Just two weeks ago, I finished 5 years of study at the University of Technology Sydney. My degree was Public Communication (Advertising stream) and International Studies (Mexico Major). My advice to the young and budding undergrads is two-fold. If you want to follow your dreams, it’s simple: get a job, and leverage your contacts. Hint: read on for some inside tricks.
1. Get a job.
And I mean get a job ‘in the industry’ if you don’t want to be stuck at the end of your degree in ‘entry level’ interviews or, gasp, looking for an (unpaid) internship as the final resort to get some sort of practical experience. I got a job at the end of my first year of university, and yes, it was unpaid, but my boss and team at the time were incredible mentors. They included me in all of the high-level meetings with important people in the industry, they gave me significant responsibilities, which forced me to learn and improve, and although this last point might seem trivial, they taught me how to write professional emails. There is a lot to be said about a good professional email – the written word can be incredibly powerful in business.
In much the same way as a card game allows the loser of a round to go first in the next round, people tend to want to give you something in return for your free time. Don’t feel like you owe them anything, any unpaid internship must (by law) have the aim of the betterment of the intern. This means you. So if you find yourself pushing paper, just getting people coffee, or not learning any new skills, this is, in fact, illegal, and I would suggest you either schedule a meeting with you boss outlining your expectations and why they are not being met, or give the Fair Work Ombudsman a call. Masking slave labor with the ‘intern’ title has not been uncommon in Australia, so make sure you’re getting something out of it.
This culture of the ‘unpaid internship’ being a right to passage has flourished in the communications and media industries over the last 10 years, and although it is incredibly exploitative, it is a harsh reality that we just have to deal with right now. If you have the capacity, even if it is one day a week and the other days you are working at a bar or in retail (yes you are going to have to manage your uni work schedule diligently and perhaps do it on weekends), do some work. After six months working unpaid, you will be able to use the skills you have learned to get a paid job. And it only goes up from there.
P.S. Don’t write that it was unpaid on your CV, call yourself ‘Marketing Assistant’ or ‘Assistant to the HR team’, no one is going to know.
2. Leverage/make contacts
Are you stuck for a job? Who do you know? People at uni often joke about it not being what you know but who you know in many industries, and I found this to ring very true throughout my years of the work/uni game. Getting a part-time paid role is very hard. So really think about what contacts you can leverage and get in touch with them. Friends, friends of friends, parents of friends. If you know someone who works in your industry but is at a distance of a couple of degrees of separation, make sure you keep the communication professional. Let them know that Laura’s cousin referred you/gave you their email address and get right to the point: I’m looking for part-time opportunities and believe I would be a great fit for your company/team/startup.
Attach your CV. If you are in the communications industries make sure your CV looks really good – you’ve got stiff competition. Some of the best advice I received was from the careers adviser at my uni. She explained what to put on my CV when I hadn’t yet had a job: group work. Think back to all of the times you have worked in a group in a particular role in class, done research, perhaps created and pitched a campaign or project. These are practical skills and although they are in the context of university, they show you have some idea of what goes on in the real world. Here’s an example of what I had on my first CV:
Advertising Skills (gained through my degree)
I was part of a mock agency group who worked together on an integrated advertising campaign for a charity (The Red Cross), where we:
– Conducted market research using qualitative and quantitative methods (independent surveys, interviewing, statistics)
– Formed a strategy for the brand (The Red Cross), including putting together a creative brief; outlining possible media touch-points for the target audience we discovered via research, forming a brand profile and constantly collaborating with the creative and media personnel in our team to produce a completely integrated campaign.
– Used the creative brief to form a creative concept, which included a 30 second TVC, a 30 second radio commercial (written and recorded), as well as print advertising (posters, street furniture), online interactive banners on University websites and street chalkings.
– Used research on our target-audience to formulate a media brief, then a complete media plan, using a proposed $1million budget, taking into account the costs for production and media space.
– Presented our campaign weekly to the class as it progressed and received a Distinction for the project and the subject overall.
Can you use Photoshop? If not, learn now. You’ll need it. If yes, download a PSD resume template off of the Envato Graphic River marketplace online (http://graphicriver.net), it might cost you $11 or so, but they are made by designers from around the world, and you will be automatically ahead of the pack if your resume looks well designed.
Better yet, create a personal portfolio website. If you’ve got some experience with HTML and CSS you can download website templates from the Envato Themeforest marketplace. Communications people really should know this stuff heading into 2015 – to learn basic coding, go to Treehouse (http://teamtreehouse.com/), pay for one month (it’s cheap and you can cancel whenever), do a video lesson every night on your computer and within a month you’ll easily be able to edit a webpage. It’s really not that hard.
I use GoDaddy hosting for my personal website, it’s pretty easy, you just have to download the files once you’ve paid for them on the Envato marketplace Themeforest, and buy a domain such as ‘yourname.com’ on GoDaddy. Then, set up a GoDaddy hosting plan, upload the files to GoDaddy hosting in the same order as they came when you downloaded them. If this doesn’t make sense, maybe get a developer friend to help you out. Either way, you need to impress people, please don’t just send through a black and white, dot-pointed A4 word document, they will throw it out or just not reply.
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, get LinkedIn and build it out. I have had LinkedIn since I first started working and at every role I have had, I have made contacts and sent recommendation requests to fellow employees and bosses. If you have worked with someone, made a friend at work, or met the boss and gotten along at a work function, send him or her a recommendation request. People love to write these things, they are public, and they look great next to your resume.
In summary: Get a job while you’re at uni. To do this, leverage your contacts and make sure you look damn good (resume, online portfolio, LinkedIn), because there are other people out there who do.