How Do I Get into Advertising Design?

Alex Newth

Advertising agencies and businesses are always looking for designers with multifaceted talents to create product and marketing designs. While they are always in need of a designer, getting a job in advertising design takes skill and may require a college degree in graphic design. Working on a freelance basis, working for free and making spec — or fake — ads can help you create a portfolio. After building a portfolio, it is just a matter of submitting resumes to different agencies.

Making the visual components of infographics is a common job for graphic designers working in advertising.
Making the visual components of infographics is a common job for graphic designers working in advertising.

Graphic design can be self-taught, but people generally go to college to learn this skill and businesses usually like to see degrees. Getting a two- or four-year degree in graphic design will teach you the necessary skills involved in graphic design and increase your chances of getting a job in advertising design. Taking classes in marketing and advertising also will help, because this will teach you the underlying principles of this field.

A good portfolio can help open the door to an advertising design job.
A good portfolio can help open the door to an advertising design job.

Either working for free or making spec ads that demonstrate your skills is likely to be the next step to getting into advertising design. You should ask churches, friends, local businesses and nearby organizations if they need any design work done. If no one does, making a spec ad is acceptable. A spec ad is a fake ad that demonstrates your abilities and talent, even though the ad is not used by a business and may market a fake product or company. Both of these are acceptable practices in creating a portfolio.

Finding freelance work will help you gain experience and, later, a full-time position in advertising design. Just like with the portfolio, you can ask nearby organizations if they need design work done, but the search for clients is usually broader at this stage. Freelance design work, like college, can be bypassed but provides additional experience, a paycheck and a way to create advertising material that will actually be used. This also helps you to create a more robust resume when applying for a full-time position in advertising design.

After readying a portfolio and gaining some experience, you can contact advertising agencies directly about a position in advertising design. Many agencies prefer freelance workers and may not have a full-time opening, so you may have to submit your resume and portfolio to several agencies before one responds. Aside from powerful designs, you must be focused on teamwork and be diverse in what designs you can create.

Discussion Comments


I started out working for a small printing company as a graphic designer. The pay was terrible, but it gave me something to put in my portfolio and in my resume. Potential employers love to see any sort of real-life experience.

When I started looking for something more permanent, I sent out my resume and cover letter to every ad agency or business with an ad agency affiliated with it in a fifty-mile radius of my home. Not everyone responded, but I got about three calls for interviews out of it.

One lady said they didn't have an opening, but she knew someone who did, so she forwarded my resume on to them. They ended up calling me for an interview, and I was thrilled!

The key thing is to send out your information to every business that you would be willing to work for. The more you have to choose from, the better your chances of landing your dream job.


I'm sure the fact that I did not finish college decreases my chances of landing a job with a graphic design company. However, I did take a couple of years worth of classes, and I know how to design ads using several different programs.

This knowledge has helped me get freelance work. I have done business cards and flyers for businesses around town, and they have helped me by spreading the word about my skills.

I may be stuck doing freelance for awhile, but that's okay with me. It's more of a relaxed situation, and I have more freedom working for myself than for someone else. The only hard thing is the inevitable gaps between jobs.


@wavy58 – Thanks for the information about newspaper designer salaries. I have been looking for an advertising job, and I recently applied to both an advertising agency and a newspaper. Now, I know that I probably shouldn't waste my time with the newspaper.

I have a four-year degree in studio art with an emphasis in graphic design. I think this will help me be more attractive to the advertising agency. While I was in college, I learned how to use several design programs that are the most common tools for design agencies today.

I don't expect to start out at an amazing rate of pay, but I at least want the potential to work up to it one day. I want to work for a place that lets me grow and motivates me with raises and promotions.


I'm glad to hear that creating spec ads is acceptable for a portfolio. I have several spec ads in mine, though I have worked for years for an actual company. Sometimes your best work comes from the freedom to create something entirely by yourself.

At the newspaper where I work as a graphic designer, ads always have to be done a certain size, and I am given the information that must fit into the space. This can be very confining when it comes to creativity.

I think that my spec ads look much better than most of the work I have done for the paper, simply because I adjusted the space to fit the content, rather than the other way around. I have had more compliments from potential employers on these ads than anything else.

Though I currently do hold a job, I have been looking for something better for quite some time. Graphic designers who work at newspapers earn the lowest salaries of them all.

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