Becoming A Marketable Media Graduate (Things More Important than Degrees and CVs)

By Billy Dowling-Reid | 30 August 2016
Statistics can be daunting, showcasing terrifying truths in streamlined, bite-sized chunks. For example, have you come across the statistic claiming that there are more media graduates mass-produced every single year in the UK than there are jobs - vacant or otherwise - in the entire UK media industry?

Media is an attractive career prospect, idealised by many who want to create award-winning films, write content for top newspapers and magazines, and perhaps even create the next big online viral sensation.

What follows are some thoughts, observations and suggestions with regards to becoming a media graduate the right way; a graduate who showcases promise and who will be more likely to succeed in a highly competitive industry, as opposed to a media graduate who will fall by the wayside and give up entirely, as most tend to do. 

Steve Saul, Social Media Manager @ EastEnders says:

These days your phone is a mini production studio. There's no excuse to not make fun stuff and create content that astounds middle-aged producers who're eagerly looking for young geniuses. 

Read Steve's Mediargh Q&A

Media Students Must Create Their Own Content:

The new social media landscape has given you and I, as mere members of the general public, an invaluable platform with which to express ourselves and promote our talents. This platform did not exist twenty, ten, or in many cases, even five years ago. It is the social web. It is the ever increasing affordability of media technologies and the convergence of these media technologies. It is the ease of access to areas which were once exclusive and hard to reach. The Internet has, in many ways, eliminated the obstacles of distance and exclusivity.

The key point to make here, and one of the most important points made in this entire post, is that the vast majority of media graduates and undergraduates do not take anywhere near full advantage of these platforms. They are not creating their own content, nor are they engaging with content created by their peers. They are not using their initiative in order to promote themselves. These graduates are invisible to potential employers.

Rob Dean, Executive Producer @ BBC2's Eggheads says:

If you've been to university then I want to know about the life experiences you've had whilst studying - at the end of the day, I'm going to be working alongside the person, not the qualification. 

Read Rob's Mediargh Q&A

If you position yourself above the uninspired and invisible masses, then your prospects get infinitely brighter. You leapfrog thousands who are looking to climb the same career ladder that you are.

If you are a journalism student then you might want to consider creating a niche online magazine which revolves around a subject you feel passionately about. If you want to work in social media and online marketing then create a website with engaging content and then market it on the social web. Learn how to be savvy. This might sound like insultingly simple advice, so why aren't more students doing these things? Why do employers claim that the vast majority of CVs received are boring, needlessly wordy and lacking in individuality? Showcasing no evidence of initiative. Showcasing no evidence of being an independently thinking self-starter.

The content is key and you don't need to be a technical wizard in order to create an online home for your content. Wordpress and other such blogging platforms have you covered. Just be sure to spend enough time getting yourself acquainted with the behind-the-scenes stuff so that your new website doesn't look like one of the infinite, bland clones clogging up the Internet. Create a clever mishmash of your own YouTube channel, Instagram account, Twitter and so on.

Practical Examples and Case Studies:

Amy Packham is a Lifestyle Reporter at The Huffington Post. Eighteen months ago she was just another journalism graduate, but she worked hard throughout her student years to build her website Jump For Journalism, where she would approach and interview established journalists so that she could exclusively publish their careers advice and insight. She'd also blog about her journalism job and internship hunt, student life and more. Look at some of the names Amy managed to blag interviews with while she was just a student and ask yourself this: "What's stopping me from doing something similar?" 

Norah Myers studied for an MA in Publishing at the University of London, bagging internships with the likes of Bloomsbury and Pan Macmillan. She is now working as an Editor and Copywriter with The Winning Combination in Winnipeg, Canada. She attributes much of her success to her blogging endeavours, explaining: "I'm a blogger for BookMachine. It started as one post but that was so successful that it Became A Thing. I decided to start interviewing other people. A year and a half later, I have done over fifty interviews, with scouts, agents, editors, Youtubers, and publishers. I make money from it and it helped me land the online content editing and writing job I have now."

Alex Moreland got hired by Yahoo to write articles about television shows. He says: "I’ve been running a blog where I write about television and movies for about three years now. In October 2015, I got an email from a Yahoo representative, asking me to write for their revamped television section; they’d been impressed by my content, and thought that my coverage of American and British TV shows was well suited to their website. After around seven months of this (and following some negotiations!) the position became a paid one." Still a student, and with hs end goal being to work in television production one day soon, Alex is off to a very positive start.

