If you've just stepped onto the career ladder and are enjoying your first job at a busy creative agency, then congratulations – you've got yourself over the most difficult hurdle of all.
But what next? You'll certainly want to progress and earn more money, so how do you ensure you don't go unnoticed and get the promotion you seek?
Whether you're a designer, illustrator, developer, PR professional or marketer – there are some essential ingredients to consider when aiming for the next level in your profession.
As someone who has enjoyed seeing both sides of the coin – as an employee and employer – the following pearls of wisdom should help you win over your boss:
Adopt the right attitude
First and foremost, have some respect for the people who have employed you. They've worked incredibly hard to build their business, and know a thing or two about what it takes to run a successful agency. The sacrifice, the cost, the hardships – it won't have been easy. They'll naturally want to ensure its survival, so they'll want to hire the right people to help them continue to grow.
Enter you. Someone they've never worked with before. They'll be taking a chance on you. And you'll be costing them money every month. In which case, don't let them down by having a bad attitude, turning up for work late or missing deadlines. How would you feel if someone treated you that way? Adopt the right attitude from the very start, and your boss will not only appreciate your happy, positive spirit, they'll like you – which is a very good place to be.
Be a team player
Yes, you'll be competing for that promotion against your colleagues – and it's only natural that you won't get along with everyone – but that doesn't mean you shouldn't aim to be a team player.
If you see a colleague suffering, offer to help! It's amazing just how much your kindness will turn to loyalty – something that will become invaluable in a competitive environment.
But team-playing isn't just about work; it's also about making an effort with your colleagues socially. Within every agency there will always be birthdays, Friday night drinks or random celebrations. Don't shy away from these, or avoid sitting with people in the office kitchen – get involved. Be open and friendly. Smile!
And when the envelope comes round, asking for a financial contribution to someone's leaving do, put in at least a fiver! You might think you can get away with slipping in a pound coin, but it won't go unnoticed.
Answer the damn phone
Whilst we're on the subject of being a team player, make sure you answer the agency phone as much as everyone else. Even if you don't think it's your place to do so. Otherwise, your colleagues might grow resentful and see you as a burden, not an asset.
Just make sure you learn the proper conduct and telephone manner early on, so you don't get nervous about speaking to people down the handset.
Show eagerness to help
Has the office manager just asked for some volunteers to help stuff some envelopes in the conference room? Don't hide behind your monitor; put yourself forward immediately.
Yes, others will duck and dive away from extra work – but that doesn't mean you should too. The office manager will no doubt mention your support to your boss; leaving you with another tick in the box.
"Listen more than you speak. It's amazing just how much you can learn by taking a step back and allowing others to do the talking."
Speak less, listen more
I wish I'd known this golden nugget when I first entered the world of employment, but listen more than you speak. It's amazing just how much you can learn by taking a step back and allowing others to do the talking.
This is especially helpful when your boss is trying to teach you something or offer some advice. He or she won't be impressed if you keep interrupting them. Silence really is golden.
It also helps when you're trying to understand the usual office politics, so you don't make any enemies or step on any toes.
You can even win friends and influence people if you truly listen to what they are saying. Because is there anything more frustrating, or annoying, than someone who constantly talks over you and shows no clear interest in what you have to say? I dislike those types of people. You can see their eyes glazing over when you finally take a small chance to speak. And then they're just waiting for the next cue to bore you with their endless drivel.
Take it from me, one of the easiest ways to make friends, not enemies, is by listening to what other people are saying... actually listening, and being interested in finding out more. Show that you're listening by asking further questions.
A word of warning: most people won't do this in return. Most people really just like talking about themselves. This is why people will love you for listening. Don't get resentful that no one ever seems to be bothered about you – just be thankful that you've learned the secret to charming anyone's pants off.
Understand how the agency works
Be savvy about your position in the agency. Are you working on just one client account? Is there a risk that client could go? In which case, wouldn't it be wise to put yourself forward to work on additional client projects? You'd be surprised just how many account executives and junior designers don't realise the vulnerability of their positions.
Avoid any risk by making yourself indispensable, so if the agency really does lose clients and has to cut back – you are less likely to be considered the first to go.
Fulfil the job role you're trying to reach
If you really want to get ahead in your agency, gain an understanding of the job requirements for the next level up and fulfil them. Throw up some job sites on your web browser and search for those positions. What are people looking for? How many years experience do they need? Are there any particular skills?
Now consider where you're currently at. Are you fulfilling those requirements? Or do you need to step up? If you do need to push yourself a little harder, put yourself out of your comfort zone and volunteer for things you'd normally avoid... pitches, larger projects, tighter deadlines... whatever is is – go for it! Take on more responsibility too, and you'll soon be ploughing ahead.
"If you really want to get ahead in your agency, gain an understanding of the job requirements for the next level up, and fulfil them."
Prepare for your appraisals with style
Appraisals aren't a one-way street. They're an opportunity to highlight your latest achievements to your boss and remind them why you're now ready for that promotion. In which case, build your own case for why you deserve to level up.
When you've tackled a difficult project or won a new client, make a note of it – so you don't forget to bring it up in your appraisal. This isn't the time to be shy or humble.
In all my years of agency life, I can tell you it's often not the hardest working people who get promoted; it's the ones who are great about highlighting their worth. So speak up!
Build as many bridges as possible
If you leave your agency (for whatever reason) and go elsewhere, don't shout: "See you later suckers!" as you smugly make your way to the exit. Build bridges, don't burn any. You never know when you might bump into your old boss again, or whether you'll need their help.
Also, the creative industry tends to be a very small pond where many of the same people are connected to one another. Do you really want to make a bad name for yourself in such a tight-knit sector? Think about it.
Ditch the attitude and be thankful that you've got some valuable experience under your belt. Treat everyone you come across with kindness and respect. Be 'that' person on the circuit who people speak fondly of. Hey, not everyone is going to like you – but you can get pretty close.
With the right attitude, eagerness to learn and ability to be a team player, your agency boss will definitely consider you for promotion. Just make sure you remind them of your achievements on a regular basis and be prepared to put yourself out of your comfort zone to progress. Good luck!