Young people have a huge advantage when it comes to digital – as natives who have grown up with the internet, wifi and smart phones, they live and breathe mobile communications. But being properly equipped to get a job in digital doesn’t always come so naturally. What skills do you need to work in a digital agency, and how can you go about preparing for a career in this rapidly evolving industry?

Last Week I was privileged to be invited by Digital Horizons and Silicon South to give a talk at their ‘Masterclass Sessions’, hosted at the new Bournemouth University International College. I shared a breakdown of digital agency life, some of the key skills we look for in our team members, and some personal tips on getting into the industry.

Before a room full of around 45 school and college students, I opened my session by giving an introduction to Createful as a company, the areas we specialise in and my particular role. I’m going to presume that if you’re reading this then you already have at least a basic understanding of those things, so I’ll move on to cover some of the other areas I spoke about.

Back to the future

I went on to talk about Martin Cooper, the man who invented the first commercially available consumer mobile telephone back in 1973. The magnificently named DynaTAC 8000 was a beast of a device, weighing more than two bags of sugar and a measly twenty minute battery life, making its £8,000 (adjusted) price tag difficult to swallow by today’s standards!

Martin Cooper and his Motorola DynaTAC brick, sorry, “phone”

I then brought things up to date by showing some pictures of the new devices and screen technology recently revealed by Lenovo. During their keynote address last year, the company showed off a tablet that folds in half like a book to make a phone-sized device, and a phone that can bend around the wearer’s wrist to become a smartwatch. The aim here was to show how far technology has developed – it took 34 years to get from the DynaTAC 8000 to the first iPhone, but just under ten years to get from the iPhone to these new folding devices. Just think what the next five or ten years will bring us!

A folding phone/smartwatch developed by Lenovo

Then I wound the clock even further back, showing two cartoons from the early 20th century that made predictions about the future of mobile communications. Whilst they were firmly held back by the limitations of their technology and hardware (wooden cases, mechanical gears and brass bells, anyone?); they were entirely accurate on two counts.

© Punch magazine

Firstly, the picture above shows a man and a woman sat close to one another, yet in total isolation. They are engaged with their devices, not the person right next to them. You don’t have to look far to see exactly this today! Secondly, neither of the people featured seem to be particularly fussed about these incredible technological tools. They’ve become so ubiquitous that their presence is barely acknowledged. My kids don’t give a second thought to watching YouTube videos on their tablets, playing Pokemon Go when they’re outside or navigating complex TV-on-demand menus.

The young people I addressed had all grown up with the internet and widespread use of mobile communication devices – they were true digital natives. It will be really interesting to see where these natives take the next big leaps in innovation for technology and communication.

At this stage I made a link between these hops through time and what Createful does as a company. We’re essentially in the communications business – helping people to convey messages and information about their businesses in a digital environment. This might mean designing a new app for use on a mobile phone, developing a human-computer interface for a piece of software, or managing the server architecture behind an ecommerce website. Some of these tasks can seem more glamorous than others, but they’re all equally important to us, and require a varied skill set and lots of teamwork to make it all happen.

There’s no “me” in team. Wait…

This seemed a good place to introduce a few members of our team, outline their roles and list some of their key skills. The aim was to highlight some of the key attributes we look for in our team across design, development, team support and new business roles to name but a few.

I won’t include the full team list here, but I will outline some of the skills that we prioritise when looking to take on new individuals.

  • Good listening skills
  • Good communication
  • Able to manage own time
  • Proactive ideas
  • Problem solving skills
  • Experience

Don’t worry – we don’t necessarily look for all of those skills in everyone we take on! More than anything, what we’re looking for are individuals who are passionate about what they do. You can teach skills like programming, front-end development and project management, but passion is just something that’s there. You can cultivate it, encourage it and foster a conducive environment, but ultimately it comes down to the individual.

Incidentally, if there’s one skill I could pick out of that list above, it would be good listening skills. My experience in this industry have taught me that if you don’t listen closely to your client (and often it’s about what they don’t say), then you might as well pack up and go home.

Rounding up

In closing, I wanted to leave the group with some practical advice for getting into the digital creative industry.

  • Discover your passion. This is based on what I’ve said previously, but you can’t learn passion – you just have it. Find the thing that excites you and pour your energy into it.
  • Do stuff in your own time. You may not have a huge portfolio of commercial work you’ve created, but you can show off work you’ve completed in your own time. For certain roles, it doesn’t matter if you’ve not worked on a “live” project, but it’s much better to show something over nothing. Try analysing new advertising campaigns – redesign them or detail how you’d approach it differently.
  • Make your CV stand out. Research has indicated that it takes just six seconds for a recruiter to make a decision from looking at a CV. With this in mind you have to work hard to make yours last longer on someone’s desk. At the very least, if you’re going to post it or hand deliver it to a potential employer, make sure it’s printed on nice paper, covers no more than two sides of A4 and includes a short covering letter. Beyond this, make sure it conveys your unique personality. Avoid using templates and please don’t tell me you’re a “dedicated, hard-working and focussed person who works well in a team” – that’s what everyone says! If all else fails, just do what this guy did.
  • Lastly, if you’re successful in securing an interview – practice makes perfect! Ask a friend to test you with some example questions. Do your research on the company – look them up on every social media channel you can find. It’s also good to find a common point of connection – if you can find out who you’ll be meeting with, find out about them; do you both have a cat? A shared hobby? Went to the same school? These last few sound weird, but are no less important – give a good handshake (no one likes to hold a limp fish, but equally, it’s not an arm wrestling contest!), keep eye contact (not all the time – you’re not a snake), smile, and don’t talk too fast. The only other thing I’d suggest is make sure you have questions to ask your interviewer – it shows you’re interested, engaged and curious.