re being given a tour, asking questions that show you’ve done your homework and are interested in the team and company create a solid first impression.

If your interview involves more than one member of the team, then being able to hold a conversation with the group right from the start is important. Yes it’s intense, but that’s the point. All those networking articles you’ve been reading just became 100% relevant. Remember your open and closed questions, and be engaging.

So how do you be memorable in the interview without sounding like a fanboy or fangirl who has camped outside the stadium for a week just to book the VIP seats? It’s all about the subtle details.

Asking questions about projects demonstrates that you’re looking at the detail. Asking questions about the company’s culture — maybe a specific event on their Facebook page — also demonstrates that you’re paying attention but not digging too far to be weird.

Another way to be memorable is to do something that people might not be expecting. I once interviewed a candidate who included a website in his application. I figured it was his own portfolio site. Only towards the very end of the interview, when we were talking about his other interests, did he mention that he’d made the website especially for this role. No other candidate did that for the role. And yes, he got the job.

12. Be yourself.

Cliché, we know… but worth pointing out anyway. When you’re in the interview, don’t recite the job ad. The interviewer wants to see you demonstrate that you’ve read the job ad, you know what the agency is looking for, but you are your own person and have qualities and experience to bring to the role that are all yours. Know it well enough that you could explain it to your mum.

How do you do this? Spend some time thinking about the skills and qualities your dream agency is looking for and which ones you already have or need to work on. Describe them in your own words, not the agency’s.

Ultimately, the agency wants to learn about YOU. The interview is the perfect time for the interviewer to get an understanding of who you are and what you’re about. Every detail matters. Remember, the person interviewing you wants you to succeed, they want to discover whether you’re the right person for the role. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in the interview.

13. Be prepared to talk money.

Salaries aren’t always discussed in a first interview, but it’s fairly common for the question to be raised early in the interview process. Be prepared.

You don’t have to be like Alicia Florrick and get stuck into negotiating right away. Have a preferred figure in mind and be open to further discussion. Research industry rates for your role and check you’re in the ballpark. Ask during your interview as well. It’s the best time to test your assumptions in this area.

If you’re looking to step up the ladder, it’s important you’ve got the goods to match your aspirations. Keep in mind that a higher salary may carry a higher expectation from your prospective employer.

14. Ask questions.

Interviewers want questions. Research the role, research the agency and come prepared with questions.

A candidate who asks no questions worries a prospective employer. Why? Because you’re not asking to pop the hood and have a look around at the engine before you buy the car. You’re just saying yes to the salesman’s sale… and that’s never good.

Even if you only have three or four questions, that’s fine. Make them count. I would suggest dividing them up into role, team, culture, and something about either your interviewer or the team interviewing you.

After the interview.

15. Follow up (again).

Remember point 9? Once your interview is over, don’t just sit and wait.

Follow up. Give the interviewer a call, or shoot them an email. Maybe there’s something you forgot to mention in the interview? Or you want to send some additional examples of your work? Or you just want to follow up and say “thanks”.

Hiring managers love it when people follow up. It shows that you care, and that you want it.

16. If you get rejected and the agency offers feedback, take it.

Not all companies offer feedback to unsuccessful candidates, but if they do… take it. It’s the best opportunity to learn and improve your application for the next job you see.

Be humble, be respectful and thank the person for providing that feedback. Those courtesies might sound obvious, but when you’re on the phone to someone who has just rejected you for a job, the pleasantries can be innocently forgotten. How you behave in a difficult situation tells someone a lot about you. Remembering the pleasantries in this situation can help ensure that the person you’re talking to is happy to stay in touch and maybe even recommend you for another role if something crosses their path.

So that wraps up the sixteen tips I wanted to share with you. I hope you’ve found them useful and maybe they’ve given you something to consider for your next job application.

We have pretty strong values at August. In the spirit of living these values, I’m going to be transparent here and say that I look after hiring at the agency. First impressions count. You might be thinking that the examples I’ve included in this article represent the standard we expect. To that, I’ll say this: stand out, show me your best self.

Whether you’re applying for one of our jobs, another job in the industry or you’ve just found these tips useful, I hope that your next application rocks.

If you’d like to add some extra tips or comment on the ones I’ve suggested, feel free to, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

This article was originally published on the August blog and has been republished here with the author’s permission.

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HR + comms manager at August, an independent digital practice based in Melbourne, Australia. Monash University JD student, known to indulge in a trail run or two. You can follow Sarah on Medium or Twitter

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