The Ultimate Guide for Advancing Your Digital Agency Career
Digital is no longer the way of the future, it is well and truly the present.
And with increasingly more businesses looking to digital to get an edge over the competition, the opportunities for digital agency careers continues to grow. From design, project management, content creation, programming and UX to name just a few, there are countless opportunities available.
But how can you position yourself to capitalise?
Whether you’ve already got a foot in the door or are looking to further your career in the world of digital agencies, our Ultimate Guide to Advancing Your Digital Agency Career will give you the tips and direction you need to get where you want to go.
So grab a pen (or open an Evernote file – it’s digital after all) and get ready to take some notes, because all you need to know to progress your digital agency career is here.
Plan Your Goals
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The Chesire Cat proves to be an unlikely mentor, but this exchange from Alice in Wonderland illustrates the importance of setting clear goals. Without them, it’s easy to coast along aimlessly and not end up anywhere in particular. Success in your digital agency career should begin first by determining where you would like to be in the future.
What kind of roles excite you? Where would you like to be in a few years? Do you want to be an individual content contributor or perhaps project management is more your thing? Are there any specialities you need to work on to get there?
Once you get clear about your goal, you can begin in place a plan in place to achieve it. That may mean identifying skill-sets you need and sourcing opportunities to up-skill yourself.
If you’d love to be a creative producer, you should look for opportunities to improve your project management skills. If you want to be a developer, identify what programming languages are in the most demand and learn them. A UX designer? Enrol yourself in some courses and find opportunities to learn or get experience on projects beyond the scope of your day to day job.
When determining your direction, consider what you enjoy and what is likely to be in demand. Those specialisations that have a high demand and low supply can command a premium. If you can upskill yourself to fill a skills shortage, you will hold more leverage when going for roles.
Whatever your goal, find opportunities to develop the skills you need before you have the role. Not only will this give you the skills you need, but by showing initiative with your learning you will fast track your progress.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” – Elon Musk
Feedback from others is one of the fastest ways to identify your strengths and improve your weaknesses. And if it’s good enough for Elon Musk, it’s good enough for you.
Seeking out constructive feedback from management and other colleagues may not be the most comfortable thing you’ll do, but gives you precisely the insight you need to develop yourself.
Don’t wait til formal reviews, consider making it a common practice after meetings and projects to debrief with your team. Make it a habit to ask “what did we do well?” and “what can we do better next time?”. This can be framed around your own individual performance, but it’s also great practice for a team. Teams who embrace a performance culture and seek to develop themselves improve more rapidly.
If such a habit doesn’t yet exist in your organisation, start it. You will demonstrate your willingness to develop yourself and not only will you gain valuable insights, you will set yourself apart from others.
It’s not always easy – having someone point out your flaws can make you defensive – but the results are worth it and will help you advance your digital agency career.
Do Deep Work
Do you ever finish a work day feeling mentally scattered? Like you’ve worked the whole day, done a thousand things, but when you look back at it, you realise you’ve accomplished very little?
Jumping from task to task is simply not a productive way to work and the research proves it. It can take between 15-20 minutes to mentally return to a task, even after a minor interruption. Which is why getting caught in a work pattern of constant distraction will make you less effective, less efficient and potentially slow your career growth.
In Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work”, he advises scheduling uninterrupted time for deep focused work. That means focusing on one task and one task alone for hours at a time. Turn your phone off, put your headphones on, close your email and let your colleagues know you are doing deep work in advance.
Only by scheduling time for deep work will you be able to make meaningful progress on those bigger projects which require more concentrated attention and effort. And it’s often those projects that deliver the most value and are the ones likely to help you take those all important next steps in your career.
Ask for More Responsibilities
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol
Career advancement comes to those who go and get it.
You’ve heard the expression “dress for the job you want, not the one you have”, right? Well the same applies to the work itself. Even more so.
