The start of your career—or a mid-career shift—can be overwhelming. There are so many possibilities, and the decision to pursue one path or the other can have a huge impact on the rest of your life. How can you possibly decide?
The early stages of a career don’t have to be about titles, roles, or even industries. They should be about gathering experiences and embracing opportunities. If you pick one industry or platform too soon, you’ll learn binary information: you like it or you don’t. That might be important to know, but it’s not always enough to take meaningful long-term action.
Digital agencies, however, can be an ideal place for ambitious self-starters to launch a career. Through agency work, you can discover what you’re good at by taking on a variety of experiences, roles, and opportunities. Because you interact with so many people (i.e., clients, co-workers, cross-discipline teams, partners, etc.), you become less dependent on a single manager or colleague. And you get to embrace new technologies while doing it.
Whether you’re a developer, designer, project manager, or marketer, digital agency work will give you enough data and flexibility to understand who you are, what you’re good at, and where you’ll thrive.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Don’t get me wrong. Digital agencies are great places to get started, but they aren’t made for everyone. Those who are successful at agencies are self-starters, able to execute in uncertain environments, and have a deep need to be really great at what they do.
In a different environment, you can reliably execute from fixed requirements. But rigid processes only go so far when you’re working with different personalities, industries, and projects. That means having flexibility when a perfectly planned day gets turned on its head.
This also means that the phrase, “That’s not my job,” never applies. The ability to teach yourself to handle any problem is valuable—not just to the agency, but to yourself as well.
Above all, those who find success have a deep desire to get better at what they do. At Clique Studios, we’ve learned that this doesn’t have to mean they’re great right away. Instead, we look for people with the curiosity and determination to one day be great. If you can demonstrate those traits in an interview, you’re off to a good start.
Landing the Perfect Agency Gig
If you haven’t considered a digital agency before, don’t worry. There are a few ways to start exploring the possibilities.
1. Find the agencies you love.
It’s important to think about what size of agency you would like to work for. If you work for a large agency with hundreds of employees, you’re most likely to be dedicated to one or two accounts for a long time. You’ll have the peace of mind of working on projects for name brands with wide reaches while not feeling spread across too many responsibilities.
Midsize and smaller agencies are more likely to direct your craft across multiple accounts. You’ll run into fewer bureaucratic hurdles and witness more of your decisions see the light of day (for better or worse!). Ask yourself: What kind of setting and environment do you think will bring the most opportunity?
[Related: Check Out Digital Agencies In Your Area]
2. Take initiative.
Remember, agencies love self-starters. Don’t be afraid to reach out, even if the agency doesn’t have a job posted.
When you make that contact, show passion for the agency and the work itself. Demonstrate a connection to the company’s mission and clients.
We recently had a competitive search for a designer and more than 200 applicants to sort through. The person we ultimately decided on was somebody who expressed interest before the position was even open. She wrote a long, thoughtful note about how she had followed our agency for a while in the hopes that something came up. It’s an easy way to differentiate yourself and an easy way for agencies to differentiate the missionaries from the mercenaries.
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3. Tell a story (or five).
Once you land the interview, prepare to tell your stories. You can say, “I’m great at executing in uncertain environments,” but that’s not nearly as powerful as a story to demonstrate.
Regardless of where the stories come from—college jobs, internships, high school sports, whatever — build up a knowledge bank of 15 stories you want an interviewer to know about you. Then, no matter the direction of the interview, you can turn the conversation to one of your anecdotes.
One of the best things you can do early in a career is to not close yourself in. Digital agencies provide the experiences you will need to grow and succeed—no matter what your future holds.
Derek Nelson is a partner and creative director at Clique Studios, where he helps build and introduce innovative solutions for the digital market. Based in Chicago, Clique Studios is an award-winning design and engineering company, building digital experiences for high-growth organizations.