Those dreaded three words.
“Agency experience required.”
I say “dreaded” because for many, that’s exactly what it is. It’s actually quite a conundrum for many (including this guy as of about 10 years ago).
“How do I get agency experience when agencies won’t hire me?”
That’s what I kept asking myself before I was hired on by the lovely folks at Beehive PR about 8 years ago. But before then, I was kinda in that trap–agency experience was required, but I didn’t have it.
For me, this always raised the bigger question: SHOULD agency experience be required? Why do I NEED agency experience–especially if the job is on the corporate side! And if it’s an agency job, how am I supposed to GET agency experience when you won’t offer it to me?
To answer that, you need to fully understand what “agency experience” really means.
Let’s break it down.
When they say “agency experience required” what they’re really looking for is:
* Your ability to juggle about 4,521 tasks at the same time–this happens frequently on the agency side.
* Your ability to come up with big ideas–agencies DEPEND on big ideas to make their money.
* Your ability to work with all sorts of people and difficult personalities–let’s not kid ourselves, agencies are full of people who think they’re the cat’s ass (and by the way, “cat’s ass” was my nice way of putting this ;). If you can work with these people, you can work with anyone. (To be fair, agency people are also some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet)
* Your ability to deal with intense pressure–client pitches, staying on budget, exceeding expectations. The agency business is tough. They want to see if you can survive.
* Your ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done–a lot of times, this is what it comes down to on the consultant side.
* Your ability to “hack” a problem–in corporate speak “your ability to find creative solutions to business problems.” But really, this is all about finding new and different ways to get things done. Period.
* Your ability to manage, work with and navigate the agency/client relationship–after all, if you can manage clients, you can BE the client!
* The ability to make it up as you go along–again, we’ve seen agencies do this before, right? Right or wrong, it’s the reality of the landscape. So, agencies need people who can say “yeah, we can do that” and then figure out a way to get it done without any people on staff who have that experience.
So, these are the kinds of things they’re looking for when they say “agency experience required.”
They don’t actually CARE that you’ve worked at an agency. What they care about are the skill sets required of anyone who succeeds in the agency environment.
It took me a while to figure that out.
OK, back to my original question: “Should agency experience really be required?’
As much as I want to debunk this long-running trend, I think the answer is “yes, it should be required.” At least for certain corporate jobs.
For all the reasons I listed above, agency life weeds out weaker talent. Heck, I should know I got weeded out!
I didn’t even survive Beehive PR for a year. I was out in 9 months. Now, granted, I had a lot of life events that got in the way that year (I won’t bore you with the list, but let’s just say it actually was life-and-death-type stuff), but still, I didn’t last a year. Essentially, I gave up.
But, now I have “agency experience” on my resume.
And, I would argue, I now have 5-plus years of “agency experience” since working as a solo consultant is very similar to working for an agency (OK, separate post, but I’m making a point here!).
But I can attest to the intensity of agency life. I learned more in my 9 months at Beehive then I did at multiple years in other jobs. It’s just a different pace. A different culture. A different mentality. And, those are all “skill sets” or, I don’t know, “qualities”, corporations crave.
So, they ask for agency experience.
Is it fair? Hell no. But, the last time I checked, not much in this life is “fair” (outside of my 6-year-old’s park soccer league).
Now, go get some agency experience why don’t ya? 🙂