Help me give college grads a fighting chance

Grad It’s Spring.  The birds will soon be chirping, the flowers blooming and the college grads descending like locusts on every marketing agency, marketing department and media outlet.  They all want one thing — their first real job.

I remember how scary it was.  20+ years later, I shake my head at the mistakes the grads make while trying to vie for my attention.  So I decided we (yes WE) could give them a gift that will put that digital camera to shame.  We can help them get that job.

Here’s how you can help:

~ Post your answer to one (or more) of the following in the comments section:

  • How I landed my first job (war/success story)
  • What I wish I knew when I was trying to get my first job
  • My advice for someone trying to break into the marketing/advertising business
  • Words of wisdom about careers in general

~ Point to this post on your blog and encourage your readers to come over and add their 2 cents so we can gather even more answers and advice.

We’ll gather up all the comments, thoughts and stories and create an e-book for the grads to download and study.  Who knows — maybe we’ll get some great employees out of the deal as well!

Come on — someone helped you once upon a time.  Time to return the favor.

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61 comments on “Help me give college grads a fighting chance

  1. Designer Mike says:

    * How I landed my first job (war/success story)

    I graduated college with a degree in graphic design in 1999 when the job market was tough. It seemed nobody was hiring or wanted to hire a fresh faced 20 year old designer with talent but no experience. I needed to pay the rent so I sucked it up and work blue collar jobs. I worked for $7/hr at Gabus Ford parking cars in the heat and cold of Iowa weather. I also worked a second job unloading boxes for FedEx at 3AM!

    At Gabus Ford one day I was asked to help ther DM Register sales rep take some photos for the ad. I saw my chance. I asked the rep if I could give her my resume to give to the Register folks (I had some in my car). I gave it to her thinking nothing would EVER come of it. Well, two days later I had an interview and got the job.

    I guess the moral of the story is to work hard every day and always be prepared.

  2. Having done everything from door-to-door sales, to military service, to having a well-paying position with a successful dot-com company (before the bubble burst), my advice to any job seeker would be to think long and hard about what you actually WANT to do.

    It is far too easy for us to take a position or grasp an opportunity that we are qualified for, without giving enough consideration to whether or not we will still want that position 20 years from now.

    For example, a photographer can do anything from running their own business to being on the payroll for a company that may or may not even be around 20 years from now. And if they were, would you still want to work for them?

    In short, follow your PASSION, not your opportunities!

  3. “My advice for someone trying to break into the marketing/advertising business.”

    As someone who’s made a career and 3 businesses based on the concept “be the biggest fish in the smallest, most profitable pond” … I’d urge fresh-faced college grads to consider the road not taken when they consider the various career paths open to them.

    Don’t go for the obvious or the glamour.

    Seek out interesting industries and smallish companies where you can get your hands dirty in a number of different jobs.

    Keep your goals loosely structured, but have goals.

    Recognize when opportunity is biting you on the tushy and be not afraid. You can always get a job doing something, but some opportunities won’t wait for you.

    I fell into direct marketing 25 years ago as a junior copywriter working for a small B2B publishing company while going to grad school for a masters in broadcast management. Within a few months, grad school and broadcasting was a memory.

    I was home and so it has ever been.

  4. Mark Goren says:

    Great idea, Drew. Here are some answers:

    • How I landed my first job (war/success story)
    It took months after graduation, but I finally landed my first job after being referred to a head hunter who was looking for an English writer with an understanding of French to fill a postion. The job was related to communications, but not in advertising (where I really wanted to work). I got the job – and took the first job offered at an agency shortly thereafter.

    • What I wish I knew when I was trying to get my first job
    That it would take months to find one. I would’ve taken the time to travel.

    • My advice for someone trying to break into the marketing/advertising business
    Go back to school and find an advertising-specific certificate program. Network like crazy. Volunteer for industry award shows/committees/organizations. Stay in touch with the industry.

    • Words of wisdom about careers in general
    Never forget the help you received from seniors in the industry and return the favor when you’re in a position to.

  5. Liz Strauss says:

    What I wish I knew when I was trying to get my first job

    I wish I knew how much being an enthusiastic learner is worth to a manager who is looking to hire. I wish I knew how much it wasn’t about me, but about how I would fit in with the company. I wish I knew tha it was about the people and how well my skills would help everyone shine — not just me. I wish I understood that my energy and my willingness to learn everything probably weighed more than my degree which everyone else being hired also had.

    I wish I knew that listening and thinking before I talked was the most important skill of all.

  6. When I was starting my own company thirty years ago, I asked a lot of people — business owners, managers, coaches, teachers, and so on — for their ideas on what it took to be a success in business.

    And the best advice of all came from my printer. His words of wisdom to me were: “Don’t fall in love with type styles.”

    He went on to explain that a lot of designers tend to fall in love with a particular font, and then they want to use it everywhere — even in places where it’s inappropriate. Well, I didn’t listen to him, and soon I fell in love with Palatino semi-bold. I used it everywhere, and, yes!, after awhile my design looked hackneyed.

    I think you can generalize my printer’s advice to: “Don’t fall in love with ideas — be they marketing systems, accounting protocols, software designs, whatever — because as soon as you do, you’ll want to use them everywhere — even places where they’re inappropriate.”

