The Graduate's Guide to the Galaxy

The Graduate's Guide to the Galaxy
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It's that time of year again, as a new set of aspiring digital stars, advertising greats, marketing magicians and media buyers search for the employer who will give their career the green light. Here Jessica Kennedy pulls together advice on snaring that first role.

Tutorials, lengthy lectures and essays have been left behind and mortarboards have received a celebratory toss into the air. Emerging from the haze of post-graduation parties, the class of 2012 now has the daunting task of securing full-time employment. But what awaits the latest crop of marcomms and advertising graduates?

B&T has pulled together a mix of those at the top of their professions and others for whom graduation is not a distant memory. The contributors hail from:

  • Marketing
  • Media
  • Advertising Agencies
  • Digital
  • Media Agencies

They discuss how they achieved their big break, what they look for when hunting for staff and tips for snaring a role on the first rung of the ladder. Industry insiders also share insights on how to prepare for those tough interviews and instructions on how to construct a winning resume.

With data and digital developments rapidly transforming the industries, today’s grads are expected to have a far wider base of knowledge than their predecessors.

But Jodie Sangster, chief executive of the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising, says this has also seen “opportunities within marketing and advertising expand exponentially over the past five years”.

“It’s also important to recognise that we have a skills shortage in marketing in Australia,” Sangster adds. “This provides good opportunities for individuals who have the right skill set and organisations who are seeking good talent.”

However, Peter Lawrance, advertising and marketing lecturer at the Business School of RMIT and former media director at Clemenger BBDO and GPY&R, describes the job market for grads as tough.

“The market for any vocation is difficult because a lot of ad agencies and media buying companies are cutting costs like everyone and there aren’t the numbers of internships that there once were,” he says. “It is very difficult, regardless of your pedigree, to get a job straight from graduation.”

The Communications Council’s business services and advice manager, Gawen Rudder, who is also the head of the organisation’s Graduate Trainee Program, believes there is “no shortage of positions for new thinking in agencies at the moment”, especially in the area of digital.

“The next big opportunities will be for grads from the other side of the brain – science and mathematics for example – to fill the data analytics positions as agencies continue to re-invent themselves,” says Rudder.

Opportunities also abound for aspiring media strategists, according to Lawrance who says there are plenty of junior opportunities in media agencies.

The tussle to nab a graduate position is highly competitive, so how can you stand out from the hoardes drafting their cover letters this year? Read on for tips – and proof you don’t necessarily need a degree to land a junior role.

 

Marketing magnate

Andy Gibson – chief marketing officer, Carlton & United Breweries

B&T: Is it harder to ger your foot in the door today than when you started out?

It’s definitely harder to start a career in business today than it was when I started 25 years ago. There is more competition and more competency/personality-based testing. Having said that, marketing isn’t attracting the numbers of graduates it once was, which should make it a little easier in the coming years.

B&T: What do graduates need to be trained in before they enter the industry?

I believe that the era of brands yelling their messages at consumers is well and truly over. The age of a twoway conversation is alive and kicking.

I believe an area that the entire system needs to overhaul and become much better at training in is digital/social marketing.

Whilst this isn’t a straightforward task given the speed of change in digital, I strongly believe that universities that focus on building this capability will have a competitive edge. Obviously this edge will benefit their graduates.

B&T : What are your tips for those setting out on their careers?

I could be boring here and say study hard and get good marks. Whilst this may be a prerequisite when I’m recruiting I‘m looking for more.

I’m looking for marketing flair, acumen and somebody that has a reasonable idea of where they want to get to and I can feel that they are hungry to get there.

My tip is to be comfortable letting the real you come through in interviews. Be clear with prospective employers about what gets you fired up and what you’re looking to achieve.

 

The digital debutant

 

Mark Serhan – Ad operations executive for Microsoft Media Network, Mi9

Age: 25

Studied: Bachelor of Business with majors in Managment and Marketing at the University of Newcastle, including a one-year placement at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, USA, 2006 to 2009

 

 

 

B&T: How did your 'big break' come about?

