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Confessions of a media graduate

 

The communications industry has always been notoriously tough to break in to. It is an extremely competitive sector in which jobs are scarce and the difficultly of securing a position is exacerbated by hundreds of tenacious applicants for a single role.

 

All throughout our schooling life, we’re taught that going to University to embark on further study is the norm. It’s expected. It’s the standard procedure should you wish to enter an office based vocation.

 

As a recent graduate struggling for permanent employment in the media and communications industry, I can’t help but question if studying for this field of work is still relevant.

 

The truth is for the majority of us; we do go to University. We do follow the norm. We undertake three, four or five year degrees, most of starting with little idea what direction to take our lives. But we persevere because it’s the golden ticket on our resume, a non-negotiable prerequisite on a job description and the thing that will render us hireable, so we think.

 

For those – myself included – who completed notoriously non profession-specific degrees, aka a Bachelor of Arts, it was easy at times to lose track of what exactly the ultimate goal was, why werewe dissecting and analysing seemingly unimportant literary paragraphs. I suppose in hindsight those were some of the most significant moments of our education because it was learning purely for the sake of learning. That being, of course, the central ethos of Melbourne University’s ‘new’ model, introduced the year I enrolled.

 

We certainly weren’t denied any opportunities and the syllabus boasted an impressive array of courses and subjects in the media field. It was only in the last few weeks of my degree, graduation looming, that the protective cloud of student life began dissipating and cold reality became imminent – after all we learnt, all those years, we weren’t taught what to do upon completion. One subject the syllabus didn’t offer was Getting Hired in PR Straight Away-101.

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I have always been a fiend for the media. I love reading, writing, and pride myself on my communication skills. To enter the world of PR and communications was an obvious choice. I had no idea at the time that when I feebly began the job application process just how much it was about to become my biggest and toughest learning experience to date.

 

It’s no secret that the media industry on a global scale is undergoing a substantial shift. Newspaper advertising is down, publishers are fighting over royalties for e-books and magazines that are still reeling from a recession that virtually destroyed their business model are focusing on online e-commerce and making sponsorship deals.

 

One consolation is that I’m not alone in my angst. Many of us can’t land the jobs that we want. It’s not a reflection on my generation; in fact I think Gen Y is brilliant. Some of us are even over-qualified and over-educated for the graduate roles we do take. Companies are just reluctant to recruit for full time roles because of the instability of incoming work.

 

Persevering for employment is certainly a good exercise to develop thick skin (Which I’m told is essential in PR, anyway). My job search to this day has been roughly a six-month endeavour. I know by comparative standards this is a typical length of time but it’s been more than just time that has led to my periods of despondency. It has been an experience of countless hours working for free, a legion of phone calls chasing unanswered applications, being ignored, rejected and strung along. I have been proactively searching and I have denied myself no opportunity. Anyone who would listen I would pester for advice, if they knew anyone, anyone at all in PR, publishing or any media related field. The amount of times the media maxim has been relayed that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, reinforces the argument that degrees for this field are becoming obsolete. If everything is who you know, why don’t we all just start bypassing further education and networking fresh out of school? I studied hard, completed various internships, graduated with good grades but because I don’t have a direct connection it’s been virtually impossible to become employed. In this industry, nepotism prevails.

 

Following a barrage of phone calls and emails, I was for a period of time last year invited to intern at a now redundant fashion magazine based in Sydney. A company I admired and could envision myself working for. The internship itself was fantastic and something I would have pursued had it been Melbourne based. Working for free and paying rent for an infinite amount of time was unfeasible beyond imagination. When I was there I quickly learnt that in the coveted world of publishing tertiary qualifications are nothing but causeless. The fashion merchandiser I was working under dropped out of University after her first year of studying Journalism. She had already been interning for a year when a major editor was ousted, precipitating a seismic shift of employees within the company. A part of me was in disbelief that someone three years younger than I and unqualified had a job that was so far out of my reach. Had I wasted three years of my life getting a degree when I really I could have started straight out of high school and been a desirable candidate? It felt like it.

 

Despite my misgivings and wistful thinking of the media role I could now be in sans degree, I wouldn’t trade any amount of employment for the parchment framed on my wall denoting I am an arts degree graduate. It may not have walked me in to the office of the editor of Vogue or the executive producer for Channel 7 News, but it taught me to think critically and carefully, be creative and involve myself in robust discussion. It gave me invaluable experiences such as completing an exchange in London, broadening my horizons and thought processes in ways unimaginable. My learnings spawned topics from the ecological history of humanity to Dorian Grey’s vanity. In a world where new perspective is scarce, it is almost illogical to disregard the range of skill a broad degree can generate. Whether or not we can apply those skills directly to the workplace, I suppose that’s still up for debate. For me, I find they’re not inextricably linked, but do intertwine from time to time.

 

A bachelor degree is something I’ll always have. Although it may not open doors for me immediately, it may just do so in years to come, in ways I can’t yet foresee or recognise. My days of working for free are seemingly over and the experience that I’m now gaining in a Melbourne based PR firm can only open more doors to more opportunity.

 

From a young age we’re taught to do what you love, to love what you do. That’s why I would still recommend an Arts degree to an unsure student interested in the media. Research denotes that Generation Y will undergo up to 10 career changes in a lifetime – particularly relevant in an industry where things are forever evolving, changing and upgrading. This news that we will most likely end up far from where we begin mandates the notion that education for education’s sake needs to be encouraged.

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If graduates really want to be successful in PR and media, we need to understand that degree or no degree, it’s not going to happen overnight. From what I’ve witnessed in my embryotic career so far, only a tenacious few will be successful by means of perseverance, patience and determination, qualities garnered from a combination of both work experience and study. Although the perfect job may seem like the world to me now, I doubt it will make little difference what age I begin if I am truly determined to make it to the top.

 

My Dad sums it up nicely. He says that three years of studying media & communications wasn’t a waste of time, I might just have to retire at 68 instead of 65. After all the hard work and rejection I’ve encountered, I think I can handle that.