Ask a headhunter: Dana Siomkos on how to get a digital advertising job

dana siomkos

Brooklyn attracts a ton of creative talent looking to break into the advertising industry, so how do you stand out amidst the sea of resumes? We asked Dana Siomkos, the owner of advertising and digital marketing recruitment agency You & Them, precisely how to do that. Siomkos has been in the business of recruiting since 2010, and before that, she was on the other side working at an agency. You & Them have talent scouts located in Brooklyn, LA and Chicago, but Siomkos is located right here in Brooklyn.

Siomkos told us all about how to get into the industry from a different career track, if there’s room for writers in digital marketing and if you still get a Don Draper-style bar in your office.

What jobs in advertising are the most widely available right now?

My clients are always looking for great digital producers and project managers. Most of my clients are very digitally focused and becoming more and more so. People who really understand the ins and outs of anything related to producing digital content whether it’s websites or mobile apps or even digital experiential work. I would say digital producers are one of the most sought jobs right now.

It sounds like advertising firms are hiring a lot of web designers, is there still room for people who excel at Photoshop and art direction?

My background is in digital, so my clients have always tended to skew that way. That said, the needle seems to continue moving in that direction for designers. It used to be that my clients just asked for digital designers, now we have an increasing demand for digital product designers, meaning people who can create user-centered, content-driven brand.com sites, not just temporary campaign microsites or banner ads. Banner ad has become something of a four-letter word among the truly digitally savvy. However, we do have some more integrated agency clients who still specialize in TV, print, etc.

Advertising is a visually driven field, but many agencies do marketing as well. What are the job opportunities for the wordsmiths, the copywriters?

My more traditional clients still adhere to the art director and copywriter tag-team structure, but you don’t really see that approach at the digital agencies. While I agree that this conceptual team model may not belong in the digital world, I think it’s a mistake when digital agencies believe they can get away without a trained writer. While naming the navigation and buttons of a website, or an auto-email reply may not seem like the art of writing TV scripts or headlines, it is what defines that brand’s voice online, what facilitates the user-experience and keeps that user coming back for more. Writers who have experience in online content creation and social media are also in high demand.

Is temping a good way to break into the field?

Yeah…I work with a lot of small boutique agencies not the very large global brands that everybody’s heard of. A lot of my clients are smaller and they really love to do freelance engagements before committing to full-time as a way to get to know each other culturally see how that person works. It’s something that a lot of my clients ask for. The challenge of course is if the candidate is full-time it’s difficult to convince them to leave the full-time for a part-time job. A lot of my clients live the freelance lifestyle in general.

What do you consider to be temping and what’s considered freelancing?

It’s the same thing. Freelance is the term used in the industry, not temping.

What should a job seeker highlight on their resume and LinkedIn if they’re coming from another career?

I think there are always some skills that are always important in the industry: establishing client relationships, being a good communicator, having experience managing your projects from A to Z, juggling teams in all parts of the process. Any parallels one can draw to those skills from there is a good thing. Good old fashioned communication skills, project management skills. I work with a lot of companies that do digital work. I really feel you can’t fake digital savvy. It’s not something you can walk into a role as a digital producer without having done that type of work before. But there are courses and organizations like General Assembly that will get you familiar with the vernacular of those types of jobs.

Does your college major matter at all if you want an advertising job?

I never look at majors. In some cases it’s relevant-that’s great. As a recruiter I just look for a certain entrepreneurial spirit something that I try to assess when looking at someone’s resume. I had a candidate send me a note the other day saying he did every odd job possible after he graduated to make some money to get started in the agency world. He was a janitor, a shoe salesman and this that and the other. I really look for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit who are really motivated, and passionate about the type of work they want to get into. When I come across a candidate like that even if they don’t have a ton of experience I try to get them in front of my clients who I know would be impressed by that work ethic.

Where do you find your potential hires?

I don’t know if this is common in the recruiting world, but myself, and the other three members of my team are all former agency people so we started with our own personal and professional networks and then built it out by way of referrals and word of mouth. So every time we work with one candidate inevitably they introduces us to three others. Sometimes that candidate becomes a client. 90% of our business is word-of-mouth, and when we’re really stumped we can’t find that person within our own network, of course LinkedIn is a great resource. We use email marketing. We’ll send out an email blast to our followers, networks and social media.

Our clients are also very well-connected people. At the end of the day they don’t have the time or the energy or the resources to recruit all day.

Do you give candidates competency or skill-based tests as a part of the process? 

Not really. Our services are two-fold: we have, obviously, clients come to us with a need we try to help them fill, but we also have candidates who are either looking for a new job or a career change. The process is pretty intimate; there’s usually an in-depth conversation where we talk about their professional history, why they’re unhappy in their current position and what their ideal next move would look like and then help them strategize as to how to get them there whether is one of our clients or with another company.

Is there a good Meetup for connecting with professionals in the industry?

I don’t do any traditional Meetup.com meetups. There are a couple of organizations that hold some great monthly events. A couple of the ones that I go to -an organization SheSays– they do a monthly event. It started as an event for women in digital advertising and that’s expanded over the years. I also have a good producer friend that has an event called DPM Connect for project managers.

It really is great. Sometimes we really have to drag ourselves to networking, but once you get there it’s a great way to break out of your day to-day and socialize with people in the industry.

How much money are you going to make starting out in the field? Will you be able to afford the fancy stuff you design ads for?

Entry level salary is pretty consistent across the board. If you’re fresh out of college I would expect something in the $40k range. Once you start getting mid-level or senior level it really can vary. Again I work with a pretty wide array of clients some large global well known agencies and startup agencies. I work with one client who primarily works with startup clients and they want their candidates hungry and excited about the type of work they’re doing that they won’t mind a lateral move or a pay cut to work there. Mid-level roles range from $65,000 to $85,000.

There’s a few categories within the industry that are even more highly competitive than the others. The creative and the developers that’s a real skill set, something that can’t be learned very quickly something that requires experience and requires staying up-to-date on the latest technology and products out there. I would say developers and digital creatives are very high in demand right now. You can get into the $60,000 salary very quickly.

I’ve been noticing that the new entry level now requires two to three years of work experience already. Is that something you’ve noticed as well?

You know it’s true. Even when the client says “entry-level” they like to see some sort of experience even if someone is just graduating from school having had internship experience or courses or even just one year in the workforce does help the individual. My clients don’t come to me for college grads because they’re not so hard to find.

This being the advertising industry we have to know: Is one of the perks that everyone has a bar in their office Mad-Men style?

It is still true in a lot of ways. Common joke in the agency world is that there are two ping-pong tables, and a fridge stocked full of beer. The agency world means you have clients, your clients give you deadlines. It’s that deadline driven, service driven work environment which means some late nights here and there. A lot of [my clients the agencies] go out of their way to create an environment that’s comfortable, friendly and pleasant to be around-open floor plan, great light, happy hours things like that. It helps build camaraderie within the team.

If you’re looking for gig in advertising you can check out what jobs You & Them is currently hiring for.

Fikriyyah George is always looking for recruiters for the “Ask a Headhunter” series and good Thai food. Give her a ring at @MrsSuperHarbor.