Make sacrifices… and other advice for students

This Wednesday, I will be heading back to my alma mater to be a part of an Ad Club panel of recent graduates. Over the weekend, I got an email confirming my attendance at this event, and I started to wonder – what am I going to say to these students? What advice or wise words will I be able to offer?

I remember during my senior year, I had a mix of emotions. On one hand, I was thrilled to be closing in on graduation and was looking forward to exchanging textbooks and papers for strategy meetings and the glamorous advertising lifestyle. But as graduation inched closer, and my job prospects were growing thinner, my positive attitude quickly faded. The reality of how difficult it would be to find the right job started to set in – hard.

So with that in mind, here are some bits of advice I have for young professionals:

1. Let discouragement fuel you.

You sent in your cover letter and resume for a job you were dying to have. Everything was creatively assembled, you really thought everything through, and in your opinion, it kicked ass. A week later, you got an email saying they chose another candidate.

It’s so easy to stop and think, “Damn, I really did my best. And if my best isn’t enough, am I ever going to find a job?” Rather than getting down on yourself, use this to think of ways to step it up. Do some freelance work to give yourself a more competitive edge. Volunteer doing marketing for a charity. But use this as motivation to make yourself better.

2. Remember to interview them, too.

I know that when you’re, uh, desperate for a job, it’s easy to go into an interview and focus solely on answering all of their questions perfectly. Yes, prove to them that you rock. But also, be sure to ask them plenty of questions as well. Not only does this show that you’re genuinely interested in the position, but it gives you the chance to really see if the job is right for you.

Even when you’re at the point where you’re almost ready to accept any job offer that comes your way, you need to be sure you’re going to like the place you’ll be spending 40+ hours a week at. A job is a huge commitment, don’t forget, so make sure you’re ready to make a commitment at that particular company.

3. Accept that sacrifices may need to be made.

This is good advice for students who are looking for internships, too. As I began my internship search, I narrowed my options down to only paid positions. I was living on my own with my boyfriend in a nice little apartment and had my fair share of bills to pay, so it only made financial sense to take a paid position, right? Wrong.

Pickings are slim for paid internships, and I quickly learned that if I wanted to get a good position where I’d gain some decent experience (i.e., not making copies), I was going to need to broaden my search. I found a position at an in-house agency as a copywriting intern… and it was unpaid.

My lease was about to end, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford to stay with an unpaid internship and less hours at my paid job. Before I knew it, I was moving back into my parents’ house and increasing my commute by at least 20 minutes. Was I thrilled? Of course not. But looking back, it was absolutely the right choice. It scares me to think what my career path would have been like without that internship.

A similar sacrifice needed to be made when I accepted the position at Z2. It wasn’t downtown like I had hoped, and it was an hour away from my parents where I was still living. I wanted to continue living there to save money, but the drive was killing me and I was spending a small fortune on gas. So again, I moved. Right choice? Yes.

4. Network and find a mentor.

This is probably the most important advice I can offer, and I’m sure it’s nothing new to anyone. But a lot of students will blow this off and think they can do without. Trust me, networking is vital. Is it always super fun? Nope, but if you go the right events, it can be. Does it get a little awkward now and then? Sure. But knowing the right people and getting advice from them is priceless. For all you know, a person you meet at a networking event could be the link to your dream job.

The creative director at my first internship just so happened to become my mentor. Not only did she push me to learn and grow during my internship, she also offered up solid advice whenever I needed it. She was also the connection for my second internship, which gave me some of the most valuable experience I could have ever asked for. Having someone who has been there, done that, is crucial.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s event, and hopefully I can give at least one student the right advice. And if nothing else, it’s going to feel damn good to be on the young professionals side of the table!

April 12, 2011 · Posted by in misc  

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