Monday, 13 August 2007

You aren't the University you went to..

Books you'll never have to read again (maybe). Thanks to muppetspanker. Usual rules apply.

This is going to be a post that can be split in half, so bear with me.

Sparked by a debate on the Brand Republic forums, I thought I should have a stab at debating the 'Which University' topic here.

Right, first and foremost, I'll briefly explain my University background. I went to Exeter, a fairly good red brick University, and did English Literature, doing pretty well.

Like a good deal of grads, I'd wager, I thought that my marks at University and at A Level (coupled with my father's experiences) would automatically get me a plum job on the grad schemes. I got an interview with Leo Burnett, then systematically bugger all afterwards.

So, lesson one for potential grads - doing well at University does NOT mean you'll automatically get in to a massive agency, and live the life of milk and honey. No way. You need to prove your thinking, and get a little lucky (anyone can just not hit it off with their interviewer on the day).

Let's flip this around, and imagine you went to a University which did advertising as a course, or maybe business. You know (or you think you know) how the industry is run, what's going to happen, and again, think you deserve a passage in. That's also bollocks, and let me explain why.

Knowing the theory behind something doesn't mean you can actually do it. I'm sure there will be a lot of marketing/advertising/business grads, come December, having been rejected from each grad scheme, asking why...

Well, it's fairly simple - you need to be able to point to something (whether you chose a more traditional academic subject, or the more vocational subjects in the case of the latter) that proves you can actually DO the job. Work experience is nice, but even multiple work experience placements doesn't guarantee you can actually do the job - especially as work experience tends to be doing simple work, or being shown the glamourous side of things. To be honest, if someone had a lot of placements, I'd question why they hadn't gotten in yet - surely one of them would have hired that person?

Let's imagine a third scenario. You went to Oxford or Cambridge, and are in the nation's elite when it comes to intelligence at your chosen subject. From my experiences, you're pretty likely to make the first round cull, and get to an interview - in fact, much more likely than those who either went to a red brick or an ex-polytechnic, in my experience.

But then, you bugger up the interview, despite seeming to know this is what you want to doesn't seem to make sense, does it?

Well, let's take all of this 'Which University did you go to' thinking and chalk up a few truisms (and a few warnings):

1) If you went to Oxford or Cambridge you are more likely to get through the process.

It doesn't seem fair to those who applied from non-Oxbridge outfits, but think about it...if you are a HR person or an agency person who has to divvy up thousands of applications, how'd you do it? By University? Well, probably not just that, but it'll surely be a factor (and why not - you want the best and brightest to help win you business).

2) Advertising or more vocational courses don't guarantee you interviews.

Of course they don't. Advertising has always been about variety - if I'm interviewing you, I want to know about your life outside of advertising, not just that you have a vague notion of what a brand key is or somesuch. They are useful to help you get over early hurdles and to help you have an idea that this is what you want to do - but, speaking personally, I know agency people who actively distrust them; they could, after all, lead to rigid, 'course based' ways of thinking about business or branding problems. That said, knowing the business (to a point) IS important.

3) Work experience and knowing about the business helps a lot.

It proves you are keen, regardless of University. But it doesn't negate your University experiences or course; it's just another tick in your favour, and proves you have begun to get your hands dirty. But it's not everything, oh no. People who have an idea about where the business is going, what they'd recommend for certain clients (and can back it up), those people have the aces in the hole, regardless of the work experience they may or may not have accrued.

Right, I hope that was helpful. Ultimately, the graduate recruitment process is a bit of a duck hunt - sometimes you get lucky, and lots of offers; but sometimes your face doesn't fit, or you have a bad interview, or circumstances change beyond your control, regardless of seeming to do everything right. It's not fair, but for God's sake, don't blame anything. Just pick yourself up, and keep trying. And no bitching about your University.

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