Editor’s note: This first article in our new Emerging Voices series is made possible by the generous support of our patrons on Patreon.com.
SOUTHAMPTON—Bridging the gap between studying and entering the world of work can be difficult, particularly if you’re looking to break into industries like advertising, marketing, and media. Competition is rife, both from fellow graduates and seasoned professionals, and it can sometimes seem impossible to get hired.
Over a third of UK students are worried that coronavirus will stop them from getting a job, making an already tricky situation more complex. Students are having to adapt to these changes in circumstances so that they can be best placed to get their foot in the door and really establish themselves in the industry they’re hoping to forge a career in.
For broadcast journalism student Andra Brasovanu, currently studying at the University of Salford, breaking into the industry has “all been all about contacts. Most of the time it’s about pestering people,” she explains, “Following up emails all the time because some people just don’t reply. I think I’ve been quite lucky in terms of placements as I’ve pretty much been to all the places I’ve contacted.”
As Andra says, don’t feel bad about being persistent. You need resilience and willpower in order to see yourself through. Don’t be afraid to chase things up, sending those emails, and asking people if they’d be willing to meet for a video call or even a coffee if they’re local.
Real-World Experience Is A Must Have
Networking is incredibly valuable. The phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ rings true in these fields, so it’s worth making contacts and getting your name out there. Whether it’s attending physical events or connecting with people on LinkedIn and Twitter, it all helps, and you might find yourself being considered when a vacancy crops up.
At the same time, it’s advisable to be proactive and plan ahead – both in making contacts and in furthering your career yourself. Film production student Bogomil Atanasov studied in the UK before returning to his native Bulgaria and applying for a role at United Partners Bulgaria, the leading PR agency in the nation.
“I’d already done an internship with them the previous summer and they were very welcoming, knowing that I’m a good fit for them,” he explains. “To get where am I am, I had a difficult but well-organized journey which started at the end of my second year [at university]. The PR agency I’m at is also very welcoming to graduates, as we’ve got at least four people who graduated last year, or are still in their last semester.”
Although nothing is ever guaranteed, getting as much experience as you can and planning well in advance will stand you in good stead for breaking into your field. TV studio production student Rachel Dicker from Solent University worked as a junior researcher for the BBC on two documentaries. In her words: “This opened doors for me because I had a great rapport with the BBC and was invited for some work experience.” She describes it as a “huge learning curve, but she had prior experience of being the Station Manager of Sonar TV, her university’s in-house TV station.
If an opportunity comes your way and it’s something that appeals to you, it’s often wise to just take it. “I’ve found that doors are both open and closed,” Rachel continues, “I struggle with contacting people so I just take any opportunity I get because, especially in this industry, you don’t know where your next move is.”
It’s Your Path To Walk
When looking at your next steps, it can be useful to cover a number of bases. One notable change in the industry has been the increase in popularity of ‘portfolio careers’, where you combine several part-time or freelance roles together. An option if you aren’t a fan of the conventional full-time job, having a portfolio career allows you to combine various roles together, and may make sense if you’re trying to make headway into an industry like marketing or advertising. It helps you in making contacts and opening doors too, so it’s no surprise it’s becoming a more popular path for recent graduates to go down.
Even if you don’t feel as if you’ve had so many doors open for you yet, do your best to avoid comparing yourself to your peers. Focus on your own journey and career path.
One thing out of your control is the decision of firms in the industry. Bogomil was able to land a full-time role at United Partners Bulgaria, but not all firms are open to hiring recent grads. Some companies may not be hiring while you’re looking for work, which can obviously be disappointing, but it helps to get an insight into why these firms make the choices that they do. In other words, you may feel rejected but it’s not personal.
Hurdle Number One: Endure the Struggle
University of Southampton law student Avila Chidume has been looking to work in marketing and has her own greeting cards business which she runs herself. In her experience, “doors are closed in places which don’t have diverse teams.” As disheartening as this can seem, there is an upside in that other firms are genuinely looking to open more doors and provide more opportunities.
“Places actively seeking to diversify, such as universities or those located in certain areas of London, are more encouraging and open,” she explains. Philosophy and politics student Imy Brighty-Potts, also at the University of Southampton expands, “Doors are open, but it’s as if someone’s at the door and there’s a secret code which changes from door to door to get in. Accessibility to opportunities is made much easier by incredible online resources, but still, it’s hard to actually find the roles, presumably because of the number of candidates.”
It can feel as though there’s just a certain number of positions available, and a whole host of recent graduates are vying to fill them. But that’s not always the case. Keep asking.
Speaking to Josh Abraham of Liberty Music PR, he explains that, for recent graduates, the market is “looking better than it used to, but it’s also still a struggle. There’s an emphasis on hiring young talent as companies are aware that young people can bring more to the table,” he explains.
Hiring During Pandemic Times
As to be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a notable impact on the ease of breaking into the industry, and for students who haven’t yet graduated it, they can find themselves in an awkward situation. “Pre-lockdown, I had applied to intern in London,” Avila tells me, “The process was supposed to be two months, but now everything has been delayed indefinitely. There are still places looking to hire immediately, but I haven’t graduated yet so I can’t apply to them.” Or, as Josh puts it, “The current climate has affected our hiring a little bit, but we’re always wanting more people.”
It’s impossible to report on the current state of the industry without giving a mention to coronavirus, and it has, of course, had an impact on everything from the profits of firms to the employment prospects of young graduates. Yet, it’s important to put things into perspective. Although it’s a huge global event, it pales in significance to the length of a career, and we just have to adapt as best we can for the time being.
No-one is suggesting that it’ll be easy once you graduate and enter the world of work, but it doesn’t need to be as difficult as you might fear. Lay the groundwork, make the contacts, and keep working.