    I think one of life’s greatest pleasures is to fall out of love with a previously cherished idea? Why? Because then you have opportunity to look for other possibilities!

  7. Chris Cree says:

    Here’s what I tell the younger folks around me just getting started:

    A job isn’t forever. You don’t have to have it all figured out when you start. In fact, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you give yourself room to learn what you don’t like and possibly change direction.

    If you have a choice between taking a job for money or because it is something you would really love to do, don’t go for the money. If your work happens to be something you are passionate about, say something you’d consider doing even if they didn’t pay you, then the money will follow eventually. And probably in much larger amounts than that other job could ever bring you.

    Finally, you’re much better off just being yourself. If you have to pretend to be someone else in an interview to get the job then you are probably going to be miserable working there in a year or so. If they turn you down because you were yourself then be grateful because they’ve done you a favor. They’ve just saved you some misery down the road.

  8. ann michael says:

    WOW – there is some really great advice here already. In trying not to duplicate anything, my general advice is: remember that teamwork and collaboration are the name of the game now.

    I know you’re wonderful, but there are other wonderful people out there too and you WILL accomplish more working with them.

    Don’t be frustrated or concerned about people that are very different from you. Whether old or young, male or female, or from radically different cultures, you (we!) have a lot to learn from all of them.

    Know who you are so that you’re not afraid or unduly offended by those who are different from you. They aren’t a threat. They’re a HUGE learning opportunity.

    Be passionate, but balance that with patience. Passionate people are in danger of being very frustrated and bitter if they don’t learn to manage their passion and focus it on positive results.

    Focus on others – what can you learn from them – what can you offer – how can you help.

    Make it personal – forge relationships, alliances, and friendships.

    Above all – love what you do and don’t be afraid to change what you do if you “fall out of love”. If you don’t you open the door for a lot of heart ache!

  9. Steve Sisler says:

    My thoughts about careers in general begin with how we all begin…by taking our first baby steps! Careers are NOT etched in stone! They can and usually do change. That dynamic alone keeps the search exciting and fresh. Don’t be afraid to take a step, whether small or large, outside of your comfort zone. You never know where that step will take you, what doors it will open for you. 25 years ago while in college I landed a part-time position as a delivery boy for a local independent pharmacy. Since then, the steps I have chosen to take have led me to positions of VP of Procurement for a 200-store pharmacy chain, pharmacy owner, VP of Sales after a career switch, while all the time being a loving father and husband. Never be afraid to go after what you truly want to accomplish.

    Having said that, money is not the ultimate goal for which you get up in the morning and go to work. Personal satisfaction is as important as job satisfaction. Do what makes you happy! And when your personal and professional goals change as you continue to evolve, don’t be afraid to modify or even change your career path. There is no greater loss than to have never tried something new, as again, careers are NOT etched in stone.

    At the same time, finding a comfortable balance between personal and professional commitments is a must! I’m not saying it’s easy, especially during those early years when you are establishing your career. Making commitments to your career and home life will yield dividends well into your future! The alternative will be to have a void either at home or work, and then you’ll ask, “Where did all of the time go?” By then, it’s too late.

    Whether deciding upon a new career or simply a new job, be prepared! Educate your self about the industry and the employer with whom you are interviewing. There is nothing more frustrating than to be interviewing a candidate who knows nothing about the job they are applying for. Those interviews often last less than 30 minutes. Your enthusiasm to learn will go a long way during the interview process. Even better is when your enthusiasm comes through for a job and company for which you researched and created an action plan to be used during the interview process.

    Lastly, do not dwell in the past. Learn from the past, but don’t live in the past. Always look forward to the new opportunities which lie before you. Once you have set your focus on a new dimension for your career, begin by determining what that first step will be. And then take it!

  10. Great comments here – unfortunately time allows me to only say this; the best bits of advice I could ever give to any person just starting a career are:

    1) Whatever you choose to do, you MUST be passionate about it
    2) Once passionate, you should visualize yourself at the pinnacle of whatever you choose to do, and then write that vision down.
    3) Go after it with focus and persistence – every interview, every discussion you have with anyone about your career, should always come back to the vision
    4) Believe in yourself
    5) Keep your perspective and humor intact during the process
    6) Enjoy the journey!

    Good luck, and keep the faith!

  11. Mark True says:

    My advice for someone trying to break into the marketing/advertising business…get as much ‘safe’ experience while in school. Volunteer for as many tasks as you can to get a little practice and knowledge about them all. Do some writing, some photography, some design, some speaking, etc. You wont’be good at them all but you will be good at some, so it’s better to learn where they won’t fire you.

    Then, when you get in an interview situation, learn all you can about the organization – or its clients, if it’s an agency – and be ready to ask intelligent questions. That makes the interviewer feel good because they like to talk about themselves, and gives you more information and more time to think about your answer.

    It also give you a chance to decide if you really want this job before you get the job!


