This is the time of year when things start getting serious for final year students. I know because I was in that position last year, in the final months of an English degree at the University of Nottingham.
Twelve months on, things are a lot calmer. As I’ll talk about here (thank you to Marcel for the opportunity!) I’m now a digital marketing executive at Impression, an agency in Nottingham. Day to day, I do all sorts of things, from search engine optimisation (SEO), to digital PR, to content creation.
Everyone’s journey from university into a career looks different, but I hope you’ll find something useful in my personal story.
Data entry & social media
My journey started in the Easter holiday of my second year at university, in 2015. I got the chance to work for a small recruitment agency in my hometown in West Sussex. They needed a hand moving their data from an old offline database to a new cloud-based system. For me, it was a chance to earn a bit of money and get some experience in an office.
The company, Touchpoint Resource, is small. When I joined, I was the only employee alongside three co-founders. The original task was too big for Easter alone, so I came back in summer to finish up. As the database job drew to a close, the Touchpoint guys learned that I was tentatively interested in marketing as a career. Consequently, they offered me the chance to continue working for them remotely one hour a day throughout my final year, with the aim of managing their social media channels.
Here’s the first lesson I learned: don’t count out small businesses. At uni events it’s the big companies that get the attention, but it was in a small company that I first got the opportunity to take on real responsibility. They even trusted me enough to help interview and hire the person who took over from me when I joined Impression on a permanent basis.
Meeting Impression’s co-founders
A month before Christmas 2015, the University of Nottingham Careers Service ran an event called ‘Spotlight On Local Careers’. I thought I might as well go, as I was uninspired by the grad schemes I was trawling through.
I’m not really an outgoing person – I’m not a fan of having to make small talk with people I don’t know – and if you’re like me, networking events aren’t particularly appealing. But looking back, my advice from my personal experience if that you will regret it if you miss these opportunities.
It was at this event that I came across Impression. Aaron Dicks, co-founder and director, gave a short presentation, and I asked him a question in the Q&A and got chatting to him afterwards.
The conversation turned into an invite to talk some more at Impression’s office, where Aaron asked me about my background, including my work for Touchpoint and my personal blog, and gave me some ‘intro to SEO’ material to read over Christmas, telling me to let him know when I was back in Nottingham in January.
Another key thing I learned in final year was to use my uni’s careers service. I didn’t even do all that much with mine – I went to one one-to-one meeting and one Spotlight event, but out of that I got invited to go to Impression’s office and I got a separate interview with a different small company, all without sending a single covering letter.
Starting out at Impression
When I returned to Nottingham, I got back in touch with Aaron, and soon I was working one day a week at Impression. Though bigger than Touchpoint, Impression is still a small company, which meant I got to know people quickly and felt welcome from the start.
Working with an account manager, Pete, who oversaw my work and training, I started to get to grips with SEO. Although I came on as an SEO executive, in a company like Impression the lines between SEO, digital PR and content marketing are blurry, and I continue to find myself gaining experience in all three. My existing strengths (research and writing) were valued, and my weaknesses (technical SEO), were worked on.
As my final year came to a close, I had a conversation with Pete and the managing directors about my future at the company and, as you can probably tell, that conversation went well – over a year after my first day, I’m still there.
A balancing act
Final year is difficult without taking a day and a half out of your week to work (as I did). Thankfully, my degree was flexible enough that I could make it work, but it was hard. The rest of your week gets busier, and you have added responsibilities. If you want to make everything work, you have to plan.
I’ll admit, I like to plan, but anyone can take a moment to look at their timetable and block out regular, scheduled hours (whether for work or uni contact hours) and see what they have left for uni work and revision.
There are a few simple things you can do to help balance work, life and study. The main thing is to play to your strengths. If you’re not a morning person, then don’t try to get to the library for 8 am every day. You won’t stick to it and then you’ll feel guilty and stressed. Look for where you have gaps that suit your work style and put them aside for uni work.
For me, I hate working in the evenings, so wherever possible I planned all my uni work for the day, and my evening meal was my final cut off point for work, allowing me to relax and maintain a social life.
It’s all about making things easier for yourself. You know yourself better than anyone, so plan your days around your habits and favoured working hours, and don’t start by saying that you’re going to spend every waking minute working. It won’t happen, and if it does, it’s not that healthy.
This is pretty much everything from me, but I thought I’d give you some of my key lessons in bulleted form, just in case they got a bit buried in everything else.
- Don’t limit your job search to big grad schemes – there are loads of great small companies out there, and they are great places to learn.
- Be available – take every opportunity you can find to meet businesses and get talking to them.
- Use your university’s careers resources.
- Be disciplined but realistic with your time. Make sure you’re setting time aside for work, but don’t be unrealistic in your expectations of what you can actually stick to.
If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!