Survey: Employers discuss hiring in the creative fields…

Creative Employment Survey Overview

Survey Conducted by Randy Gunter, November 2020

Creative employment survey geared towards recent college graduates

Review the survey results pdf.

In November of 2020, we sent out an online survey to employers that hire creative people. In our definition, we are looking at the creatives as people who create communication materials. This would include graphic designers, art directors, photographers, videographers, copywriters, etc. Although most of the questions could be interpretted in general terms, the respondents knew we were specifically asking the questions as it related to hiring college graduates looking for their first job in the industry.

We received 36 responses. Half of the responses were from ad agency presidents or owners, the rest were from company executives who hired new employees. Five of the respondents worked in the corporate world, the rest worked at marketing/advertising agencies or design studios. Half of the respondents worked at companies that had under 20 employees, approximately a quarter ranged from 20 to 100, the rest had over 100 employees with one larger firm with over 500 . 

All respondents answered the questions voluntarily, no compensation was offered. As such, we wanted to keep the survey short. We were pleasantly surprised with some of the detail that respondents added to the “fill in the blank” questions.

An important note with this survey is that we took into account the changes in the way businesses function in 2020 due to the pandemic. The survey was written prior to announcements of any vaccine approvals. We are not sure that this information would have changed any responses. Our personal opinion is that some protocols established during the pandemic, interviewing via online video connections for example, could easily carry over even after things get back to “normal”. But most of the takeaways that are important for the job hunter will be pertinent regardless.


We felt that question number 6 that asked the respondents to rate importance of a candidate’s traits and abilities was revealing. We weren’t surprised that a candidate’s portfolio/samples were very important in getting the foot in the door, but even more important to the employer was whether the candidate would fit the culture of the firm. The candidate’s tenacity and desire also weighed right up there on the scale. Knowledge of the job, extra-curricular achievements, and the candidate’s resume did not weigh in as much in the process. 

The toughest question to answer was Question 9, where we asked how does the employer evaluate a candidate’s ability to work off-site. This question was obviously asked with the Covid environment where a lot of employees are working remotely. Many of our employers simply stated that they will not hire new employees at this time, even though they are busy and could use the help. A number also responded by stating that they would first hire candidates on a freelance basis. Along those same lines, a candidate might expect to have a “test assignment” to prove capabilities.

Questions 10 and 11 were open ended, simply asking the employer was a candidate can do to impress them in question 10 and what common mistakes candidates make in question 11. 

It is important to emphasize to students that the little things make a difference. Make sure there are not typos on a resume. Write a thank you note and then follow up. Understand the work that the company does. These items were mentioned over and over.

The mistakes question also included the same items mentioned above, just responding in the inverse. In addition, underdressing for the interview, not acting professionally, being too informal were mentioned.

As a side note, whether this is appropriate from an employer or not, employers will research candidates and look at their social media posts. If a candidate wants to be a professional, they need to carry that over into their private life too. 

The last question was an open-ended what else? question that interestingly had a lot of common themes and similar responses from our employers. A lot of the responses were keying in on attitude rather than ability. A candidate that acts like they know it all definitely gets negative feedback. Those that feel they are entitled will not be looked upon highly either.

Along with the attitude, the ability to present capabilities are certainly important. Job candidates need to know the software and having a good website to show off their work is essential. Being able to articulate the “why” is important, having a reason for what was done. If a candidate doesn’t have the samples they need from the classes they took, they need to take the initiative and create the samples themselves. Similarly, having multiple capabilities (graphic design plus web plus animation, for example) is a big plus in getting a first job. Anytime a student can get an internship, that is a plus (and sometimes a prerequisite.)

Several respondents also talked about networking. Candidates need to figure out how get involved in their industry, meet influencers, find networking events, etc. Last, but not least, a number of respondents talked about whether the candidate was enthusiastic or not. Wanting to learn and having a passion for the industry is important.

As an ad agency owner for over 20 years, and someone in the industry for over 30 years, I did not find anything that surprised me in the responses. I did not fill out the survey, but my own responses would have been right in line with what we saw from our participants. The actual survey is included for review, unedited. (Including the comment that I had a typo in the questions! Good thing I don’t need a job.)

About the author…

Randy Gunter is a thirty year advertising agency veteran and agency owner. The Gunter Agency has worked on national and international projects for companies that include Charter Business, Firestone, Fiskars, John Deere, Kimberly-Clark, Oscar Mayer, OshKosh B’Gosh, Rayovac, and others. Randy and his agency have received Adweek’s Media Plan of the Year award, NAMA Best of PR award, and hundreds of creative awards and recognitions.

Randy still consults with companies on marketing, but today his main concentration is CEO of Sugar River Trading Company. Sugar River is best known as the manufacturer and distributor of McNess home products.