  12. Doug’s Nuggets – College Advice 13: 6-33

    I graduated in 1994 with a degree in International Business. I knew that I wanted to have an international flare in my vocation but I had no idea what that meant. Like many business majors, I spent the first 5 years of my career in sales jobs that were fairly unfulfilling. However, I spent those 5 years thinking, planning, learning about myself, improving myself, and building relationships. The time was not “wasted”.
    Then, in 1999, I had a conversation with an early twenty-something guy that I’d built a relationship with in my sales days, “I’m looking to get venture capital financing for my start up company, He said, “I have one month’s salary to give you to write the business plan. If we succeed, you’re in. If we don’t, that’s it.” I took it, we did it, and the rest is history.

    So here are a few nuggets I’ve crystallized from my experience:

    1. Always build relationships in everything you’re involved with. You NEVER know when that person might be EXACTLY what you’re looking for in an employee or advisor. These relationships will likely be the ones that either provide you jobs, financing, or business partners. I haven’t had a resume since 1999 and wear that as a badge of honor.

    2. Foster relationships with mentors. I didn’t do this early enough. Create an honest self-assessment. I call it a “Life Resume”. When you find someone you truly admire for their skills, business acumen, relationship skills, etc…ask them for a formal mentor/mentee relationship. Structure it and meet monthly. I found a venture capitalist and said, “I want to know what it’s like to be you and what you do all day,” and that’s been over 2 years now.

    3. Shift your thinking to solutions and you’ll be a winner. Everyone has problems. Meetings are filled with idea killers and lamenters. Have you noticed though that many leaders are aware of the problems…but driven to break through to solutions without harping, getting down, or developing negative energy?

    4. Become very comfortable in your own skin. Speak in public, get terrified and overcome it. Conquer that inner voice of doubt and break through to excellence. Nothing will serve you more than being able to communicate to large numbers of people.

    5. Write. Become an effective writer by having your prose torn apart by someone good! Don’t be afraid of the red pen! Learn to embrace it. Say more with less (I should listen to my own advice). Blogging is a great way to accomplish this. Please keep the party photos and youthful indiscretions off the myspace pages though.

    6. Follow your passions (hint: they may change). I’m not particularly passionate about a subject like real estate, economics, or art. But I have discovered that I’m extraordinarily passionate about growing small companies into bigger ones NO MATTER WHAT THE SUBJECT MATTER. It took me a while to gain the perspective and breadth of knowledge to grasp this. But when I did, doors began opening for me. If you love an industry or segment, you may want to get some experience in any part of the value chain you can. I bet if I took a job sweeping the shop floors at a NASCAR team’s garage just out of school, I’d be a marketing executive by now.

    7. Embrace technology and be an early adopter. This does NOT mean become a programmer! Learn how to use all of the technology tools that successful companies use. There’s nothing more powerful than “the girl who just seems to know how to do it all”. It doesn’t seem like it, but it will become harder keep up when you get older so consciously extend beyond your comfort zone throughout your career or you’ll get passed by.

    8. Consider the option of NEVER getting a “real job”. Self-employment may not be everyone’s first best destiny, but you may not know until you try. It may seem safer to be employed by someone else, but I’d beg to differ. If you have it in you, do it. I’d rather see try and fail vs. never try.

    9. Dress Well. It’s advice that seems to be missing from the “Golden Rule” list when growing up these days. It’s NEVER harmful to be the best dressed person in a room. You will command more respect by being well dressed. If you don’t know what looks good, seek help.

    10. Have initiative. Take on tasks and roles that extend beyond your comfort zone and knowledge base. This could be the largest single factor in your success. Immerse in something new. Passionately obsess about something until you know more than most about the topic. Do this enough times, and you’ll find yourself able to participate in a much larger sphere of influence. Nothing pleases me more than hearing, “I don’t know how to do that, but I’ll figure it out and have it done shortly.”

  13. I’ve been out of school from the ISU College of Business for just over two years now but I’ve been in the technology industry here in Iowa for 7 years.

    First you must know that there is a sense of what I call ageism in Iowa (maybe elsewhere). Although I do have 7 years experience with tech in Iowa, potential employers see a 24 year old kid. In many companies it won’t matter how smart you are or how much experience you have – you still have to prove yourself.

    This leads to my second point – patience. I have all the ambition in the world and it gets very frustrating not moving as fast in my career as I want. Part of this is a product of my first point but I’ve grown to live with it. Don’t expect to get where you want to be right away. Ninety percent of the time at the beginning of your career your experience, knowledge, or talent don’t matter. You have to work your way up just like everyone else.

    And if you do lack that patience, like me, there’s always room for more entrepreneurs. If you don’t have that spirit small / startup companies provide the best learning experiences because you often must wear many hats.

    Another thing I’ve seen from peers of mine as they graduate – they quit learning. That’s a great way to get stuck in a job you don’t like for a long, long time.

    And last – don’t let a job, boss, or company mold you into what it wants you to be. If you are pressured to do so its not the right fit and you will be starting off your career in the worst possible way.

  14. My advice for someone trying to break into the marketing/advertising:

    Keep an open mind! When I graduated from college with a degree in Marketing my expectations were too high as far as what kind of job I thought I’d land. The jobs that I truly wanted required much more experience than what I had. I had to adjust my expectations and am I glad I did. My first jobs out of college were in customer service and sales and they offered me a great base of experience getting to know customers and how to interact with them. I think I’m better in my job today as a Marketing Manager because I was able to get that experience early on in my career.

