Sarah Jacobson was a determined and bright young college grad who was served a handful of disappointment right at the downturn of the economy. For many graduates, including Sarah, the recession hit hard and they found themselves out of a job and down on their luck. Despite this huge hurdle, Sarah kept her chin up. She focused, honed in every ounce of determination she had, and persevered until she finally found the job of her dreams—copywriter at one of the most prestigious global advertising agencies.
Even though Sarah has faced some tough times, she still found the strength to push through them. She proves that even when you think life keeps handing you setbacks, you’ll eventually get where you need to be. Today, read all about this strong-willed young woman.
Full Name: Sarah Jacobson
Current Title/Company: Copywriter, Draftfcb
Educational Background: Bachelor of Arts in English/Creative Writing, minor in Sociology
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it? What was the greatest lesson you learned from this experience?
My first job out of college was—not by choice—working for myself. I moved to New York City right after I graduated, hoping to land a job at the ad agency at which I’d interned the summer before. When I contacted them pre-graduation, they told me, in not so many words, to get my butt to New York, and then we’d talk. So I did just that. I got my butt to a tiny closet of an apartment in the East Village and wrote to them again.
Unfortunately, by the time I’d purchased an unlimited metro card, they were no longer hiring. In fact, they were letting people go. I started applying to freelance writing jobs on Craigslist, and within a year, I had a somewhat steady roster of clients for whom I was writing—web copy, articles, print ads, etc. My first year, I made just over 30k, which was, to be fair, about the same as my friends were making at their entry-level jobs. But it wasn’t what I had come to New York to do. I wanted to go into work each morning, and having my couch as an office didn’t count.
Unfortunately, right around the time you graduated the recession was in full swing—which led many young graduates like yourself down a long path to finding a job. How did coming out of college during such a financial crisis hinder your job search?
I spent my four years at Skidmore living in a total bubble. I knew what was going on in the world, but I naively didn’t think it would affect me. I was smart, I was motivated, and I had internships under my belt. I knew the recession was bad, but I didn’t really comprehend just how bad it was. Moving to New York and not being able to find a job was a real slap in the face. I think I probably speak for lots of other people my age when I say I (selfishly) felt that I had been promised opportunity would await me after college, and nothing was turning out the way I had planned. I had been told by one of my mentors at my internship the past year that I “had it”—whatever that special sparkle is that one needs to be a good writer. It was frustrating to feel like I had “it” and yet, no one would hire me. This was a combination of the recession, and the fact that I hadn’t gone to ad school. I was a writer, but I wasn’t the right kind of writer.
During your initial search for a job, you were turned away from a lot of opportunities due to the fact you didn’t go to school for advertising, and didn’t have the required “book” of work. Tell us the process you went through to eventually build a proper “advertising book.”
Remember when Moses came down from the mountain and delivered the Ten Commandments? In advertising, your book equals your Ten Commandments. It proves that you can concept big ideas. It shows that you can condense those big ideas into one tiny headline. It demonstrates how you think, how you write, and what your aesthetic is. It’s the holy grail of advertising, and I didn’t really have one.
I had a few spec ads I’d put together on the advisement of my former supervisor at my internship, but because I hadn’t gone to advertising school, my writing experience was more in the realm of short stories and long Sociological papers than it was in the realm of print ads and video shorts. If I’m being honest, I spent a lot of time being bitter about the fact that no one would even look at me without a real book. I wanted to throw myself at them and scream, “BUT I CAN WRITE! I CAN, REALLY!” Instead of doing that, I decided to sign up for a few classes at SVA (School of Visual Arts) to build my book. This was one of the best decisions I could have made—it gave me the body of work I needed to get people to actually read my resume and call me in for an interview.
In college, you majored in creative writing and sociology and wrote an 80-page “novella”. Tell us how your internship at an ad agency ultimately guided your career path to advertising over pursuing a more literary focused path.
The first “book” I ever wrote was called The Cat and Dog go to the Farm.” I “published” it at the publishing center at Ryan Road Elementary School, a little nook in the library where you could select your cover and back cover and “bind” your book to bring home with you. Even since I was little, I’ve known I wanted to write. But I’ve also always had a fascination with TV commercials. I can still, to this day (much to my parents’ chagrin), sing the Baby Check Up commercial in full. When I entered college, I thought writing wasn’t a reliable enough career, so I started off by majoring in Psychology. I like people, and I thought I could think about what goes through their minds all day long. Little did I know that Psych 101 wasn’t really about people—it was about numbers, and graphs, and other things I cared little about. By the time I entered sophomore year, I’d switched my major to English, with a focus in Creative Writing.
