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How persistence helped this Art Director land a job during hiring freezes

An Art Director at Leo Burnett Chicago tells us how working on a Black Pencil-winning project helped jump-start her career

Illustration by Jael Umerah-Makelemi

Art Director Katherine (Katie) DiNardo graduated from university during Covid and amidst hiring freezes, but was able to land a place at Leo Burnett Chicago (as a creative team, along with her writing partner) after months of applying to jobs. Shortly after joining the agency, she was put on a project — The Lost Class — that went on to win a Black Pencil at D&AD Awards 2022, making DiNardo our current top-ranked Art Director. 

Here, DiNardo tells us about graduating during a lockdown, how perseverance paid off, and why she loves going to the office. 

Be proactive even when there are obstacles

I graduated in 2020 during Covid lockdown and everything was out of the ordinary. Normally our school would have had a little career fair situation where the agencies would have come, and we could have shown our work, but that couldn't happen in the middle of Covid. 

It was hard not to be disheartened during this time but my writing partner Kelly Barrett and I kept looking for openings and opportunities. We were looking to be hired as a team, so we were specifically looking for postings for creative teams. There was a hiring freeze everywhere we interviewed, but after four or five months of looking, we finally got lucky with Leo Burnett. They had an open position, and they wanted us, and we were like “Yes please!” Since then, things have been going pretty well for us and our career progression has been steady.  

You have great colleagues, learn from them

We are just starting to return to the office a couple of days a week, which was a big adjustment, but I really like it. Going into the agency is really nice because you get a lot of feedback and opportunities just from people who are passing by your desk. It’s interesting how many problems get solved just by someone stopping by and chatting something through. Also, when you’re in the same space it doesn't always have to be an official meeting. 

I think what's nice about being in a company is there's just so many people that you can look up to and learn from. You get to know them, and they get to know you — it almost jumpstarts your career and gives you an understanding of exactly what's expected of you. It's a lot easier when you have role models to follow than when you're just making stuff up by yourself. Being able to emulate someone makes you feel more competent in every presentation. You realise, if we do it this way, it should be correct and then you get good feedback and that in turn increases confidence. So, I think it is important to have those kinds of people around you to look up to and learn from. 

Taking on responsibility feels natural when you are ready

The first big thing we worked on was The Lost Class project, which is crazy. It was all so secret that I don't even know how long they were working on it at Leo Burnett before we were put on the project. It was a really long process of concepting and changing ideas before we landed on the final ideas. I think it was after working on The Lost Class that we went from junior to more mid-level, probably a little under a year after starting the job at Leo Burnett.

Kelly and I had done some work for the restaurant company Wingstop, and had also worked on a TV campaign for Bank of America. I think having some of that work to vouch for us helped us move up in our job. It was very natural. I honestly don't think it felt too different because I am not managing people yet, which I think will probably feel like a big change. My job currently feels like we have a little more trust and maybe a little bit more responsibility.

A good work-life balance will help you be more productive

Something that you have to work on, for the benefit of your career, is having a good work-life balance. I think in a creative job, it's easy to slip into feeling that nothing ever feels done or like you could always keep coming up with more ideas. This can mean it's very easy to get burnt out or just spend too much time working, so you have to be cognizant about separating your personal life and having fun because while this job is wonderful it is not one that you leave at the office. Maintaining that balance as much as possible will ensure you are at your best when the pressure is on as you will be fresh and on the ball. 

D&AD’s Foot in the Door series asks creatives to share their unique route into building a creative career. Read more interviews with the likes of a director they call the ‘King of the Super Bowl’ and a copywriter who transitioned from music to advertising, here.

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