Erica Buist was a long-term unemployed graduate who started up the blog How To Be Jobless in 2013. The blog created a moderate buzz on social media, and she began to land some regular, paid writing gigs as a result. She is now an established Journalist with The Guardian. She is another one who I remember having frequent email conversations with years ago about her job hunt. She has come a long way since then, pulling herself out from the depths of unemployment despair and I believe her initiative in creating her own content played a hugely significant part in her current success.

Vicki Greenfield, a Media & Communications graduate from Bournemouth University, created the now inactive Give It Some Telly in order to share her experiences of aspiring towards a career in television production, as well as sharing a plethora of hints, tips and opinion pieces. Vicki's enthusiasm and willingness to help others definitely helped to make her more attractive to potential employers - she said so herself. In the three years since last updating her blog, Vicki has worked as a Media Planner with ITV and is currently a Social Media Executive with Southpaw.

Jenni Graham is a Journalist with Sky News, but two years ago she was just another journalism graduate struggling with the job hunt. She took the initiative in creating her own content and getting her name out there by contributing to and eventually becoming the Multimedia Editor of Wannabe Hacks, a website run by a nationwide team of student journalists. You can view an archive of Jenni's articles from her time as a jobless graduate and then think about doing something similar yourself.

Nine Glencross is a Digital Journalist with The Scottish Daily Record, who started off by dabbling in social media shortly after graduating. She says: "I was very much on a job hunt and had tailored my Twitter profile to make sure my skills and experience were being advertised, making sure to link back to my online portfolio. It made me easier to find on Twitter among the tonnes of journalism graduates fishing for jobs in Glasgow. It proved (along with actual previous experience as a freelance social media assistant) that I could do social media, and do it well."

All of the above people were just students or recent graduates trying to sell themselves while standing out from the crowd. It worked and now they're all working in jobs that they love. Be helpful. Be interesting. Be inspiring. Be memorable.

Ever wondered why someone else got their grubby, smelly little paws all over the internship you applied for? Envy and rejection suck, but turn your rage and bewilderment into something productive.

Alex Moreland - TV Writer @ Yahoo says:

I have been putting a lot more effort into curating an online presence. One of the most important things, I feel, is to generate a good reputation, because it’s going to help me when looking for future positions, and potentially in bringing about a few more strokes of good luck. This good reputation can come from blogging – the more content you have, and the better it is, the more people are going to associate your name with quality. And that’s something that’s crucial for a freelancer.


Think of Yourself as a Brand:

Arguably, CVs are way down on the list of priorities when employers hunt for media graduates. A well structured CV is still absolutely vital, but unless there is something truly noteworthy on there (your 1st class honours degree doesn't count), then it's little more than a simple, rudimentary piece of a much bigger puzzle.

We all have to start somewhere, but it can be difficult when so many internships and entry level job vacancies require experience beyond rudimentary academic qualifications. If you don't currently possess the experience that companies desire then in what ways can you strengthen your chances of gaining employment? By creating your own content and then marketing it. By being a good, helpful person. By building your brand.

Most of the people who have the best entry-level jobs possess a real tenacity in perusing their own entrepreneurial endeavours. They have their own side-projects which are relevant to their profession and which can act as a calling card. People need to develop a knack for creating their own opportunities if they want to stay in the game. You are more likely to be viewed as an asset to potential employers if you possess the entrepreneurial mindset. I have posted thousands of job adverts on Mediargh's jobs board and the phrase "we're looking for a confident self-starter" appears in many of them. So be a self-starter. It's the one thing you can do today, instead of moaning that you have no experience and nobody will give you any. Create the experience by doing.

It's not as daunting as it may sound. Remember that the Internet has afforded us with a platform from which we can shout to the world about our talents and freely build our own targeted following and network. Tools to create your web presence are either inexpensive or free and all it takes is the tenacity and drive to go forward and create something out of nothing.

Many graduates have a fear of 'putting themselves out there'on the Internet and this is something that must be overcome. Create content. Help people. Don't be scared. Be proactive. Think outside the box. Create opportunities. Most importantly, have fun. Get on Twitter and build outwards from there. Retweet useful things to your followers. Promote others. Your willingness to share useful information will help you to build contacts. People will remember your good deeds. Create a side project and utilise it as a sandbox through which you can showcase your originality, sans limitations. Building an online showcase is the best possible start you can give yourself. Do it while you're still a student.

Rhodri Williams - Digital Producer w/ Channel 4 @ Rio 2016 Paralympics says

A paper CV and cover letter only gets you so far – having all of what you have done be easily accessible online is a great way to back those words up. Make more random things – anything to test your craft and get better. Work with the people on your course, start a weekly YouTube channel, make a podcast. Once you leave university and enter the real world that time disappears very fast.

