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February 11, 2011
Dear Applicant, It's Time to Up Your Game
I recently placed ads for creative positions on TalentZoo.com. The large number of responses I have received indicates the market is still flooded with people out of work.

That’s no surprise to me. The economy has caused the worst job situation I’ve seen during my career. But with adversity there is opportunity.
I’ve always been pragmatic about this business. I’ve seen too many of its practitioners become its victims. I’ve seen too many forget that they are in an industry that eats young and old with equal delight. If you’re one of the tens of thousands of who have lost your job in the last two years, there is one piece of advice I would like to offer: Get in the game.
I say this because the majority of job inquiries I received were disqualified upon arrival. Many applicants inquired even though they didn’t meet the position’s requirements. Others applied in an unprofessional manner. For example:
1. To Whom It May Concern, Dear Sir or Madam, Dear McKee, etc. These were the salutations given on many of the inquiries. I do not concern myself with people who do not learn who the “whom” is. I am not a Sir, though I do admire the chivalry held by the English culture. Nor am I a Madam. I won’t pontificate further. You get the point.
2. Emailing someone other than the person specified. How did that happen? I can only surmise that they visited our site to view our work. They then clicked the contact address or the first name listed on our employment page and let the query fly. Laziness is not a great first impression when looking for employment.
3. Writing a treatise does not prove you’re a copywriter. I received a number of these, ranging from diatribes to stand-up comedy routines. I’m not exaggerating that I had some that ranged from 500 to 1000 words in length. Frankly, I don’t have time. I’m short-handed, so I’m extra busy. We can talk at length later. For now, keep it to the necessities.
The common denominator of these inquirers is that they were not thinking as marketers, which is an insurmountable mistake when you are asserting that you are an expert in marketing. So here are a few reminders on how to market to a potential employer.
1. Go beyond the agency site before you inquire. Do some homework on the person you’d be working for as well as the agency’s culture. Approach the agency as if they are the only one you’re considering. They will show a more keen interest in you if you do.
2. It’s not about you. It’s about you. What I mean is, you must show how you will be an asset to the agency first. Talking about what you want or expect from your future employer has an appropriate time: When you’re asked.
3. Your work won’t get you the job. It gets you in the door. It’s the ante. The bet is your personality and character. Every employer is afraid of making the mistake of hiring a bad fit. If they even slightly suspect you’re high maintenance or antisocial, they’ll pass. Your inquiry is the first hint at your personality. Act appropriately.
4. The industry has always been about change. Yet, many in our business want to rest on their laurels. Don’t think what you’ve done means more than what you’ll be challenged to do in the future. Talk about what your goals are, not what you’ve accomplished. Your work testifies to the latter.
It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when you’ve had some success in this business. I’ve been a victim of that fault. A couple of kicks in the rear taught me to stay humble and taught me to put myself in my target’s shoes. My success in landing the right job followed. I’m sure the same result will happen for you also.

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Bart Cleveland spent over 30 years helping grow brands like Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, and CNN. Now, he guides creative professionals to plan and execute successful careers through his business, Job Propulsion Lab℠. He also helps both agencies and marketers nurture customers into advocates through a relationship development program he calls, ACES℠. 
Bart launched Ad Age’s most popular blog, Small Agency Diary. He is also a contributing author of the book, The Get A Job Workshop, How To Find Your Way To A Creative Career In Advertising.

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