My ultimate goal was to work for a global digital company and I know I’m really lucky to be working for Microsoft in only my second year in the industry. After my course I applied for about four jobs a day for two months straight.

Lots of grad positions at big companies. Some days I’d get more rejections than I’d submit applications.

In the end I typed my two passions into Seek: “Sports” and “Marketing” and that’s how I ended up in my first job at Golflink.com.au.

They gave me a chance and exposed me to every aspect of the digital mix. I was there for a year and gained a solid grounding in tech and the importance of data – two key aspects of my current role at MMN.

B&T: Do you feel your university degree prepared you enough for the workforce?

For strategy and problem solving uni was good but for practical skills, especially in digital – I found it to be archaic. Once you’re in a job it comes down to how you use that opportunity. I taught myself html, EDM design and Photoshop. I listened, watched, and absorbed everything I could. I worked really hard, a lot of the time doing very basic stuff.

We all think we’re going to be sitting around dreaming up creative campaigns with unlimited budgets, but the industry has so many different areas uni doesn’t expose us to.

In my case, I really enjoy seeing the results of performance media campaigns and that drives me as much as I imagined creative work would.

My advice: don’t be afraid to start small but aim high – somebody will give you a chance, and that will kick start your career, but you won’t necessarily end up where you thought you might.

B&T: What needs to be done to make entering the industry easier?

My time studying in the USA showed me that course work can be both practical and focused on helping the local community.

Each class had real life ‘clients’, one was a chiropractor, another a gym, and we got to apply our learnings to real life business cases, and even better – see the real results. Work experience is invaluable but tough to secure and often hard to fit around study and part-time work. But in Columbia, the uni provided us with real life experience as part of the course. Genius!

 

Gawen Rudder, the Communications Council’s business services and advice manager and head of its Graduate Trainee Program, says a great CV is a “passport to an interview”. Therefore they are extremely important to get right.

The media, advertising and marketing industries are known for their creative flair, but iknowho consultant Jo Hughes councils job hunters to restrain themselves when it comes to designing their CVs. “I’ve seen a few examples of people trying to be creative to stand out with their application, and it can backfire,” Hughes says. “One guy had created the first page of his CV like the cover of a photography magazine. It made me think he wanted to be a photographer, when he wanted to be agency account management.

“Another candidate sent me her profile as a creative brief. It was well written and made me smile. She had instant cut through and went on to get a great job.

“My tip would be to have a very clean, well designed and well written application. If you want to be creative, it must be relevant, smart and not over-the-top.”

For Rudder there are two quick ways to ensure your resume lands on the recycling heap: by stating – but not demonstrating – a ‘passion’ for the business and ‘teamwork’, which he labels “the most over-used word in CVs”. Avoid those mistakes and “avoid the obvious” and Rudder says you have a chance of making it to the second stage.

 

Producing perfection

Sam Cavanagh – national executive producer and content manager for Fifi & Jules, Today Network

B&T: Is it harder to get your foot in the door today than when you started out?

It’s easier to get a start as a producer now. When I first began in radio 10 years ago, there were three to four breakfast shows in each capital city (less so in smaller markets), and that was it. Now there are more radio stations and every station has more shows. Drive shows, night shows, specialist shows, etc. All of the slots need someone to produce them, creating more opportunities for people to get their start.

With the advent of podcasting and social media, there are also plenty of opportunities for people to create content without needing to be broadcast via ‘mass media’.

B&T: What do graduates need to be trained in before they enter the industry?

The best way to learn how to be a producer is to find something to produce. For example, Leon Sjogren, one of our producers on the Fifi & Jules Show, started out producing on local community radio. Then he found a podcast to produce, then got a start at FOX FM paneling and filling in over summer, and now he produces on the biggest drive show in the country.

