8 Tips For How Students Can Impress At Next Gen Dinner Series + Beyond

March 15, 2017

They say that hindsight is 20/20 as in, it is only after you’ve eaten the entirety of an enormous, garlicky, onion-filled chicken shawarma that you realize that it was a horrible thing to do before salsa class. You learn from experiences and missteps, moving forward with more consideration for your dance partners (and anyone else you speak to, I suppose). But despite the futility of it, you can’t help but wonder “If only I had known back then what I know now…”

This is part of why I became involved in Ad Lounge’s annual training, mentoring and networking program, Next Gen Dinner Series.

What is Next Gen Dinner Series?

Launched as an initiative to address the industry’s competitive search for recruiting talent, the event pairs Toronto’s brightest graduating students with leaders at companies such as Amazon, Google, and Leo Burnett. Not needing the same foot-in-the-door opportunity that students do, at the dinner they’ve asked me why I opted to join the committee.

So, why did you want to be part of the committee?

Simply, I wished there had been a program like this around when I was a OCAD U student, wondering desperately how I was going to get a job that was relevant to my degree. If only I had had access to someone who would impart some of their hard-earned experience. It’s my way of paying it forward; for my clueless, floundering eighteen-year old self.

From experience of vetting applicants for designer roles at my work and hundreds of candidates for the dinner, I have noticed that people make the same little mistakes that can be easily avoided. Whether you’re attending Next Gen Dinner Series on March 21 or a graduating student looking to get a job once school is over, here are some tips that I wish I’d known back in the day:


If a job posting lists a contact name, don’t use “To Whom It May Concern…” to start your cover letter. If it clearly states “No calls” then DON’T CALL. You may think that you’re being assertive but to those doing the hiring it can indicate you’re not detail-oriented. Also for the love of all that is pasta, SPELLCHECK. No one wants to hire someone whose work will have to be double or triple checked.


This is where skills garnered from five-year deep stalking your ex’s social media accounts comes in handy. If you’re looking to impress someone you’ll be networking or interviewing with then do your due diligence and research what their agency does, what projects they were involved in, you’re prepared with RELEVANT questions and insights to show how engaged and invested you are.


True story – one of our juniors came to an interview with a branded cardboard box with over a dozen cookies that were decorated to look like the galaxy ( Cosmic Design, geddit?) with our LOGO on it! From firsthand experience of reviewing hundreds of student portfolios, after a while they all start to blend together so you need to find a way to stand out and be memorable. It’s the perfect opportunity to showcase your creativity!


As much as we’d love to spend all day perusing your painstakingly crafted four-page resumé, detailing your high school babysitting experience for a junior designer role, we have jobs to do. There are real deadlines with real clients who will get real ticked if we were to do that, so do yourself a favour and efficiently layout your CV and only keep info that is relevant.


While it’s good to have goals and focus, don’t be too quick to pigeon-hole yourself. Even if you’re 95% sure that you want to art direct international fashion campaigns or copy write slogans for luxury vehicles, use that leftover 5% to explore other skills or interests. Now is the best time to take risks because without a family to support and a mortgage to pay, the stakes are relatively low.


Leslie Ehm, the dynamic president of Combustion that is Next Gen Dinner Series’ training partner, gave students amazing advice: Let your freak flag fly. If you pretend to be someone you’re not to get a job, you’re stuck being that person FOREVER (or at least until you get a new job). Nothing beats genuine passion plus it’s much more likely that you’ll find a true fit for you by being authentic.


Whether it’s a vlog about knitting or selling handcrafted terrariums, having a side hustle is something that really makes an applicant stand out in a sea of portfolios. It was surprising how many students said they were “too busy with school” to have any side projects. Side projects show that you have REAL passion for what you do and the determination and focus to cultivate something in addition to all your other responsibilities. All good things.


It doesn’t take too long to send a short “Thank You” email to someone who just interviewed you or took the time to let you “pick” their brain so do it! Not only is it just plain good manners but it’ll make you stand out to them in a positive light or reinforce the good impression you may have left. You can also do this by tweeting a quick thanks or connecting with them on LinkedIn.