A Message of Hope to Graduating Marketing Students

This rough spot will just be a moment in your long upcoming career

Illustration of a graduation cap
Be patient and keep your head up. We will recover from this. Getty Images
Headshot of Zach Canfield

Welcome, graduating class of 2020!

Ouch—I know.

In just a few weeks, hundreds will graduate from portfolio schools like the Creative Circus, VCU and Miami Ad School;  thousands will be graduating from undergrad programs like BYU, Syracuse and the University of Texas.

Only months ago, the job market was on fire. But oh so quickly it has turned into a dumpster fire. As Jeff Goodby recently told me, “It feels like we’re riding a train into a tunnel with a limited amount of coal, and we have no idea when we’ll see the light at the other side.”

But I’m here to tell you that a rough patch like this, combined with the right intestinal fortitude, will help season you much more quickly and prepare you for the ups and downs you’ll need for a long career in creativity.

Young people are an energy injection for an agency. And energy and excitement are so needed right now.

Let me start with the scary news. This current Covid-19 crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. All agencies will struggle because of significant financial uncertainties. Everyone from small agencies to large networks will go through hardships. Agencies with accounts for airlines, cruise ships, hotels, tourism and retail will be hit hard. And the junior talent pool is going to be greater than the available jobs for a while.

Being an optimist, I also can’t help thinking there are great opportunities ahead for people entering the business right now.

Creativity will be more important than ever. It might just not look like a $4 million TV production. The back of the deck—where most juniors’ ideas are—will get more attention than ever before. Ideas with simple productions or in-house executions will rise. This environment will celebrate people who are open to change and to seeing things in new ways.

Young people are an energy injection for an agency. And energy and excitement are so needed right now.

My advice to students about to graduate is to start by saying this out loud: “My career is a long race, not a sprint.” Then say it again.

If you aren’t getting a response from your dream agency, don’t be afraid to lower your bar a bit to get your foot in the door. It gets much easier to land a job once you’ve got some experience behind you. Also, almost every leader I know has worked somewhere they were eager to leave. Trust me, those rough jobs will toughen you up and make you more grateful when you find a better fit.

The most important thing to remember is not to take it personally if you don’t land a job or if you get caught up in a layoff early in your career. Most likely, it’s less about performance and more about living in a capitalistic society. Keep that in perspective.

If you haven’t landed a job, definitely consider internships. I know that many of you probably have a ton of student debt, and your parents might be disappointed to hear the word “intern.” But remember that you’ll learn a ton in a good internship. A lot of agencies hire juniors from their internship programs. This means that when the economy picks back up, they will think of you first. You may need to do a few internships before you land a job, but hang in there. Remember that it’s a long race.

Should you land an internship, be curious. Don’t sit at your desk and wait for stuff to come to you. Get off your butt and ask questions. Make an impression. Help inject new energy into the place.

When you find yourself with free time on your hands during the pandemic, whatever you do, don’t stop working on your portfolio. Keep working on new campaigns and ideas every week. It blows my mind when someone hasn’t updated their portfolio after many months of being unemployed. Never stop working on your portfolio. It’s your lifeline.

It may be a tough economy in which to start looking for your first advertising job but remember that it’s OK to try out different agencies early on. Don’t stress out too much just yet about where you land. If it takes people time to return your calls, be patient and keep working on your portfolio. And if you are able to land something now, help bring new life into the place. Tough economies like this will celebrate juniors who are curious and show gratitude.

I got my first advertising job a few months before the dot-com crash, which was soon followed by 9/11. Those two events rocked the economy and our industry. It was a blessing in disguise to start my career in a tough economic environment. It certainly made me appreciate the good times a lot more while understanding that it can’t always just be the good times.

Be patient and keep your head up. We will recover from this. And the students with the most determination will land on their feet. Who knows, after looking back at a long career, you might be surprised to find that some of your best times were during the rough patches.

Zach Canfield is an associate partner and director of talent at Goodby Silverstein & Partners.