How to get your portfolio noticed by a boutique ad agency

This year is anything but ordinary. With the advertising job market starting to come back around, Hunt, Gather Account Director Alexis Dorenter, who has been running our hiring process, put together some of the key learnings she’s come across after reviewing over 800 resumes this year. (Thanks, Alexis!)

Throughout my tenure applying for jobs in this industry, I never really considered the intricacies on how to best cater your resume/portfolio when applying for a position at a boutique agency versus a large agency. But after leading up our hiring this past year, I wanted to pass on a few tips and tricks for those specifically looking to land positions at boutique agencies like ours.

When applying at a smaller shop, you’re likely submitting your resume directly to someone on the team other than an HR manager. We don’t use recruitment software and we open and review every single resume and portfolio. We’re not only looking for someone who fits the job description, but someone who’s checked us out, gets what we do and is excited to embrace the challenges and opportunities that come with working at a smaller shop.

We’ve been fortunate enough to grow our team during these unprecedented times and have been making a concerted effort to provide creative feedback on resumes/portfolios to those who ask. Here are some things to consider when applying at a shop like ours: 

  • Quick Apply, but not so quickly. LinkedIn Quick Apply is a great resource for candidates to quickly apply to prospective jobs, but going the extra mile to submit a short cover letter indicating why you’re a fit for this particular position definitely helps you stand out. While cover letters may feel a bit old school, it helps you stand out from all the applicants Quick Apply positions yield. That’s especially true if you’re applying for a position where you may not meet all the qualifications (ex: location, on-paper job experience, you’re overqualified, etc.). Taking a few minutes to explain why you’re qualified helps your cause. Out of the 800 Quick Apply resumes I’ve reviewed this year, less than ten have included a cover letter. I promise, I read them and it does make you stand out.
  • Do a bit of research. The current job market is tough and spending time researching each and every company may sound daunting, but spending a few minutes understanding the agency to make sure they’re doing the type of work that you want to be a part of is important for everyone. Read and digest the job description, browse the case studies on the website, see what the agency is sharing on LinkedIn and Instagram. You don’t need to spend hours researching, but if you do interview, it’s assumed you’re familiar with the work and at minimum are interested in the responsibilities listed in the job description. Bonus points if you can weave how you can contribute to the agency based on the work into your cover letter.
  • PDF…please? This may be one of the biggest differences between applying at a boutique agency and a large agency. We don’t use recruitment software and have a person downloading and reviewing every resume, so keywords are less important. For us, it’s always preferred to review a resume in PDF vs word to ensure your formatting sticks. Triple check that all your links are working properly (make sure your portfolio URL is front and center) and that your email address can be copy and pasted. While this would never deter me from selecting a candidate, it makes things so much easier for the reviewer and it’s appreciated.
  • Save As! Saving your resume with your full name, title of the position and the company you’re applying for may seem like an arbitrary step, but shows that little extra attention to detail. It also makes your resume very easy to search, which you want, right?
  • Make it nice. It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re applying for a position in creative, your resume is our first glimpse into your aesthetic and creative chops. Color, logo and unique typography always help. It’s your calling card, make sure it reflects you.
  • Your book 
    • Make sure I can see it. I can’t say this enough: make sure your portfolio URL is front and center, clickable, working correctly and if there’s a password, you note it directly on your resume. I want to be able to quickly flip your book to my creative directors. It’s surprising how many applicants overlook this really important step.
    • Show us the works. As an agency that specializes in digital, we’re always looking for people who have experience developing full digital journeys from ideation, to banners, to emails, to photoshoots, to websites, to social. While banners and emails may not be the sexiest creative in your book, know that at a small shop, you’ll likely be touching every part of a campaign, so show us.
    • What did you do? It’s important to note the role you played in each campaign: did you oversee it, write it or design it? Depending on the position we’re hiring for, we’ll be looking for specific experience, but also those who are doers and touch multiple aspects of the work.
    • Make it move! Show us some motion! If you’re designing for digital, you’re likely incorporating motion into most of your designs anyway. Motion isn’t just visually eye-catching for your portfolio, it helps bring your work to life. 

Things are picking up out there despite the challenges of 2020. And while the tips we’ve put together might not be what every shop is looking for, they’ll serve you well at smaller agencies like ours and help you jump to the top of the stack. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading your cover letter.

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