Too many try to pour into the advertising honeypot

"These are the people who will take your jobs." So runs the invitation to this week's Student Expo, hosted by the Designers and Art Directors Association (D&AD).

More graduates than ever are pouring out of Britain's art colleges looking for a job in advertising or graphic design. The D&AD Student Expo will display the work of this year's talent and hand out awards - and some of the lucky winners will see their work turned into real campaigns. The winning radio ad will go into production on Capital Radio, and young hopefuls have the chance to win a placement in the creative department at GGT, alongside Trevor Beattie, famous for the Wonderbra ads.

However, many graduates will be disappointed. Vicky Sergeant, the D&AD's consultant director of education, says: "There are 5,000-plus students on degree courses such as graphics, photography, multimedia and illustration. There are a lot more of them out there than there are jobs available."

She says that Expo helps creative directors to sort out the talent. "In the past, they spent a lot more time going round colleges seeing for themselves those that might make the grade."

Such is the competition for jobs that many graduates are prepared to work for nothing, or for the price of their bus fare and lunch - in the hope of eventually being offered a permanent job. But that is an option open only to those who can afford it. It is also open to abuse: there are stories of graduates on placement producing award-winning work for which someone else takes the credit, then finding themselves without a job.

A spokeswoman for the advertising head-hunters Canna Kendall and Co says: "Some graduates are very lucky and get offered a job straightaway, others get a job after six months' placement; I've just placed a team of creatives who have been looking for a job for three years. Many more will never make it."

To help graduates to find that elusive job, the D&AD has produced a book full of advice from those already working in advertising.

Adrian Holmes, chairman of the ad agency Lowe & Partners Europe, says: "Never mind how to get into advertising; the question to ask is, should you get a job in advertising? If you are simply tickled by the notion, attracted by the tales of huge loot, you need to find yourself another career, chum."

Tom Carty and Walter Campbell, an award-winning team at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, advise young hopefuls to do their homework. "Find out what ads the company have done and what accounts they work on. Try to surprise the people interviewing you. Give them more and better stuff than they expect. Think of it like a hot date with someone you are seriously mad for," they say.

And Tiger Savage, art director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says graduates need a thick skin, gut instinct and balls, "and that goes for the girls too".

One graduate who is confident that he has those qualities is Tom Ewart, from Kingston University, who has been short-listed for a D&AD award. He says: "It's down to perseverance, and being able to take the knock- backs. I'm certain I'll get a job".

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