If you sit back and coast, your progression will be slow at best. The more you actively seek out more responsibility, the more you will demonstrate your enthusiasm to grow. By demonstrating initiative and leadership you will not only learn more skills, but also put yourself top of mind when opportunities arise.
And the truth of the matter is that the more you are growing and learning about things that interest you, the more enjoyable work will be. So seek out opportunities to take on more responsibility, learn from it then seek out more.
Getting a Mentor
There are a number of things successful people have in common. They read, they have some form of meditation practice and they have mentors. And though there are many different types of mentors, there are three types of career mentors you should look for.
1) You in One Year
This person should be someone in a position you hope to have in one year. This the person who is close enough to your present experiences that they can relate to you, yet also give you pointers on how to take those next steps in your career.
2) Your Five-Year Guide
Someone who is further up in the world of digital agencies, perhaps someone in management who you can gain valuable insights from.These people are great for practical insights, but also have accumulated general business wisdom that can help you on your path.
3) Your Career Planner
Consider this person the big picture view. They are less likely to help with the ins and outs of every day, but can give you a broader perspective on your overall career trajectory. They are especially valuable in times of transition or when you unsure of your direction.
There is, however, on more mentor to add to this list. That is the general mentor who will challenge your assumptions, call you on your bulls*%t and push you to consider paths what you didn’t think possible.
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”― Isaac Asimov
The world belongs to the ambitious self-learner. Now more than ever we have a world of information at our fingertips and there are ample opportunities to develop your skill set in your chosen direction.
When you’ve identified the areas you’d like to specialise in or areas you’d like to improve, it’s time to go and learn to plug those gaps.
Every major city has regular meetups on all manner of subjects. Whether it’s learning to code, UX design, how to use Photoshop or Illustrator or even project management courses, a quick Google search will reveal opportunities to learn in person or through online course.
Not only are these great for expanding your skills, but can also be excellent ways to meet like-minded people and open up doors for your career. Modern education institutions simply aren’t equipped to keep up with the pace of development, which means the onus is on you to learn the skills you need to advance your career.
Network / Build Your Connections
Beyond the typical cliched phrases of “your network is your net worth” and “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” lies the unavoidable truth – it’s far better to have a network than not.
So make an effort to talk to people and get to know them – within and beyond the workplace.
That means going to meetups and events with an open mindset. Avoid approaching networking with the mindset of “what can this person offer me”. Rather, come with an open mind, simply looking to meet with others who have similar interests. Connect with them on a genuine level and see how you can help them before the other way round. In many cases, in the short term, nothing comes of it. But in the long term, that person you met that one night at a UX meetup may be the ticket to your next role.
It’s one thing to form a network, but another entirely to maintain it. Remember to keep in touch from time to time. Send them an article they may be interested in, check in to see how they are going, meet up with them for coffee. It’s important to keep those relationships alive. Avoid being the guy who only reaches out when he needs something.
Robert Cialdini’s classic book on persuasion, Influence, outlines the principle of Liking – i.e. people are more likely to do business with people they like. So, quite simply – don’t be mean.
Build positive relationships with those around you. Be genuine, thoughtful and avoid unnecessary hostility. Combative behaviour will come back around and solves nothing – despite what glorified narratives about Steve Jobs may lead you to believe.
Insights From Inside
“I’d argue we create more meaningful, intelligent outputs now than ever before and that has resulted in a more conscientious environment where making sure we deliver impact has risen above ‘stuff we want to build’.” Chris Henderson – Managing Director – MullenLowe Profero
“Our industry is so dynamic, in such an early state of maturity and is so specialized that to excel the most important trait for us is a genuine thirst for knowledge, a true hunger to learn and an ability to think on one’s feet.” Scott King – Founder – Accordant
“We look for people with excellent experience, a great attitude and the ability to really contribute to building something special. Our number one value is the client for life and alignment with our values is very important.” Greg Veitch – Managing Director – Sqware Peg
“Our employees will eventually leave when they’re rich and famous, but that’s a really good reason to leave.” Kath Blackham -Managing Director – Deepend
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