    Also, look for opportunities to expand your knowledge base when you’re in a job out of college. What gaps can you fill? What new talents can you bring to a job? Always be thinking out of the box

  15. Some terrific advice here so far, Drew. This is a great project. As a home-based entrepreneur, I have a little bit different view of the questions, so it here goes…

    How I landed my first job (war/success story) – My only “real jobs” were in my late teens and early twenties – some manual labor, a line cook, a waiter, and part-time bookseller. So I don’t really have any advice here – I just walked in a filled out an application. These were mainly to cover me while freelancing. But I highly I recommend that everyone be a waiter/waitress and a manual laborer sometime in their life. It’s hard work, and you take a lot of crap. I learned a lot about business from my short stints in those jobs. Mainly that I never want to do it again, and to treat those providing a service with respect and kindness (as long as they are doing the same).

    What I wish I knew when I was trying to get my first job – That I didn’t want a JOB. I wanted a CAREER and a BUSINESS.

    My advice for someone trying to break into the marketing/advertising business – For breaking into the business, I defer to the other experts here. But for the aspiring entrepreneur, I always recommend reading Ogilvy on Advertising. No better yet, to quote Brad Hamilton from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “Learn it. Know it. Live it.” As an entrepreneur, I learned that a majority of the other books out there just regurgitate Ogilvy. Better to get it right from the source.

    Words of wisdom about careers in general – It all comes down to doing what you love. Every successful person out there got to where they are, by doing what they love – Jobs, Buffet, Oprah, Tony Robbins, Adam Savage, Alton Brown. No matter who it is, they have a passion for what they do. It shows in their lives, in their faces, and in their bank accounts. Don’t take 10 years to figure this out. By then it’s much harder to do something about it. Follow your passion, use your gifts, and provide something of value and you WILL be successful in every way you can imagine.

  16. Develop your DESIRE by reading the successful business books written by successful business people.

    Start with Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich. Add a few of the masters: Peters, Covey, Goden, etc, etc.

    Round your thinking with a smattering of philosophy, some classic fiction, a little poetry. End with Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich.

    If the range of your interests is wide and varied, your open mind will take you far.

  17. David Reich says:

    I can honestly say I got my first job through The New York Times. For me, that old ad slogan holds true.

    Well, it got me the interview, anyway. What really got me the job with a small public relations agency was a portfolio that I came in with. It had samples of my writing as a reporter and news editor of the college paper, along with news copy I’d written for my newscasts on the college FM radio station. And I had news releases I’d written as an intern in the college public information office.

    My advice really is geared toward people still in school. Get involved and, if possible, find activities that relate to the field you’d like to enter. This way you’ll have a resume that stands out from the crowd because of your real-world experience. And if you have a porfolio of real-world samples rather than only class assignments, you’ll be that much ahead of the game as you go job-hunting.

    Good luck and don’t get discouraged.

  18. Delaney Kirk says:

    Here are my “Ten Steps to Getting The Job You Want.”

  19. I just completed my Masters dissertation on how the workplace is changing and what skills young people will need to succeed in it. For my research, I surveyed 559 hiring managers (many of them in sales) about what they’re looking for when they hire new employees.

    I thought it was incredible how many managers told students to study something they love. Over and over again, they said they’re looking for people with with passion and energy.

    On my blog” I just posted 25 more words of advice for college students. They’re too long for here, but I hope they’re useful. Let me know if you need more.

  20. Designer Mike — you capitalized on the opportunities to shine. And you worked hard. Sometimes I wonder how many college kids are really ready to do that today.

    Aaron — hard to argue with that advice. We spend 8+ hours a day working. It will literally and figuratively kill you to do something you hate day in and day out.

    Roberta — Amen! It’s why I built a business in Des Moines, not NYC. Not that I don’t love NYC, but I learned that I could make a living, still be in the midwest by my extended family and root for my Vikings!

  21. Mark — I think that’s what this project is about for me. Helping because long ago, others did the same for me. Different format but same comfort, hopefully.

    Liz — listening and thinking before talking. Boy, think how many people’s rear ends that advice would have saved! You’re right, being an avid learner is about the greatest trait an employee can have.

    Roger — Your advice is probably even more timely today than it was 30 years ago when it was offered to you. The world evolves so rapidly, you have to be both nimble and flexible to survive. Loving last year’s great solution may cost a great deal.

  22. Chris — don’t you think most people have to been burned by the “took the job for $” mistake? Boy, if we could help a bunch of college grads avoid that, they’d love us forever. Or do you think that’s one of life’s lessons that you have to experience to learn?

    Ann — lots of incredible insights. I love the “forge relationships.” You are so right — business is wrapped all around that idea right there.

    Adam — thanks for the link!

  23. Steve — let go of the past. Now that is some great advice. As you and I both know, easier said than done. But it starts with making the conscious decision to do so.

    Terry — enjoy the journey. Amen! So often, we are focused on the end game when really, the game doesn’t end. So you might as well enjoy playing it.

    Mark — that is so true. If I have two candidates and one has an internship and the other worked at the GAP, I will always interview the interned candidate first. How about you?