I secured my internship purely on luck—I happened upon an email from a former Skidmore English Major who was now a copywriter at a big ad agency in New York while at home in bed with mono over Spring Break. To this day, I’m pretty sure I only got the gig because I was the first to respond (or maybe it was because I have that special sparkle?). Two weeks into my internship, I felt this little tug on my heart—this was it. This was what I was meant to do. I was writing. I was thinking about how my words would affect people. Would they laugh? Would tiny salty tears dot their eyes? Would they feel happy? Intelligent? Calm? I could control all that…with my words! It was an amazing feeling.
While searching for full time positions after you graduated, you did some freelance work and felt unfulfilled as a writer—which further fueled your drive to find a position in advertising. What advice can you give to girls who find themselves in a similar career rut?
I can’t even count the number of times I blindly sent my resume into the abyss, praying that someone would respond. I must have applied to over 200 jobs during my first two years in New York. While other friends settled for working as receptionists or waitresses, I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream just yet. I spent a lot of nights crying into my pillowcase wondering why I was failing so miserably at securing a position in the field in which I believed I was destined to work. I had a lot of “Is it me? It must be me.” moments. I was convinced that I wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, that whoever had told me I was talented had lied. My self-confidence hit an all-time low. But still, I kept sending out emails, pressing “send” on what I hoped was a witty cover letter, and praying that someone would see my sparkle and write back. I also was lucky to have an incredibly supportive circle of friends and an amazing family—all of whom kept my chin up when I wanted to quit.
After a lot of hard work and writing, you finally found what you believed to be your “dream job” and spent a year and a half working at a large creative company. When the economy took a hit, unfortunately your job did too. After all the hard work you put in to landing this position, how did this loss affect your professional goals and career path?
I can’t lie—it took all of my self control not to burst into tears when my boss told me that they were going to be “making my position redundant.” I held it together until I left the office, then I promptly hailed a cab, called my sister, and lost it. That poor cabbie! He had no idea what was coming for him when he let me in.
I spent a week at my parent’s house recuperating, and figuring out what I wanted to do next. I did a bit of soul searching—wondering if this was a sign that I wasn’t meant to do this job. I’ve always been an avid baker, so I started a cooking blog to occupy my time and dabbled with the idea of opening a bakery. But still, I sent out resumes, and this time, I started working with a few recruiters. Luckily, a month after I’d been laid off, a recruiter called and told me he had a job for me, if I wanted it. The creative director had seen my book. He liked my work and asked if I could start on Wednesday. Just like that, I was working again.
In the short time since you’ve graduated, you’ve gone through more career development (from a job search in a downtrodden economy to building an advertising book) than most girls do in double that time. Tell us the process you went through to land your current position at DraftFCB.
While I was working at the job mentioned above, I continued to send out my resume and reach out to anyone and everyone I knew in the industry. Once upon a time, my aunt had worked in advertising here in New York, and she sent out an email to a few of her contacts, attaching my resume and my book. A few months after she sent it, one guy wrote back, asking if her niece was still looking for a job. He had an open position on his team at Draftfcb, and he wanted to interview me for it. Six interviews later, I had a job offer. You can’t even imagine the size of my smile when I got my letter.
If you had to choose one (whether job, internship, or class), what past experiences helped you best prepare for your current position and why?
I think that all of my experiences (even the really tough ones) are what have gotten me where I am today. But it doesn’t get better than interning. Internships are the real thing. It’s one thing to study something in school, one thing to write headlines in your notebook at night, but to be surrounded by a bevy of creative people hell bent on pushing you past your limit? That’s a whole other level. If you do get the chance to intern, don’t be afraid to ask for more work. Stick around late at night, because that’s when the moments of genius happen—pad thai on your plate and a beer in your hand. Ask for opportunities, and chances are, you’ll get them.
You’ve worked incredibly hard to obtain an amazing position in advertising—so tell us, why advertising? When did you first know this field was the one? Who or what encouraged you to pursue this dream?
I know many people fast forward through the commercials they see on TV and disregard the print ads they see in magazines. But every once in a while, a campaign comes along that makes your heart beat faster—because it awakens some human instinct in you. There’s lots of bad advertising out there, but the really good work…it’s so good. This P&G spot for the London Olympics comes to mind. It was smart, emotional, and hit on something everyone understands—the relationship between mother and child. I haven’t made any work that comes close to being this powerful yet, but I hope that someday I do. I love that I don’t just get to write. I also get to think about what makes people tick. What makes them laugh. What makes them cry.
