Ad Agency Internship
Categories: Marketing

10 Tips for Landing an Ad Agency Internship

For college students all over the country, summers are no longer the carefree beach-filled days of their younger years. More often than not, summer means balancing long work days, often with multiple jobs, to rebuild drained bank accounts and, increasingly, carrying a new weight sitting on their shoulders: internships. However, for those lucky enough to be studying something they really love, internships can mean an exciting chance to dip their toes into the deep end of potential careers and get real world experience in their area of study. Each year, ad agencies are flooded with resumes and cover letters seeking the coveted few intern positions that could mean a huge step forward for college students following their dreams. Here are our 10 tips for prospective interns hoping to stand out from the crowd and land an ad agency internship:

  1. Showcase your skills in the first materials that they see.
    • If you’re going to list a skill on your resume, prove it right off the bat. If writing is your strong suit, write a killer cover letter. If graphic design is your thing, create a resume that shows it. It doesn’t have to be over the top with creativity, since it still needs to be professional and pass the 30-second scan test. But don’t be afraid to utilize those InDesign skills to create something visually appealing that also demonstrates you can balance design and content. Whatever your strength, give them an immediate taste of what you can do.
  2. Use your cover letter to tell a story.
    • Think back to elementary and middle school when you were taught the five paragraph essay format. In high school and college, you had to break from that format to write a better essay, but you could only do that because you had mastered the basics. Apply that same idea to everything you learned about writing a cover letter. Use the right format, and understand the purpose of the “rules,” then break them to write a better letter. You don’t need to start with “hello my name is X and my major is Y.” Tell a story: why you and they are a perfect match, how your contribution will make them better, and what you bring to the table.
  3. Visit the website; do your research.
    • In a world where you may be sending out dozens of resumes and cover letters in hopes of nailing down an internship, it’s easy for all the agencies to blend together. Show each one that you want them, not just anyone who will have you. Study their website, figure out what their values are or where their sweet spot is, and reflect those priorities when writing your cover letter or in your interview. Articulate how your values and how your strengths match theirs.
  4. Go beyond your classwork.
    • Not every college program will teach you every skill you’ll need in an internship or that could make you more employable. If you’re interested in something or hear a skill being tossed around a lot in class conversation or internship descriptions, take the initiative and get a head-start on learning it. There are online tutorials for everything; use them. Familiarize yourself with WordPress, practice building a website, give blog writing a shot, hone in on your social media skills. Every new experience could set you apart from the crowd, and if you teach yourself, it shows forethought and initiative.
  5. Start building a portfolio.
    • Chances are, when you’re stepping into an ad agency internship, there will be creative work involved. Have examples ready. Even if it’s just a collection of class assignments, work on getting them all together in one place so when you’re asked for work samples, you don’t have to scramble to produce something. If you don’t have anything already, make some. If you have a specialty, tailor your portfolio to that area (i.e., press releases for PR, copy examples for copywriters, spec design work for ad creative, etc.).
  6. Work your connections.
    • It may feel like everyone knows someone except for you, but chances are, you have a connection to an agency somewhere. Maybe your mom’s college roommate knows someone who works at a cool start up. Most colleges and universities have a whole network of connections and alumni just waiting to be utilized. Your LinkedIn contacts can be a goldmine for finding common connections. Ask for an informal meeting, a phone call, or even coffee so you can get a better sense of the agency, and so they can get to know you a little better. Don’t expect those connections to do all the work for you, though. They may open the door, but they won’t get the internship for you. Once you make the connection, make your contact glad they responded.
  7. Reach out.
    • Not every internship is going to be listed on or, and chances are, you’ll have to sort through a lot of fake-outs to get to the good ones. Look at the areas in which you want to work and search for ad agencies in that area. Look at their websites, see where you might be a good fit, and contact them to find out if they offer internships. Some agencies don’t advertise internships as a way of weeding out candidates who are simply applying to the masses. Worse case scenario they say no; best case scenario, you’ve already shown them that you can take initiative and want to work for them specifically.
  8. Prepare for your interview and be self-aware when doing so.
    • While you don’t want to sound too robotic or contrived with interview answers, it’s equally as awkward to draw a blank when being asked basic interview questions. It only gets harder to come up with answers on the spot when your potential employer is sitting across from you waiting, so thinking ahead to interview questions shows a self-awareness and preparedness that are often valued by employers. Thinking ahead gives you the opportunity to be more thoughtful with answers, and can help you to avoid clichés. Be honest with yourself. If you’re shy and feel that your shyness has hindered experiences in the past, think about how this has affected your work and how you’re working to overcome those challenges. If you can dig a little deeper with answers to basic interview questions, do so.
  9. Follow the basics.
    • Proof read. Ask questions. Be honest on your resume. Follow up interviews with personal thank you notes. These can feel like common sense, but they really do make a difference. They may seem little, but it is often the little things that weed out applicants. Be sure that you make that cut.
  10. Be able to answer the key questions: Why us? Why you?
    • Often people have the answers to questions like “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “tell me about your extracurricular activities” down to a science, but when asked to answer “why do you want to work for us?” they find themselves stumped. The answers to these questions can be hard to articulate and can easily sound generic, but they are crucial questions. Know why you’re passionate about that particular agency. Maybe it’s a campaign they did that you’re especially excited about, or maybe their mission statement really resonates with you. Whatever it is, be ready to show them that they’re unique to you. “Why you?” can also be especially difficult to answer, particularly for people with low confidence. Always remember, you are unique. Whether it’s a unique voice or perspective, a certain skill set, or a particular passion, make sure you know what you bring to the table.

In the end, skills matter, but you’re getting hired based on who you are. Don’t be afraid to show some personality. Everything you bring to an application–your cover letter, your resume, your portfolio, your interview­­–should be building an authentic picture of who you are as a potential employee. Keep it professional, keep it honest, and keep it real.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside Maine.

At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – it’s ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference to each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.

With Ethos, you get more than a Maine advertising agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!