  24. Doug — gee, have you thought about this before? What an excellent and comprehensive list. Each one is worthy of its own post!

    Andy — with advice like that, no one’s going to think you’re a kid! You’re right about not letting a job or boss mold you into something you’re not. Authenticity should not be for sale.

    Pat — excellent points. When I interview a kid about to graduate from college, they think they’re ready to be a VP. And they want to make more money than I do! Being unrealistic communicates something to a potential employer that I don’t think they want to say.

  25. Chris — all very true. I often tell college students — your first job is so critical because hopefully you will meet your first mentor there. That alone can make a career.

    Tony — A very valid point about the manual labor experience. Everyone should have what I call an “invisible” job once in their life. Where no one really sees you — you’re just the cabbie, waitress, bell boy etc. Lots of life lessons about people there.

    Carolyn — a lifelong learner is the most valuable employee a company can have, I think. So your counsel is right on the money!

  26. David — real world examples are priceless when you are first coming out of school. It says (to me anyway) I went the extra mile to get some experience. I want that kind of motivated person on my team.

    Delaney — thanks for the link. There’s a ton to think about and learn from there!

    Katie — your research sounds fascinating. It would be really interesting to compare/contrast what is needed today versus 25 years ago!

  27. Toby says:

    Great project Drew. The advice on this post is wonderful and it was difficult to come up with something not mentioned. Here are a couple of thoughts ..

    >Fail. A lot. By that I mean take a chance on the road less traveled even if that road takes you out of your comfort zone. As several people have mentioned opportunities come from surprising places and people.

    >Getting your degree is an exciting and heady experience. However, it’s the first step in a long adventure. The people you meet will have traveled that road before you. Take advantage of their experiences as you add your own to the mix.

    >Learn to be a team player.

    >Leave before you have “used up” the experience. Over staying on a job will lead to frustration and sadness of the heart.

    >Help others along the way. The favor will be returned to you many times over.

    >Ask for help when you need it. You’re not expected to know it all.

    >Join and participate in professional organzations where you can meet, play and learn with others who share your interests and passions. People help people who they know and like.

    >Balance your work life with time for personal pleasures, family and friends.

  28. Anne Simons says:

    Hi Drew:

    What a great idea! Here are some suggestions for job applicants who are recent college graduates, including those who may be interested in marketing and advertising. They are pretty basic but it’s surprising how many candidates I interviewed who came off poorly because they violated one or more of the following ‘rules’:

    1) Typos are a very bad thing on a resume. Make sure you have a couple of people proof it for you before you send it out.

    2) Do your research. Read the company’s website, including the bios, and do a quick Internet search. If they’ve posted white papers on the website or they’ve written books, read them. Think of some questions to ask related to what you’ve read that you can discuss in the interview but be sincere. Don’t ask a question just to ask a question and don’t pretend you read the book if you really didn’t.

    3) Don’t do all the talking, and don’t make the interviewer do all the talking. A good interview is like a conversation with both parties sincerely interested in learning what the other person has to say.

    4) Please don’t tell me you want to pursue a career in marketing and advertising because you “want to express your creativity” unless you want to sound naïve and immature. I want to hire people who understand that the point of advertising and marketing is to sell products and services and can demonstrate how they can help me and/or my clients to do that.

    5) Do informational interviews with people at agencies and companies so that you have a realistic expectation of the business.

    6) Always bring along a pad of paper to take notes even if you find you rarely use it.

    7) When negotiating for salary please don’t tell me you need more money so that you can get your car fixed or move out of your parents’ house, etc. I don’t care. What I do what to know is what value you will bring to the business and how you can prove what you say is true.

    8) I love creativity and people who present resumes or share work that they’ve done in a way that is new or different. But before you bring it to an interview, share it with someone whose opinion you respect to ensure it is creating the impression you want to create.

    9) At lunch please don’t chew with your mouth open or talk with food in your mouth.

    10) Always, always, send the interviewer a brief note—email is just fine. People so seldom write notes that you will stand out if you do.

    Finally, learn to network. Every job in marketing and advertising that I’ve had (including my very first agency job) came about through networking. Most of the time the job was not advertised and I was the only candidate because I was recommended by someone the hiring person trusted. Most people do not know how to network well. A great book on the topic is “Networlding: Building Relationships and Opportunities For Success,” by Melissa Giovagnoli and Jocelyn Carter-Miller. And don’t stop networking just because you get a job!

    Good luck!

  29. Mario Sundar says:

    Hi Drew,

    Here’s my 2-cents as far as career satisfaction is concerned:

    Find what it is that you absolutely love, pursue it passionately and then spend the rest of your life – not working but thriving in a job that is no longer a JOB.

    Even within marketing there are so many categories you can find your true calling in, just follow your heart (sounds cliched; yet true:)

    Thanks for asking.

  30. Hello Drew,

    There are two things that I would share.

    I got my first job after after apparently failing a series of tests while applying for a job with the NSA. At my University, I noticed a job posting for a position that perfectly matched my “skills”. There was one problem, however. All resumes were to be received by June 1. It was June 15. I applied anyway. Seven days after sending my resume via the mail, I received a call for an interview. Three weeks after the call, I started work in my new job.

