This week, I was asked by a student what they could do now to get ahead for a future career in marketing. So, while there are a hundred answers I could give, here are five for now…

This week sees the start of not only my first Flex 30 session, but also my involvement in the Media Industries module of the Film and Media Studies BA. I’ve been involved with various iterations and versions of the course over the years, but for 2021 I looking forward to documenting that involvement here.

Having had a couple of preliminary conversations with the course lead, Dr Emily Brick, I was invited along to take part in a Teams call that had been arranged for the students, to discuss plans for their initial focus group sessions. After introducing myself and giving a condensed version of my usual career history, I was asked to feed back on some of the questions that had been suggested for the sessions, and offer some thoughts on pathways for the conversation, as well as things that the students should be on the lookout for.

Once we’d covered this, the students were asked if they had any questions while I was around – either specific to the focus group task or more generally about careers in marketing. After a predictable but thankfully short silence, one student asked a question that, as it happens, I’ve been asked a fair few times over the years. What, she enquired, can a first year student in her position so to prepare and get ahead for a future career in marketing?

As always, I did my best to offer a few pieces of advice, but later realised that despite being asked the question many times before, I’ve never really had an immediate, pre-prepared answer. I think the main reason for this is there are a bunch of things I think a student can do, whether they are in their first year of studies or taking part in an internship. But, for the sake of brevity, here are my top five:

#1 Think about your footprint

This is the simplest, but the easiest to let slip. Your online footprint is the most accessible ‘version of you’ the outside world will see. If your CV lands on my desk, one of the first things I’m likely to do is Google you to try and get a sense of who you really are. 

Think about what your last post was. A link to an interesting industry news piece? Or the bitter end of a nasty argument with a stranger? You never know who is looking and when, so always be the best version of yourself – especially if you’ve just sent out a CV.

#2 Engage in the conversation

During your time at university, hopefully you’ll be studying hard and getting the grades you need – but don’t assume that’s all you have to do. If you truly care about marketing enough to chase a career in the industry, get in on the conversation as soon as you can.

Read the industry news websites, follow the agencies and brands doing interesting work and never be afraid of sharing your opinion – it’s as valid and necessary as anyone else’s. Write about the things that inspire you. Join the discussion. Make yourself heard.

#3 Indulge your passions

Marketing may not be your number one passion. And that’s OK. In fact, you can even use that to your advantage. Maybe you love fashion, music, video games or sport. Maybe it’s even a specific style, genre or club. Whatever it is, I bet you’ll find a marketing connection.

And this is where we go back to #2. Engaging in the conversation about marketing will open your eyes to new things, but focusing specifically on one field will sustain you. Not only that, but in the longer term it might even give you a valuable sector specialism.

#4 Sharpen your toolbox

Your university degree will allow you to explore the fundamentals of marketing, but there’s more you can do for yourself. This is an industry that’s always changing – and every time someone prints a book on the subject, it’ll change again before the ink is dry.

Learn the tools of the trade, whether it’s disciplines like copywriting and design, or software platforms for analytics, project management or content production. And, once you’ve got these tools, keep them sharp so you’re always one step ahead of the next industry change.

#5 Look for an employer with the right culture

Whether you want to intern at an agency or brand, it’s worth doing the research on how they operate. How does a company or agency treat staff? Does it value its junior team and encourage them to grow with the company? Or do people leave after six months?

Every employer is different. Some will tap into your enthusiasm and encourage your ideas, others will give you a task and expect you to get on with it. And don’t be fooled into thinking one is better than the other – the trick is finding a balance of both.

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