What we’re looking for when hiring a producer is someone who has lots of creative ideas, great communication skills, is really organised, and works well under pressure. It’s hard to learn those skills without some sort of real world experience.

People entering the radio industry need to be prepared to travel. Most producers start off in a junior role in a smaller market, and then work their way up to a bigger market in a more senior position. I think the average producer has moved two or three times before they land their dream job.

B&T : What are your tips for those setting out on their careers?

Be an expert in digital and social media, as that is where our future lies.

Practice your creativity. Set yourself a goal to come up with a certain amount of creative ideas each day or week. These might be ideas for your favorite radio show, website or TV show. The habit of coming up with ideas is what’s important.

And produce as much content as you can. It’s doesn’t really matter what the medium is. At the end of the day, a good producer is just someone who can manage creative people and get stuff done.

 

The media minor

Asher Pratt – digital coordinator, Carat

Age: 24

Studied: Communications at UTS, 2009 to 2011

 

 

 

 

 

B&T: How did your 'big break' come about?

Like many people, my entry into the world of media came through an internship. In my final year of study media seemed like the ideal option. Creative agencies seemed to only offer admin gigs, and PR, although positions were plenty they weren’t my cup of tea. One of my lecturers forwarded me a job opportunity with Carat and I managed to get to the interview stage.

Frustrated by a handful of unsuccessful interviews (“Are you a sociable person?”, “…I can be”), I prepared well for this one, reading up on the latest digital and media trends. I learnt that being vocal and knowledgeable about new media and trends is one of the biggest advantages for a young hopeful in this industry. The internship gave me the foot in the door and from there I was offered a full-time position.

B&T: Do you feel your university degree prepared you enough for the workforce?

It’s common for those doing communications degrees to whinge about the lack of practical learning. But I never thought the degree should be about ‘preparing for the workforce’ by teaching how to create a spreadsheet or write a media plan. Uni is about making sense of the broader communications world so you don’t become a robot who can’t think beyond TARPs and clicks.

It didn’t take me long to realise that there are things you can only learn on the job, through trial and error and from working alongside those with experience. Whilst there’s definitely a responsibility for unis to prepare students for the real world, it’s also up to the workplace to give staff ongoing training and mentoring.

B&T: What needs to be done to make entering the industry easier?

It would be really useful for unis to clearly communicate just how diverse the communications industry is. Some students leave uni thinking a creative agency is their only option. Grads need to be shown that there is very likely a happy niche that’s right for them. Knowing my choice wasn’t limited to being a suit or a creative would have made studying more comfortable.

 

Jo Hughes, consultant at marketing recruitment firm iknowho, shares her top tips.

Know how you fit the brief:

Make sure you have a brief or job description for the role and study it.

Think of examples of how you meet the requirements of the role.

Pull together a brief portfolio of your work experience (if relevant) that you could show on a laptop or tablet.

Research research research:

Looking at the company website is a no-brainer, but make sure you review in detail: values, key people, recent work, news and awards.

Look at the industry press for recent articles about the company.

Identify their competitors.

Check out the LinkedIn profiles of the people interviewing you.

Demonstrate your passion:

Be ready to answer why you want to work in this industry – your passion is what you sell yourself on when you don’t have a lot of experience.

Have examples of work you’ve seen that really impresses you and have an opinion on that work.

Questions:

Prepare a few key questions to ask at the interview.

These should be relevant to the role and the company.

The questions you ask are a good way to demonstrate the research you’ve done, for example “I know that you offer a comprehensive training program, can you tell me more about how that works?”.

Check your online brand:

Interviewers may quickly check out your LinkedIn profile before they meet you, so make sure this is up-to date and professional.

 

The advertising ankle-biter

Ella Huang – account executive, DDB Melbourne

Age: 25

Studied: Bachelor of Business Management (Marketing) & Bachelor of Journalism at the University of Queensland, 2005 to 2009. Master of Advertising at RMIT, 2011 to now

 

 

 

 

B&T: How did your 'big break' come about?