    The other thing I would share is to never, ever, let anybody tell you what you are capable of doing. Ever. On day one of your first job, somebody is going to make judgments about what your potential. Some of your leaders and co-workers will want you to do things exactly as they have been done previously. Others will discount your ideas due to a lack of experience. Some will see you as a threat, and will do things to limit your potential. You control your attitude, work ethic, quality of work, ideas, and leadership. If there is one thing I have observed, over and over again, it is that talent, attitude, work ethic, quality of work, ideas and leadership always defeat anything that is not pure of intent. Don’t listen to the pundits who want to put you in a box, and tell you what you can/cannot do. Do the job you were assigned, but do it with the attributes I list, and you’ll do very well for yourself in the long-term.

  31. Doug Karr says:

    What a fantastic idea, Drew. Thanks for personally pinging me on this!

    Here’s my advice:
    1. If you thought that reading was important in College, you haven’t seen anything yet! Learn to love reading, get inspired by it, join a book club, and add every marketing, advertising, and PR book to your bookshelf. It’s an investment in your future that will pay off. When employers know that you’re keeping up on the latest trends, they’ll pay attention.
    2. Grab Todd And’s Power 150 Marketing list and add them all to your feed reader (don’t forget mine ;). Get used to skimming over these blogs daily to capture ideas and inspiration.
    3. Understand and recognize how technology is changing your field of expertise. It’s not ‘getting eyeballs’ anymore! The world of marketing, advertising, and PR is about pulling people into your story. Sociology plays as important role as Technology. Human behaviors are changing and it’s going to take amazingly talented youth like yourselves to think outside the box.

    Best of luck! Sometimes it takes that, too!

  32. Great project, Drew.

    I can definitely appreciate the cumulative wisdom posted here, but I think readers could also benefit from more information about what hiring managers are looking for in terms of today’s practices.

    For example, should an aspiring candidate have a blog? What would be the best advice for such a thing? How does a candidate cut through the clutter to get desired attention in this age of information bombardment? What social networks does hiring staff lurk on?

    I look forward to hearing more insider perspectives.

  33. 1. Do the work. Whatever it takes. This is the secret ingredient. I mentor many MBA students and young people who are seeking a splendid career, possibly starting from a top management position and making a lot of money.

    Some of these expectations may be created by the level of debt that many graduates incur in school. Some may be the fruit of misguided perception.

    2. Give people a chance to see you at work. This is how you break away from the pack. Most of the young people I recommend for hire have worked with me in activities to benefit nonprofits and volunteer organizations.

    3. Stay in control of your career. This is how you show maturity, poise, and perseverance. Believe in yourself and your ideas enough to continue investing in your own growth. Finding a first job is just the beginning.

    4. Conduct yourself in a way that is above reprehension. This is how you show what you’re made of. You own your own brand and credibility is a fragile thing. Protect yours by behaving ethically and above board on everything you do. This may mean apparent temporary set backs in the short term.

    5. Keep an eye on the long term. This is how you show loyalty to the profession. Remember that especially in today’s day and age, each industry is getting smaller and smaller. When you make your decisions, consider all consequences, even the unintended ones. You are your best advocate and brand keeper.

  34. Mary Schmidt says:

    Re marketing/advertising careers – I’d give the same advice as I give as a guest lecturer to marketing students and MBA classes:

    In the real world, nothing works like it says in the books. Be flexible, keep your eyes open, and continue learning. Your degree is just the beginning.

    As for getting a job, I’d recommend smaller companies/agencies. They’re typically more creative, move faster and will give you more opportunity sooner (and you’ll likely have more fun.)

  35. Rosa Say says:

    Drew, this is a terrific idea! Generous and gracious, but also very smart!

    I hope sharing a link is okay: I’d written this article in response to a question I got from an intern starting a new job, and I hope it helps with your project; it’s called, “New to Management: A Learning Hit List”

  36. Ann Handley says:

    Lots of great advice here, Drew… I’d add a few things:

    1. It’s not about you. It’s about what you can contribute. To that end… be different. Be unique.

    2. Listen to your gut. Your inner voice. Your instinct. Whatever you call it. It’s there. And you know what to do.

    3. Don’t be a jerk. The business world is impossibly small. It’ll come back to bite you in the butt.

  37. Toby — ah, yes our nemesis, failure. If only I knew then what I know now. I would have risked more. I hadn’t learned how much could be gained by falling. Great advice!

    Anne — you have no idea how much I was nodding as I read your comment. The little things like typos and misspelling my name in a cover letter are all I need to put a candidate into a reject pile. If they do it to me, they will do it to our clients!

    Mario — so true. If you are going to give something 40-60 hours a week, you’d better love it or you will quickly learn to hate it!


  38. Lewis — I could not agree more. If a college grad doesn’t do something to demonstrate they have some drive, they just look like everyone else in the herd. I can’t remember the last time I hired someone right out of school who hadn’t done at least one internship. I want to know that you love it enough to do it for free, just to increase the odds of getting to do it for money.

    Kevin — excellent advice. In today’s work reality, where most employees will not stay in the same job or with the same company for the whole of their career — we all need to have the skills to wear many hats. And that starts with faith in yourself!


  39. Doug — I will never argue with someone who talks about the importance of lifelong learning. And you’re right, that starts with reading!

