Confessions of Don Draper's Intern

Confessions of Don Draper’s Intern

Happy #WellTailoredWednesday! I was fortunate enough to spend three months this summer working at a global advertising agency in the heart of New York City. My experience was definitely more than I had imagined it to be and I made some friends, professional contacts, and memories. Most of all, I learned A LOT!

 

Here are my 5 tips if you want to start a career in advertising:

1. Organize Yo’self Before You Wreck Yo’self

At any given day, I was Cc’d on about 30+ emails. And I was just an intern. If you really want to be great at your work, organization is crucial. Arrange your email threads into folders depending on the project, have Post-It notes on your desk and make to-do lists, carry a notepad with you all the time, set calendar reminders on your phone, etc. What ever system you may have to keep yourself on top of things, use it and use it religiously. Here are some online tools to help you stay organized that you may want to check out!

2. You Need to Get Coffee Before You Can Pop Bottles

I found that in my experience as an intern, no job is too small. Your primary job is to help your boss and team with their work so that they can best service the client. So what ever they ask you to do, whether it’s to make copies of long PowerPoint decks or to get coffee for an incoming client, you should do it with a smile, as cliché as that may sound. Keep being perfect with the menial tasks and soon your boss will trust you with more important work . Even the smallest jobs matter and if Brian Williams started his career doing them, so can you. Personally, getting coffee makes me nervous—I fear messing up a drink that a lot of people rely on to start off their day!

3. Don’t Try To Get a Job, Make The Job Yours

Though this advice may sound contradictory, hear me out. I’ve noticed too often that we as interns are so desperate to get that offer letter at the end of our internship that our sole purpose is to always impress. What ends up happening is that we forget about what the summer is really about: learning and helping our company. The sooner you change your mentality from “being an intern for three months” to “working full-time for three months”, the more involved you will be and the more you will enjoy your experience. This could mean anything from volunteering to take notes for a separate meeting to going to a charity event after work that’s hosted by another coworker. Make the job yours and take interest in work that falls outside of your job description (on top of your regular duties, of course!). If it will help the team, do it! One intern suggested using Pinterest to show clients all the competitive work on one page and her company still uses it, even though she completed her internship two years ago!

  • Tip: Attending optional after-work gatherings is a great way to make yourself known around the office (hopefully in a good way), especially because other interns usually skip those events. Who knows? You may meet other employees who can vouch for you to HR or even meet a future mentor/sponsor.

4. Give A Little Bit…Give a Little Bit More of Your Critical Thinking to Me

I firmly believe that secretly, clients want to be tested. They want more from their agency than what they let on. By all means, complete all their deliverables, but then give them more. Come up with a few suggestions of what you think will help their business succeed and don’t be afraid to push the envelope. As I’ve been told by a number of my senior coworkers, the best work comes when great ideas are gambled upon. As an intern or entry-level employee your naivety can provide your team a refreshing perspective, so ask many questions and give suggestions.

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5. Keep Calm and Be Nice to EVERYONE

As simple as this may sound, it puzzled me to see how rude some people (both interns and executives) could be to others. A Creative Director once told me that an agency’s “exports” are its “ideas”, and good ideas rarely appear out of nowhere. Instead, they come from constant collaboration and communication within the agency. Sometimes work gets hectic and tensions run high, but it’s important to never take criticism personally and most importantly, to always be polite. Advertising is an industry of high turnover and personal connections are everything. That co-worker you were really nice to may have a friend at a bigger company who’s hiring and may recommend you for that position. Or conversely, the receptionist’s relative may be the HR Recruiter and may blacklist you for being such a snob. Greet everyone and treat them with respect.

  • Tip: Make close friends with the people in the print room, mailroom, reception, and in security. These are the people who ultimately will be completing the final jobs you need to send to clients and come crunch-time, these are the people who can make or break your agency’s execution. Think of it as “having friends in the right places”. Plus, they always know where the goodies of the office are: where the disposable forks are, where’s the best place to get work done, who you can switch conference rooms with, etc.
  • Tip: Don’t forget about HR! Often times, people forget about the person who actually hired them in the first place. Midway through your internship or during the first few months of your career, invite your interviewer for coffee and personally thank them for selecting you for the position. Advertising is a small world and HR people all know each other, so it’s never a bad idea for them to get to know you on a more personal basis.

Thanks for reading! Do you have any more advice for anyone starting out their career in advertising? Please comment below!