It was a lot of work over quite a period of time, but in the end my big break at DDB came down to a bit of luck and good timing.

A friend had told me about the Communications Council’s Graduate Training Program. My application made it through to the ‘speed date’ round, which is just a fancier way of saying ‘selection day’ for around 25 graduates and seven agencies.

Based on a nerve-wracking five-minute speech during which I had to talk about myself to a room full of potential employers, I was lucky enough to be chosen by DDB.

It was the first role I’d applied for in Melbourne after moving down from my hometown of Brisbane just three months earlier. Prior to this, I’d just finished the first semester of my Masters of Advertising.

I’d decided to leave a client-side role up in Brisbane to see if the pond really was bigger in Melbourne for someone like me who wanted to get into a creative agency.

Applying for the marketing coordinator job after completing my bachelor’s degree was much more challenging. I spent around four months applying for a variety of entry-level jobs in Brisbane before finally landing a marketing role.

I found it difficult to get a role that matched my ambitions. Not only was I competing against other grads, but also people who had a couple of years experience in full-time roles under their belt.

B&T: Do you feel your university degree prepared you enough for the workforce?

You don’t know if you actually like a job, agency or industry until you experience it, so you can only get this through practical placements.

B&T: What needs to be done to make entering the industry easier?

I think that the industry is already doing a great job in offering work experience through official and non-official placements and internships, but more can always be done.

It would be great if universities could be more proactive in promoting work placements, but it would also help if agencies could also find the time to invest in more interns and grads.

Interns can add value and work experience is essentially a great ‘try before you buy’ way to see if a person is going to fit into your agency and any particular role. Plus, we all need to get our ‘big break’ somehow, right?

 

David Gaines, Managing partner, Edentify

The former chief executive of Maxus has had a succesful career in the media industry. But he does not hold a degree in media. Here he talks about the “social experiment” that allowed him to break in and proves that the lack of an academic scroll is not necessarily a handicap.

At 16, my dad said to me: “Get a trade and then do what you like”. So I became a bricklayer. I had a fleeting experience studying architecture but the recession put paid to that. So after the dole, packing shirts and everything in between, I found myself back on building sites.

My interest in the ad business was triggered by a girlfriend. She was working at Saatchi and we went to some awesome parties. Also believing the only thing I could do without studying was draw, I had the revelation that I should be a creative. I did understand I needed more than my tool bag to get in, so on Saturdays I enrolled at a business college in Covent Garden, London. At the same time someone at Initiative had been on the same course.

Back then if you were not a graduate, you didn’t get a sniff in at a media agency. However a director there asked this someone to go to the college and see if there was anybody employable as he was sick of paying recruiters 15% for uni students.  My lecturer made the difference. He told me to go along because everyone else on the course was in the business except for me. His logic was I could ask some questions and get up to speed with everyone else. 

After educating me on what a CV was, borrowing a shirt and tie, I went for my ‘interview’ with a lovely guy called Brian Smith.

I’m not sure whether he was more entertained by the fact that we could talk boxing or that I had no idea how to switch a computer on. Cut a long story short, he asked me if I fancied helping him with a social experiment. His view was that you needed certain character traits and experience over a degree to make it in media. He wanted to prove a point and offered me a job. We agreed both of us could cut it short at anytime if it wasn’t working. I had no idea what I was saying “yes” to, but I had never worked with that many girls before so I said “yes”.

I’d love to have been to uni, but education and intelligence do not run parallel with one another. It means nothing if you have absorbed a lot but don’t know how to apply it.

We work in an industry that is about connecting brands and business to people. Maybe it helps to understand how you do that simply by spending time amongst more diverse groups of people than your immediate circle allows. Or maybe Brian was just a gambler.

Thank you either way mate.

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