    Derek — great questions. I think I’ll do a separate post so we can see what people think. But I do believe we’ll hear that employers are using social media sites to check out their potential new hires. I know I am!

    Stephanie — ahh, persistence. You are so right. Demonstrating that you want the job and you are willing to stick it out until you get it, speaks volumes to an employer. I know I look for it!


  40. Valeria — I knew you’d have some gems! Like many things in life — it is about how you share your gifts, isn’t it?

    Mary — You had me laughing because you are so right. It’s nothing like school or the textbooks. Real life is a lot more complicated and messy. That’s a tough lesson for many students to adapt to.

    Rosa — thanks for the link. I am going to steal some of your best ideas from there for the e-book if that’s okay!


  41. Ann — don’t we all have horror stories of when we didn’t trust our gut? I know some of my most painful work moments (and biggest learning lessons) came when I let my head talk my heart out/in to something.


  42. David Reich says:

    Drew, this was a great post and the comments it’s drawn are fantastic. You’d be doing a major service to young people if you could somehow get this out to high school guidance counselors. This is advice that kids just entering college should have. (I’m sure there’s a blog or two out there covering career advice.)

  43. Paul McEnany says:

    Wow, Drew, I don’t think you much needed me over here! That’s an incredible response!

    Anyway, the best way to get a job. Don’t be an idiot. That would be first. I see a lot of kids, not knowing what they don’t know, with an image of what advertising is in the movies, not in real life.

    With new interns and new hires, I always like to ask questions about how they use media. They’re pretty good informational resources. So, by this I mean, know what you DO know, and CAN know. Understand the issues we’re going through, and how you can offer a new perspective.

    You’re luckier than most, you have all this information at your disposal, and by just taking a few minutes to examine how you act in context with these issues can make you a quite intriguing character.

    The bottom line is that there is a wealth of knowledge out there for free, so go learn it. And, as someone just graduating college, you use the media in ways that we’re spend a lot of money studying, so use that to your advantage.

    Drew, thanks for putting this together!

  44. Bob Glaza says:

    Astonishing the response you are getting here, Drew – and with sound advice. You are a great example of a servant leader. One who gives back to your community.

    Ask and you shall receive. Here’s my 2 cents worth (not to steal from David 🙂 – and most of it’s been said:

    Take risks – you never know the results.

    Imagine all the possibilities. You’re on a journey. Whatever job you discover is not the destination – its a signpost.

    Be surprised – you may end up doing something very different than you thought.

    Aim high and keep aiming. Hitting the target comes with practice, practice, practice. Think Aristotle and happiness.

    Have fun with it. Remember whoever you work with or for wants you to be yourself. Ideally, your education has allowed time learning about yourself

    Thank you again for asking me to weigh in, Drew.

  45. Nick Rice says:

    I’ll throw in a running thought…

    Don’t try to impress everyone right off the bat. Come into your new role from with a learning posture and always try to offer something of value. Know that your education is great; but the real world is a lot different than theory. It’s wise to listen to people that have been around a while. I know you want to set the world on fire with new ideas, but to be honest, there are no new ideas.

    Find a mentor!

    Never stop learning!

    Your resume is great. But you need stories to tell about yourself – and I’m not talking about Facebook or MySpace style stories. If you have nothing more to add than what’s on your resume, why should I bring you in to talk?

    You are very much a child of the internet. Your boss probably is not. Be very aware of what your superiors think of your online activities and associations. Let me be clear, if I see pictures of your frat party or you making out in a bar, you’re automatically going in the garbage. Google your name and see what shows up – and remember it takes forever to remove an item from Google’s cached pages.

    If you’re still in school, find a good internship that will generate measurable results for your resume.

    Learn how to write conversationally. It’s how real work gets done.

    Volunteer for the crappy assignments – people notice.

    Realize that you are entitled to NOTHING. Success must be earned. You cannot expect the big paycheck and the sweet office based on a good GPA alone. You must work your way up and you must prove that you can get the job done. This takes years not months.

    Come in early, stay late, and prove that you can make a difference.

    Lastly, have fun while getting the job done. Get to know people. Put yourself out there and learn. People love to transfer knowledge if they know you’re not after their job and that you truly want to learn.

  46. CK says:

    “My advice for someone trying to break into the marketing/advertising business.”

    Get creative in both getting on the radars’ of the companies you want to work for and in the relationships you want to develop. Initiate a program, project, website, or wiki that will get you noticed and advance your search but also help you develop strategic relationships that you can carry throughout your career.

    You might even create a hub or group with others who are also looking so as to help one another generate ideas–and keep one another motivated. While you’ll want to follow all the “best practices of job searches” do one better and put those marketing smarts to work early on by thinking of ways to stand out. Much luck and welcome to the real world!

  47. I really appreciate this, I am a soon to be college grad and am documenting my experience at

    I have been truly impressed on the willingness of busy advertising/marketing professionals taking the time to reach out to soon to be grads and offer them advice that is largely lacking on campus.

    Please let me know if you have any questions or comments regarding the link above, I hope that it helps other students embarking on the same path.