In terms of who encouraged me to pursue this dream, I have to hand it to my mothers (I have two). Through it all, they never gave up on me, even when I had totally given up on myself. They constantly told me to keep going, because I was “born to do this.” They’ve done me the honor of crying happy tears when they love something I write—and really, what’s better than making your mom cry because she’s so proud of you?
What advice do you have for Everygirl’s who wish to begin a career in the advertising industry? What personality qualities do you believe are most beneficial for an individual to possess in order to obtain a successful career in advertising?
First and foremost, know in your heart that you can do this. And don’t let anyone tell you differently (most of all your own self doubt). It will be hard, but it will be worth it. Intern, intern, intern. Read anything you can get your hands on. Pay attention to politics. Pay attention to pop culture. It’s your job to know what’s going on in the world, so that you can tap into those insights. Be driven. Be curious. Ask questions. Fight for what’s right, and what’s good. Trust your gut. And most of all, do not give up. You deserve this, and you best not forget that.
Since beginning your job as a copywriter, what has been the largest obstacle you’ve faced? How were you able to overcome it?
I would say getting laid off was the largest obstacle I’ve faced. It might sound crazy, but I truly thought I might never work again. I felt really, really lost. I don’t do well without a regimented schedule, so, in hopes of getting back to normal, I gave myself one. I got up each morning and took the subway down to the Bar Method studio (I am a Bar Method addict) in Soho. I devoted two hours each morning to networking and hunting for jobs. In the afternoons, I took to my kitchen. Baking and cooking have always been a release for me, and I decided to channel my energy into a cooking blog; I spent many an hour kneading flour and crafting the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The blog was the perfect project, as it gave me something to work toward. Best of all, it meant I was still writing. Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t start blogging sooner.
What has been your biggest accomplishment and highlight of your career thus far? In the next 5 years, where do you hope to see yourself professionally?
I don’t think I have a big “moment” so to speak—but I’ve had many little moments that have felt like a big accomplishment. During my first month at Draftfcb, I worked on a new business pitch, and wrote a bunch of copy that I felt pretty damn proud of. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. One afternoon, the Chief Creative Officer approached my cubical out of the blue, and tapped me on the shoulder. “I liked your line,” he said. As the big man on campus, he’s the one to please. So color me happy, there’s a sofa in here for two, and Rich Levy likes my line! Any time my work resonates with someone—and I can see it in the way they nod their head, swallow deeply, or smile widely—I feel like I’ve accomplished something. As a writer, there’s nothing better than knowing your words have made someone feel something.
Take us through a typical day in the life of Sarah Jacobson.
Like I said, I’m a girl that’s all about routine. I wake up at 6:30 and book it downtown to Bar Method for a 7:30 am class. After tucking and lifting my butt off, I shower and hop on the subway uptown to 34th Street—my office is in Herald Square, otherwise known as Tourist Central. Ever the impatient New Yorker, I’m always counting to ten in an attempt to calm myself down instead of pushing tourists out of the way on my way to Starbucks.
Once I get there, I order an iced venti non-fat chai and say “hi” to my favorite baristas. I am a Starbucks addict, and you can bet I was overjoyed when they put a kiosk in the bottom floor of my office building. After that, my day is a blend of meetings and sitting at my computer with my headphones in, blasting Spotify and tapping out copy on my keyboard. If we’re in pitch mode, I’m sitting in various places around the office with my art partner, pulling at strings in our brains to find that genius idea. I work right by NYC’s flower district, so my coworkers and I will often take an afternoon work break to go purchase fresh flowers to liven up our workspaces. I try to leave work around 6:30, though that doesn’t always happen. I’m a firm believer in having a life outside of work. Your job is what you do, not who you are. And while I love my work, I don’t want to be at work 24/7.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Oh girl. Repeat after me: it is all going to be okay. This is the time to make mistakes—stop beating yourself up for making them. Quit waiting around for someone to validate you. You can validate yourself.
You are worthy of love, of happiness, and of a prosperous and fulfilling career—and it is okay that you don’t have all these things yet. It’s also okay that you’re not exactly where you thought you’d be. You will get there.
You’re in the most amazing city in the world, so get out there and enjoy it. Stay out too late, drink a bit too much, and laugh ‘til your stomach hurts. You’ll only be this young once, and the hangovers only get worse as you get older.
And most of all, be true to yourself. Trust yourself. Listen to your gut, and don’t let anyone dull your sparkle. Oh, and call your mom at least once a day. You can wean yourself off that habit in your late twenties, but for now, she’s got all the wisdom you need.