As many students face an anxious final year at university, we asked Republic’s Damian Low how they can make the most of their last months as a student to start their career with confidence.
It has been some time since I graduated, but I remember the deadlines, the stress, the reading lists mounting up, the procrastination, the meetings with my supervisor and, perhaps occupying my time more than it should, the fears about a career afterwards. Whilst it was an incredible time in my life, it contained a quantity of issues I had to sort through that have not been mirrored since; and the class of 2021 won’t have nights at the student union to take their minds off of it, unless things change drastically in the next nine months.
Still, the final year taught me a lot about juggling tasks and prioritising. Though I had always been a ‘night before’ sort of guy when it came to essays, I soon realised that I needed to change that approach, because they now came thick and fast, counting towards my final grade more than previous years; I couldn’t afford a rush job. Despite the vast differences between now and then, there are still tips final year students can take from me – mainly in learning from the mistakes that I made – on how to approach their last year and, most importantly, how those actions reflect on the search for a job afterwards.
For marketing students – or business students who are looking at marketing as an option – the short-term future might be worrying, but any economic recovery, particularly a sustained one, will need the skills of the profession in the medium-term. Young marketers, digitally savvy almost from birth, are a key element of that recovery. In short, if the near future looks dull than I believe it will be a little brighter afterwards.
Here are my tips for how to make the most out of your final year, particularly if you are a marketing student.
Break bad habits and form good ones
If you are, like I was, someone who believes they work best by cramming the night before, question that. Work will come at you quickly, and the level of insight expected for each essay or presentation will rise dramatically too. You might be one of those rare people who work best under pressure, but the multiple courses of each degree will demand a lot of you, and even the very wisest of night owl workers will struggle with two essays with the same deadline.
Marketers are increasingly asked to provide the insight behind decisions, particularly in regards to the customer, and marketing students must provide the logic behind their reasoning too; there should be no superficial analysis in your final year. The first thing you should do is look at the important dates throughout the year, such as when assignments need to be handed in, and then work around them. Do yourself another favour by looking into the times of the day when you are most productive, then assessing your most important tasks throughout the term, mapping out how to complete each task towards your overall objective.
Yes, the final year is time to make your objectives SMART. The downtime you may have from doing the classes virtually means this is more vital than ever, because you need to keep yourself mentally astute without the natural breaks other graduating classes had whilst studying.
Get your money’s worth
Fees for universities have increased since 2004. A graduate today would end up paying over 5 times what I did just in those fees alone. Though news cycles about this are dominated on the ethical question of those charges, this doesn’t help those who have already chosen to study and pay them.
Think about your university as a place to get your money’s worth and you miss the whole point of it, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the most of their resources. Make use of your personal tutor beyond your dissertation, check out the career advice options they offer, ask if the help extends to after you graduate, and see everything your university can offer you. Right now, guidance is essential.
Do a bit extra by connecting to relevant industry figures through LinkedIn as well. This is a resource that wasn’t available to me, and it seemed to work for Cooper and Dickson.
Mental health has come on massively since I was a student. I enjoyed going out, and it turned out to be a good grounding for what I do know because everything I know about networking started there, but many don’t. In the situation now, I’d struggle more than most, but students must understand that university is meant to be fun. That might sound strange, because nobody tells you that, but many will look back on those unique experiences as some sort of halcyon age. As a politics student, I got to have the sort of debates I enjoy now, for ‘work’. An English student gets to read some of the greatest, and worst, books ever written for ‘work’. Business students get to learn about success without the pressure of bottom lines and cost-cutting. It’s meant to be fun.
Finding ways to enjoy yourself has never been more important; even in the best of times, the final year should be a mix of work and reward, teaching you the work life balance that employment doesn’t often allow. Whatever you like doing that you can do safely, make time for it. Not least because future employers look for people with well-rounded interests that have prepared candidates for office life; virtual or otherwise.
Don’t rush decisions
Some graduates are as young as 20, the median age is 21; you have time to make choices beneficial to you without rushing them. Chances are, graduating year students have already started their job hunt – and do start if you haven’t already, there is time – but university is a big experience that, more often than not, leaves you exhausted at the end of it. If you haven’t worked out your plans yet, then don’t rush into a career path before you are ready.
If you aren’t yet sure what career you wish to pursue, I will say two things; you can be flexible and change, and, most importantly, you don’t have to rush. If you have the capacity to take a year out – if you have no bills and are living with parents for example – then find out if that’s right for you and learn to study in a different manner.
Marketers have a chance to supercharge their CVs by extra studying. I know that this may sound perverse after three years of study but taking the chance to learn more now is a golden opportunity. This could be through completing a level 6 qualification through CIM, or brushing up on those soft skills that may put you above the rest after you’ve had your year out; I would recommend the presentation skills course, partly because working life is full of them and very few people present well.
The bottom line is you can assess what future further learning you’d like to do during your last year as well. Don’t rush it if the opportunity isn’t there, and extra courses are often easier to undertake when you’re used to the academic environment.
What if you’re set for a career already?
Of course, there are some who have chosen their career already. There will be some who have done their due diligence already and may be prepared with internships or a job offer. My only advice to them is to keep learning and, whilst making sure you meet the requirements of any job offer, work on the soft skills that will serve you well in any office environment. My job involves strategy and networking – two areas junior marketers are stereotypically said to lack – and, working with graduates, those prepared to work on their presentational skills tend to go further. Marketing and strategy encourage wider recruitment than just marketing graduates – I am one of them, I have a Politics MA – so help yourself be more well-rounded.
For students who wish to pursue a career in marketing, make use of your networks. Speak to your student development team, connect to former students on LinkedIn, and keep yourself open to the possibilities. The university can provide contacts for roles, or even positions themselves. Graduate schemes have started already, it’s never too early to prepare, so check these out whilst there is still time.
My only lasting advice is that it will be tough, but it will turn around. Britain has wide challenges emerging in the next 18 months separate from this pandemic – remember Brexit? – but any economic recovery will need data, insight, creativity, innovation, and long-term thinking. Marketing departments can provide that and graduates comfortable with digital will be a valuable resource in the medium-term. Of course, be aware of what is happening now, but remember you have time, so don’t rule anything out completely.
In preparing for life beyond university, final year students often get a rough ride. Just remember, it doesn’t have to be all planned out now, sometimes you can afford to take your time, sometimes you have a plan you want to stick too. Whatever your plans, take the advice of people who have gone before you, but use it to form your own path on your own schedule. Most importantly, well done for getting this far, in the most challenging of circumstances.
Ready to start your job search? Browse the latest roles from across the marketing industry with CIM Marketing Jobs.