  48. Drew, I’ve just posted my contribution:
    Thanks for getting us started on this great topic!

  49. Drew,

    The absolutely most important thing I wish I had knew when I was starting out, is that being likeable and being able to get along with everyone and brighten folks’ day is 100 times more imporant than being the smartest person on a team.

    This is my advice for any new grad joining the workforce:

    1. Smile at people and take an interest in them.
    2. If you’re an employee (as opposed to an entrepreneur), make friends with your boss and with your boss’s boss.
    3. Don’t be a martyr and work late thinking that it will impress your supervisors. What they’re really thinking is, “Why can’t she get her work done before quitting time?” Also they’ll come to expect that you’re available to stay after hours.
    4. Don’t get involved with office politics. This means not talking badly about anyone behind their back. In an office environment it’s so tempting to gossip, but it’ll come back to bite you.
    5. Don’t take work too seriously. Especially if you work in a traditional office, it’s just a given that friction will occur or that people you don’t think are deserving get promoted, or some stupid policy gets put in place that you disagree with. There’s so much that’s out of your control, so just resolve to not let it bother you.

    The absolute biggest thing I wish I knew when I was first starting out, is that you can create your own job if you don’t see any that you like. That’s what I did. If you’re a bit of a risk taker and a maverick, you might find greater satisfaction outside of the traditional working work. Just think about what you enjoy doing and how you could possibly monetize your skills.

    It feels amazing to be able to create your own business to suit your unique skills and passions.

    Drew, I’d also like to refer you to Steve Pavlina’s post “10 reasons you should never get a job” at


  50. David – great idea. I will probably be turning back to all of you to help me spread the word, once we get the e-book put together.

    Paul — you make a very valid point. There is such a wealth of information available for free. That wasn’t the case when I was hunting for a job. It astonishes me how many college aged kids are still not familiar with the new media.

    Bob — so true. We get paralyzed because the decisions feel so big. But in reality, a job is just one step in a complete journey. A good reminder!


  51. Nick — some excellent points. The whole “be careful what you put online” is one many kids will learn the hard way, I suspect. And I love the come in early/stay late reminder. Lots of kids come to their first job thinking they are entitled. They forget that their boss put in a lot of sweat and tears and expects them to do the same.

    CK — great advice as usual. The idea of networking is really one that most students don’t really grasp until later in their careers. They’d be so far ahead if they saw the value of it right away.


  52. Jessica — thanks for reminding us who is on the other end of this conversation!

    CB — thanks for spreading the word and sharing your thoughts.

    Becky — great stories with very important messages. I do love teaching with stories!

    Sharon — thanks for the great reality checks and the addtional link. You are so right about office politics. No one ever wins in that game.


  53. Steve Miller says:

    Great idea to do this, Drew. Here’s my advice:

    Don’t get stressed out about whether you’re going to make or break your life or career in your first job. Your life will take a LOT of twists and turns (most unexpected) before you find your passion. Your first job is simply the first step on a long journey. Look for something really interesting, not something that just pays well. Have fun. Enjoy the ride.

  54. Steve — excellent point. When I meet young grads, they are very worried about making a mistake. Ah, if only they knew how many more are coming!

    Enjoy the ride. There’s a lot of truth in that sentence.


  55. Mike Colwell says:


    I wish I had read the following, memorized it and lived by it a long time ago. The list is know as Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management and was created by Bill Swanson, CEO of Raytheon. The list is at this link:
    There was a time you could order a copy of a pocket sized book that Bill wrote explaining each rule from the Raytheon website but I can no longer find the link.

    Mike Colwell

  56. Joan Schramm says:

    Drew — This is a wonderful compilation of advice — and not just for new grads, either. Many people in business could benefit from reading this stuff. Let me add the most important thing I learned as a new manager — don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Lots of people seem to think that a departmental meeting is the time to bring up things that someone else did wrong. It isn’t. Any issues you have with someone, bring them up in private. No one wants to hear you asking Fred why his people were late with the widget count again last month (least of all Fred). Handle Fred in private and, if you don’t get a response you need, then go to your boss in private. Departmental meetings are to share information and questions, not to play “gotcha” with someone.

  57. Mike — Thanks for sharing the link. It’s one of those lists that you read and find yourself just nodding along. I particularly love “Remember that you can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.”

    That is is true. Especially for the young professional — their choice of boss becomes critical to how their future plays out. A first bosss is a pivotal role. Grads should choose wisely.

    Joan — an excellent addition to our list. Praise in public, punish in private was something I heard somewhere along the way. I’ve found that it is a very good rule of thumb to live by. I think most managers could be better at both the praising and how they handle the corrections side.


  58. sim says:

    I have done a graphic design degree from the UK and struggling to find a job its been over a year,I just want to start.I have done some work experience.Is anyone out there?I was thinking to do an overseas placement maybe apprenticeship level magazine layout design in the U.S. Or anyone know any courses I could do in the U.S. that are worthwhile.

  59. Sim,

    Why don’t you sign up on one of the many freelance graphic artist websites? You could get some real life experience for your portfolio and who knows, maybe someone will offer you something more?

    You could also look on internship sites to see if there’s anything that is a good fit.



  60. Stephen Lime says:

    Hey check out this college marketing company that offers motivated individuals jobs on their own campus.

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