Yes, it can begin this early.
I tend, these days, to post just job or internship opportunities. When AdGrads was first formed, we tried to write more useful posts about how best to get into the business, but in recent years, it's been a bit job-specific.
So, with that in mind, I've decided to write a post on the topic of personal branding and how to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
With the rise of potential employers googling your name (and some of the more locked down searching Facebook), personal branding is something of a hot topic, and has been for the past few years...particularly when you're considering a career in communications, where opinions on branding (and indeed, people who like making themselves heard) are ten-a-penny.
My stock advice used to be 'start a blog, express your opinions' (particularly for those who wanted to get into planning). Now, given that most communications students/new ad folk have blogs or twitter accounts, the grad market is overrun with opinions.
Not a problem, you might claim; my opinion is good enough to get me a job/get me noticed. Well, I'd claim that it probably isn't enough any more. No, in order to truly stand out, you should try and cultivate a wealth of pre-job examples of where you've personally made a difference by improving/changing/helping someone with their communications.
Think about it - was there a local band you helped promote? Have you done something in social media? Created a character/persona who is widely followed? What did you learn? How could this experience help the businesses you're thinking of joining?
Or, for more specific job roles - have you proven how well organised you are when putting on a play at University? (This looks good for an account management role). Have you taken part in the 'Account Planning School of the Web'? (It's open to anyone, but it's good practice/a viable way of improving your strategic chops).
There are people in Advertising/Comms who have done some of these, and many of those things discussed above are the sorts of things that require the same skills to tackle situations they have to deal with daily.
Don't just talk about how important it is to be aware of digital and communicate well - live it, point to it before you interview and demonstrate your skills.
You've got a blank canvas out there to impress the industry. Who knows - if you do a good enough job, you may just get onto Brand Republic and secure that first graduate role without ever having to go on a grad scheme.