So you’ve just graduated college and landed your first full-time gig at an ad agency. You are probably filled with motivation, drive, and excitement. You can’t wait to get down to business—designing brand identities from the ground up, writing taglines, concepting campaigns … it’s all finally within reach. But it’s not always easy to find your place.
Your first years at an ad agency are a whirlwind of new experiences: learning new practices and skills, adjusting to a new 9-5 lifestyle and forming new relationships. As I finish up my second year at Superhuman, I’m reflecting on the three most important things that I’ve learned along the way.
1. Make Yourself Essential
Chances are, your first years of your advertising career may not be entirely spent working on the biggest, most exciting projects. You may end up handling a lot of “grunt” work, whether that means copy editing websites, constructing PR boxes, formatting documents, or building PowerPoint presentations. While this work might not be the most glamourous, doing it—and doing it well—makes you an invaluable asset to your company. Building this reputation for yourself as a hard worker and a trustworthy employee will set you up for success, leading to opportunities for more high-level work in the future. Plus, all those technical skills never stop coming in handy. Advertising isn’t just coming up with big ideas 24/7.
2. Mistakes Happen. It’s How You Handle Them That Matters.
In the advertising world, there’s a massive network of people relying on each and every team member to work hard, support the agency, and produce results. For me, this realization hit hard. Unlike in school, where a skipped class or missed deadline just means an unimpressed teacher, in the professional world, your mess-ups affect your teammates and your agency’s reputation. But the answer to this challenge isn’t to curl up in a ball and take zero risks. You have to put yourself out there to succeed.
What’s most important to know is that when mistakes do happen, you will likely be supported by your bosses and mentors. While they can step in and help out, your job is to own up to your actions and accept any advice or consequences. While you can’t go back in time, you can take measures to show that you understand your responsibilities, that you’ve learned from your mistakes, and that you are working to improve in the future.
3. Work With, Not Against, Your Co-Workers
Ad school can feel competitive. Getting the highest grade on a project or even applying for internships can feel like a massive competition between yourself and your peers. And while that competitive spirit can help push you to do your best in college, it can be detrimental when entering the workforce.
It’s important to remember that your co-workers are not your competition. You are on the same team, and you are all working towards the same goal. Your co-workers want you to succeed. They are your biggest support system. And while it may not feel great to receive negative feedback or to ask for help, remember that your team is your most precious commodity. Your co-workers are your guides, mentors, sages and friends. Take advantage of their experience and knowledge. Work with them, not against them.
Every Path is Different
In my first years as a full-time graphic designer, I’ve learned so many things that can’t be taught in the classroom. And while the transition from student to employee can be difficult at times, I have quickly become a better communicator, creative thinker and overall designer. This is my experience, but everyone learns different lessons along the way. Feel free to chime in and share your unique experiences. Being honest about these ups-and-downs can help us all learn more together.
Illustration by Sandy Meirovitz