ad-careerFor college graduates, getting a job today is tougher than ever. A 2011 Rutgers University five-year study showed only 50% of college graduates landed a job between 2008 and 2011. You read correctly. One-half did not get a job. Any job. With the current economy as it is one can assume that this statistic is holding true today.

Soon after each graduate cycle, the advertising industry sends chills down graduates’ spines. The prospect of landing a job at their favorite agency soon becomes a distant dream. Most of the time, there isn’t a position. But even if there were, close to all of those vying for the job don’t have a prayer. There will be those who beat the odds. The lucky ones, we will call them. But if you’re like most and lack such luck, the lack of opportunity need not be a mystery. Here’s why you won’t be getting that dream job:

1. You will count too much on your education.

Don’t be deceived. A high GPA means very little in qualifying for most of the jobs in advertising. Even the most respected programs aren’t a golden ticket to a job. The reason is simple: Schools don’t teach all the things you need to know. Few, if any, teach how to plan and manage your career or which companies are doing the best work. Few teach with any depth, the latest methods and technologies being used. It is not that these programs are flawed. They are simply inadequate. It has always been this way. What changed was the industry practice of apprenticeship. You have to have professional experience when you graduate. That leads to the next reason you won’t get your dream job.

2. You won’t stop acting like a student.

Remember the lucky ones referred to earlier? They graduated, went out, and got a great job. How can you get that lucky? Make it. Go to industry organization meetings to gain insight from industry professionals. Get an internship every year you’re in college. If you can get one in your dream agency, you’re well ahead of the curve. Read everything you can find on how to be successful in advertising. Most of all, bust your tail and work on your portfolio 24/7. By doing all of this, you will have the advantage when competing for the best jobs. In other words, you will have become a professional before you begin your career.

3. You won’t realize that your portfolio is more than just your work.

Your portfolio is not just the work you display. It’s everything from the user experience of your website to the content in your résumé. Talk about yourself as professional in the past tense. The less a potential employer thinks of you as a student, the more likely you’ll convince him or her that you are worth the risk. Your work has to be great. That’s a given. But just as important is the need to reflect you, the professional.

4. You will perpetuate the “Millennial” stigma.

An article in Human Resource Executive titled “The Talent-Job Mismatch” cited a McKinsey study that identified soft skills, such as teamwork, communication, and work ethic, as more important to employers than technical skills. In fact, those employers responding to the survey stated that students today are greatly lacking in these skills. Want to stand out from the competition? Put these skills at the top of your list to master.

Starting your career at the right place increases the probability that you will reach your true potential. Above all, remember that the secret to successfully launching your ad career is to become a professional while you’re still a student.

Originally published Jul 15, 2014 3:00:00 AM, updated June 28 2019