by TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) Starting at an agency at the very bottom of the food chain may be daunting, especially when agency life is nothing like what you thought it would be. At least you were thinking. If you want to make it up the ranks, you’re going to have to do a lot more thinking to impress your seniors, their bosses, and the bosses’ bosses.

Between the coffee runs, embarrassing reviews, and executing other people’s ideas, there’s room for you to develop a few skills that will help you get noticed and grow from “that intern over there” to someone who adds value to the team. Here are a few tips on how to get there.

Go a little overboard

The best thing about being young and naive is that, well, you’re young and naive. Add to that the vibrancy of youth that lets you party all weekend and still rock up at work as if nothing happened, and you’ve got an idea machine that can run at full speed…all the time. So use it.

Whenever there’s a problem you need to solve, think up as many ideas as you can to solve it. Then think up more. Granted, most of those ideas will be really, really bad, but some will also be really good, or really interesting.

Most people would say quality over quantity but, when you’re an intern and aren’t really sure what quality is, quantity will at least help the people overseeing you to find a few needles in the haystack.

Be open to learning

After spending most of your life in classrooms and exam halls, you get a lovely piece of paper from a tertiary institution over which everyone who knows you goes crazy. So, the last thing you expect when you start working is to do more learning. Things such as how to talk to a group of people sitting around a table looking at a screen (also called presentation skills), knowing what and what not to spend your time doing (also called time management), and a bunch of other skills will go a long way in helping you develop in your career.

Don’t be afraid to ask people around you for help. After reviewing, ask how you did, what you can improve on, and what you should look out for. When you see someone doing something you have no clue about, ask them to give you a crash course so you may learn to do it.

These are small things, but in the end, you’ll be glad you did it.

Surprise people

No, this doesn’t mean you must secretly organise the best birthday party ever, although that would be nice. What you need to do is surprise everyone with stuff that no one thought you would know.

Stay clued up about what happens in the industry. Know what campaigns are making waves, which trends are picking up or dying down, what the cool kids are listening to, or what the latest mind-blowing tech there is that may be used right now.

Yes, this means expanding your literature to more than what happens on your social media platforms but, when people start coming to you with questions or asking for advice instead of asking for another cup of coffee, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t been doing it all along.

It’s important to remember that you still have to do your job well while you’re developing other skillsets. But it shouldn’t be difficult because you got your job because someone saw potential in you. All you need to do is realise that potential by getting better at what you do, and increasing the value you add to the team. It’ll take a while before you become your seniors’ bosses’ boss, but you’ll definitely get there by interning like a boss.


TJ NjozelaTJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) is an award-winning senior copywriter at FCB Africa with several years of experience in the advertising industry. More than a writer, he is also a reader, a thinker, and an avid liker of things; and he once walked from Joburg to Cape Town in 30 days to raise funds to buy wheelchairs for people in need. #30Days30Wheelchairs. TJ contributes the regular “Agency Life” column, in which he gives career advice for working within the advertising industry, to MarkLives.

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