Application Considerations for Agency vs In-house Marketing Positions

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by Abby Thompson

The application you submit for a position at a marketing agency will likely differ quite a bit from the application you submit for an in-house position because everyday role responsibilities and associated goals will vary depending on the environment you’re working in. That means the knowledge, work styles, communication preferences, and desired skill sets that in-house marketing departments and third-party agencies look for in candidates will also differ. Your application materials (resume, cover letter, portfolio, etc.) will need to frame your experience to match both role-specific capabilities and the more general qualifications that hiring managers at both types of companies look for. 

Usually, agencies are hired as third-party service providers who serve as ‘outsourced’ teams brought on to complete projects or to find creative solutions to meet business development goals. In-house marketing departments are typically staffed with full-time employees dedicated to working solely on projects supporting one organization. For recent graduates, both offer tremendous opportunities to learn, develop skills, network, and advance professionally. It’s no wonder that many opt to apply for positions in both environments. 

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So, how should your application materials vary? What’s more important to include on an application for an agency gig vs an in-house gig? Let’s explore. 

Applications for in-house roles

An in-house team member works within one industry, against known competitors, targeting a well-researched buyer persona, capitalizing on one message and brand identity to meet set goals, reporting to and existing within an established hierarchy.  

To land an in-house role, demonstrate your ability to:

  • Research, understand, and speak knowledgeably about a specific sector and the business challenges that this sector faces. Write portfolio pieces about best practices, trends, and ways in which technology has changed or advanced the field. Participate in online discussions and stay up-to-date with the latest industry news.
  • See campaigns and projects through from brainstorming to implementation and ongoing refinement. If you’re able to access campaign/project performance metrics from previous projects, showcase how your work has met or exceeded goals. If not, use your cover letter to discuss your process for taking an idea from conception to reality.
  • Both self-direct and work well with internal stakeholders and departments. You’ll likely be collaborating with others in your department and reporting to leadership, but may work on some tasks alone or with a small team. Discuss prior experiences working cross-functionally and budgeting your time individually to manage and complete projects.
  • Understand larger sales and growth objectives and how marketing plays a role. Share your ability to take difficult or nebulous business challenges and find creative solutions using your unique skill sets.

Bonus! To differentiate yourself from other applicants, send over a speculative marketing campaign with goals, sample creative, and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for the organization you’re applying to.

Applications for agency roles

Most marketing agencies are broadly structured around divisions responsible for creating specific pieces of collateral (production teams) and communicating directly with clients (account management or client services teams). Agency marketers are usually expected to become quite familiar with their and client industries. 

To land an agency role, demonstrate your ability to:

  • Adapt to constantly changing best practices. Regardless of the role that you’re hoping to land within an agency, you’ll need to keep up with constantly changing technologies, platforms, procedures, styles, and audience/client preferences to ensure efficacy. Showcase the ways in which you’ve brought new methodologies or tools to prior initiatives.
  • Quickly learn as much as possible about the client, their industry, buyers, and goals. Note that you’re able to succinctly and effectively take notes, ask questions, and research new information as needed.
  • Use, or at least understand the functionalities of, industry platforms and technologies. If you have experience with marketing automation softwares, creative suites, CRMs, CMSs, project management tools, or any industry-leading applications, make note of them on your resume.
  • Communicate and compromise when client/agency ideas are in conflict. Agencies are usually hired to share their expertise, but sometimes these suggestions run contrary to client expectations. Therefore, being able to communicate how well a strategy can meet stated goals (in a way that the customer can understand and get behind) is key. Cross-functional collaboration is also incredibly important — mention situations in which you teamed up with folks outside of your department to meet goals or finish a project.

Bonus! Make it clear that this agency you’re applying to is one you admire. Talk about a few of their campaigns that you’ve enjoyed or found effective. 

Remember, standing out as a promising applicant to any marketing job requires well-written and error-free application materials, personal differentiators, a follow-up gameplan, and a bit of good luck. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward and remember to stay positive during the job search and application process. (Hint: Download this FREE Career Roadmap to discover your path to your dream job.) Good luck!

Abby Thompson is a Career Coach based in Los Angeles, California. She spent the last few years partnering with business leaders to market their companies and empower their people in agency, education, technology, nonprofit, and startup settings. As a coach, she works with young professionals across industries to chart meaningful career paths and pursue/land their dream jobs. Follow Abby on social media (LinkedIn | Twitter) and check out her website for more information.

Want to start a career in marketing, but don't know how to get there?

Get the exact steps you need to take with the FREE Career Roadmap.

Want to start a career in marketing, but don't know how to get there?

Get the exact steps you need to take with the FREE Career Roadmap.