Ad career dead? Try this DIY autopsy.

death and all his friends

Used by permission. © Joel Robison

If you’re looking for a position at a better agency and getting nowhere, your portfolio is probably the reason. Similitude breed contempt and too many portfolios blend into sameness. If you want to separate from the crowd answer these questions and apply changes appropriately.

1. Is your mediocre job in your portfolio? If you work at a mediocre agency, don’t fool yourself into thinking that someone will see potential from that work. Give yourself assignments and invest in improving your work. The proof is in pudding. If great work is not in your book, you can’t do it.

2. Have you asked for a “brutally honest” critique? Foster relationships with people whose work you respect and ask for a critical review. A few critiques with point out the flaws. You can then be confident about what is working, what needs to be upgraded and what need to be deleted.

3. Does your work solve tough problems? Lightweight work for tattoo parlors or emotional subjects like saving the environment don’t demonstrate tough problem solving. Do something amazing for a bland category or a complicated subject and prove that you can do work that pays the bills and win awards.

4. Are you putting work in your book to show “experience”? Showing category experience will only qualify you at a great agency if the work is great. Average work means your average. Don’t rationalize that because you have experience in an area the agency works that gives you an advantage. The best agencies are interested in your experience in one category: great.

5. When was the last time you put something new in your book? Set the goal to replace everything in your portfolio in two to three years. Don’t cling to old award winners. There is no excuse for not putting better work in your book. Too many careers are cut short because of resting on laurels. It’s sad. Don’t be sad.

6. Did you give up too soon? I heard John Boone, co-founder of Boone Oakley and more recently Guns & Kittens, tell the saga of landing his dream job at The Martin Agency by reading the stack of rejection letters he had received from the agency over the years. Those rejection letters told the story of someone that didn’t give up. The agency’s view evolved from being uninterested, to encouraging, to offering him a job.

Resurrecting your career can seem daunting. Don’t give up on goals. Believe that you can do what you can dream. Chip away at it daily and you’ll be surprised how quickly you change your fortune.

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