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Speaking Engagement at Villanova University

vill_logoEarlier this year, I was invited by the Philly Ad Club to be part of a seminar for students at Villanova and surrounding universities to discuss the outlook for career opportunities in the advertising, public relations and interactive industries.

So last Tuesday, I made my way to Villanova’s beautiful campus, walking through a modern building with cafes, many television screens, and filled with plenty of students wirelessly engaged. My destination was a large group room of nearly one hundred concerned students, majoring in advertising and marketing.

The panel was made up of predominantly of twenty somethings with a few years of working experience, one senior level corporate America professional and me. The presentation was moderated by a Villanova professor that would raise a question, direct it to a panel member and then allow students to follow up with questions. It was all very helpful but I couldn’t help but want to chime in since I could actually hire these students. I bided my time until I was finally called upon.

Once I got the floor, I decided it was time for some frank, unfiltered talk. Getting a fulltime position in this industry right now is beyond difficult and I figured they needed to hear it. The competition is immense and the positions few. Therefore, I respectfully explained such concepts as, “The world owes you nothing”, “It’s not what you get, it’s what I get,” and “Show me the potential.” My goal was to dispel any delusions of entitlement and really urge them to get prepared. I included some basic tips relating to the interview process that seem to be lost on many, entry level candidates.

I don’t like things sugar-coated for me. It’s of no help. Apparently, many of these students felt the same way. After the presentation, they approached me and thanked me for being honest and for giving them real world advice. In the days following, I have received emails from both students and Ad Club members thanking me and commenting on the impression I made.

So, I’ve decided to post four tips here for other soon-to-be advertising and marketing grads challenged with landing a job. They may seem very basic to most but hopefully, these will help before and during the interview process.

Research Me:
It amazes me when I ask an interviewee, “Did you see our website,” how often I get some answer in the form of “I can’t remember,” “I’m not sure” or basically, “No.” Strike 1.

Would you talk to someone about buying a car that you had no idea what kind it was or the condition and features of this specific vehicle? Of course not, and you should diligently research any company that you are considering for employment. It’s extremely simple. Go to their website and really learn who they are, what they do, who they are doing it for and what may possibly make them different. Also, do a Google search to see what outside sources are saying and how they may be intertwined in the business community. In addition, research the person that is interviewing you via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and a Google Search.

Now in the interview you can cite the company’s projects and accomplishments, as well as create small talk around the personal achievements and interests of the person who’s interviewing you. This makes you appear resourceful, smart and serious about the opportunity.

Pay Me
No, not literally, but don’t you dare try and turn this interview into how much are you are going to get paid, what kind of benefits are offered and how much vacation time will you get. Strike 2. The employer will get to that when they feel it’s right. You need to understand that the goal behind every hiring is to improve the company. This relates directly and indirectly to company profit, moral and image. Instead, turn the conversation into how you can help make my business better.

Create Your Own Experience
While most recent grads will have little or no working experience, you do have a unique means to learn about online marketing. I strongly suggest that you create a blog site about some topic that really interests you. Your goal, like a real agency, is to create a highly visible, defacto destination for your topic. There are plenty of free and low costs blog sources that you can easily setup and maintain. I recommend WordPress. Use this blog as a test and learning tool on how to write and incorporate engaging content and third party feeds that will attract visitors. Once you have this content, begin to promote it via various social media tools, post links on forums and other blogs, and talk about it on social networking sites. Research and learn how you can improve your search engine rankings so you can attract even more visitors. Setup and monitor visitor traffic via tools offered by the blog supplier or by incorporating Google Analytics. You should be able to even setup a Google AdSense account to display ads on your blog so you can see learn how online advertising works. And instead of spending that $50 in a bar, setup a Google Adwords account to advertise your blog. Some hosting companies will provide a $50 promotional AdWords credit. There’s no better experience than doing, and this will really force you to put what you’ve learned and read into practice.

So now in the interview, you can impressively speak about how you created an online presence and a following for topic “X” and the intricacies of the various tools you used. The many “gray hairs” running ad agencies these days are grappling with this new fangled social media thing and you now present a value to their company. You are bringing something to the table and showing potential. You may be surprised how smart and comfortable you will sound speaking from real experience.

Be Positive
Again, here’s one that seems basic and obvious but still gets lost on some people. Earlier in the year, I interviewed a woman that, as she discussed her previous positions, felt the need to interject what she didn’t like about each company or how she disagreed with management and how it just wasn’t the right fit for her. As she continued on, I couldn’t help but think that it maybe it wasn’t all these companies with the problem but rather it was her. I doubt she even realized how she was presenting herself. Regardless, it was a big swing and a miss for her, Strike 3.

In the marketing and technology world there are plenty of challenges, barriers and pitfalls. We want to be in the trenches with people who can remain positive and focus on solutions rather than whine. As a person who hires employees, avoiding “black clouds” is paramount. We want happy people.

In the interview, avoid everything or anything that sounds negative. You should sound upbeat, be friendly and act genuinely interested and excited about the opportunity.

Bonus Tip
This bit of advice is personal to me and I doubt you’ll find it in any career guide. Since most recent grads have difficulty filling up a resume anyway, please include restaurant experience if you have it. If I see an applicant with a year or more experience serving food or drink to the general public, I instantly know that they can handle pressure, juggle multiple tasks and can deal with people that should behave like adults but sadly do not. These skills translate very well to the advertising and interactive worlds… it’s simply a matter of slinging a different kind of “hash.”

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