Agency Pros Share Crucial Advice for New Graduates Entering the Industry

There's realism, but optimism remains

People throwing up graduation caps with question marks in the air as well
What will work look like post-graduation?

Last week, We Are Next founder Natalie Kim joined Adweek Together to discuss some of the more practical ways 2020 graduates can navigate their post-school lives. As the industry continues to adjust to substantial change, there are still some tried-and-true ways that young and new talent can progress forward, such as networking and keeping skills sharp while looking for that first job.

Adweek asked several agency professionals their thoughts on what the class of 2020 can do to navigate so much change, how talent can make themselves more competitive and stay motivated, and which roles in the industry are primed for growth. Among the responses, there are some real doses of reality, but there is a reason for optimism, too.“Believe it or not, this will make you stronger,” said Lee Roth, North America director at BeenThereDoneThat. “When you get through this—and you will get through this—you will feel like there is nothing you can’t overcome. It sucks right now, but don’t stop believing in yourself.”

Geoff Edwards, co-founder, Saturday Morning

“The current work climate is like nothing we’ve witnessed before. Instead of stating all the reasons that we should be worried or concerned, I’d like to offer a different perspective: optimism. The pandemic has given rise to the data economy. This bodes well for graduates everywhere because they’ll author the ‘new normal.’ My belief is that smart companies will want to know and understand how a fresh perspective can help build their business and fuel the new economy.”

Best industry opportunities: “It may be too early to tell, but trends show that roles in data analytics, creative strategy, business strategy, experience design and all creative fields will be needed. ‘Problem solvers’ and creative thinkers across all disciplines will be in high demand.”

Lindsey Allison, head of strategy, Engine

“Even though the world has changed, my advice to graduates remains the same. At the beginning of your career, the work is all that matters. Not your job title. Not your salary. This is where the trajectory of your career will be defined, and it’s imperative to be around super-smart thinkers and part of amazing work from the beginning. Good work under your belt is the single thing that will get you to where you want to go. My advice would be to—if you have to—sacrifice salary, titles, and any other perks people may throw at you to be around greatness.”

Best industry opportunities: “Become a Swiss Army knife. Clients are demanding more with less. Agencies are replacing wide benches with fewer people who can do more things. If you’re a strategist, try learning about media. If you’re a creative, try learning about data. The most in-demand candidates will be able to stretch to fill multiple disciplines. Big budgets don’t exist anymore, and if you’re not really good, efficient and malleable, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Vann Graves, executive director, VCU Brandcenter

“To thrive in this industry, you must be persistent and resilient—regardless of whether a pandemic is taking place. There will always be someone critiquing your work or a project causing you stress, and the current crisis is [proof] for the need to push through and stay the course. [Conversely, as an industry], we must understand recent graduates have gone through something similar to the ‘five stages of grief,’ and they’re just getting to the stage of acceptance: Understanding that it will be hard but that they will make it through.”

Best industry opportunities: “There’s more to advertising than just working for a traditional agency. In-house agencies, social platforms, production companies, etc. are all offering top-to-bottom advertising/digital/media experiences, so graduates should understand that it’s not ‘agency or bust.’ Opportunities in the advertising industry are no longer siloed, and new graduates shouldn’t silo themselves either.”

Trish Adams, president, Opinionated

“Try your best to maintain a sense of optimism and positivity. Use the downtime to further invest in yourself and your skills (e.g. take a MasterClass from someone in your area of interest). Work on refining your resume or book. Network as much as possible and leave no contact unmined … friends, neighbors, professors, headhunters. Even if companies you’re interested in aren’t hiring at the moment, ask for an informational interview so that you’re more likely to be top of mind when they’re looking for talent again.”

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