Read Rhodri's Mediargh Q&A

Be the Really, Really Helpful Guy or Girl:

Have fun creating a good online reputation, but remember that's just another piece of the overall puzzle in marketing yourself. Be memorable offline, too! Help people. Offer thoughtful and constructive feedback whenever your input is sought. The people who go out of their way to help other people will often reap unexpected rewards and I've seen that theory proven time and time again. Develop a reputation for being one of the good eggs who has something to offer. I got a job with Channel 4 for two years because I gave a stranger some (very) in-depth career advice via email and eight months later that stranger was working in Channel 4's HR Department, remembered me and knew I'd be perfect for the job in question.

People will usually appreciate it when you ask questions, offer suggestions, argue convincingly, critique constructively, assertively and charismatically. It's so much more invigorating to work alongside people like that, rather than people who say, "Yeah, do whatever you think's best." Falling into the 'passive trap' is all too easy. You may not wish to speak up or take charge for fear of making an idiot of yourself, or you may not think it's your place to interject, or you may just be shy. It's normal enough, but that's the problem. I was a student once and students are among the most overly sensitive, insecure, guarded people I've ever met. Learn to overcome that.

So just get yourself out there and develop a reputation for being The Helpful One. These people become well known through both word of mouth and online recommendations. It's karma at its most visible level.

Become Your Own Teacher:

Graduate skills can quickly become redundant if they are not swiftly put into professional practice or built upon. Recognise ongoing evolutions in media-tech convergence and be sure to keep on top of ever-changing trends within your niche. I've long been a believer that a college course or university degree should comprise only the bare bones of an individual's professional education, and that it is up to the individual to do more on their own initiative. According to continuous feedback Mediargh receives from employers, the reality is that the qualification alone is not enough. If you don't want to invest the time to teach yourself extra multimedia skills in these convergent times where journalists need to know how to edit video and everyone needs to know about social media then that's just tough luck.
Most of the skills I use every day are skills I taught myself: web design/hosting, coding, social media marketing and so on. The good news is that it's never too late to start teaching yourself additional skills and the only necessary requirements are curiosity and patience. I would suggest teaching yourself skills used in disciplines outside of your comfort zone. If you're studying to become a television producer then maybe in your own time you might want to pick up skills in web marketing. Reflecting on my own education and career, it has been the skills I taught myself which have been most invaluable.

Never be afraid to ask questions and pick the brains of people higher up the career ladder. Don’t small talk with people when you're asking them for help. It shows that you only care when you need something from them. Be honest and get straight to the point. With tact, you'll get somewhere eventually.

Tom Farthing - Video & Online Producer @ The Financial Times says:

Take a subject or idea you’re passionate about and use social media to get it out there. It shows employers that you are driven, hardworking, and know how to use social media. Opportunities rarely fall into your lap. I got to where I am today by harassing people to teach me things or by asking them how I can help them.

Read Tom's Mediargh Q&A

Harriet Warman - Producer @ Alchemy Film & Arts and Freelance Critic says:

Looking back, I might simply have broadened my search when looking for opportunities and asked more people for advice. Do as much as you can and look for every opportunity and don’t be afraid to invest time in professional development. These days, employers require such a diversity of experience and skills, so it’s best just to get involved and learn by doing.

Read Harriet's Mediargh Q&A
Closing Thoughts:

It's not what you know. It's not even who you know. It's about what you create. That ability to grind away and create something from absolutely nothing is more valuable than static knowledge or a brimming contacts book will ever be.

I've been on both sides of the fence. I've worried just as much as anybody else about career advancement and job security, but I've oftentimes been offered work entirely out of the blue due to a reputation built via the above guidelines and principles. 

I've also spent the last few years working on/off in recruitment, with my most recent freelance task being to help find a Junior Picture Researcher for Global Radio. I have read countless CVs and cover letters and I have rejected many and accepted a few. The candidates who stand out are often the ones who have shown that, in many ways, they create their own opportunities. They build their own platform. They are confident self-starters who form their own experiences. People who show that they can create something from nothing are my favourite kind of people. They are very clever people. 

Students should be using their student years in order to make as much of an impact as possible. Passing exams and writing essays is the absolute bare minimum of what a media student should be doing. You're a student of the media production industry, so remember that you are in direct competition with creative geniuses who obsess over things like website layouts, typography, camera lenses, podcasting, social media analytics, content management systems and so on. I hope at least one of those things excites you.

For the record, I found further education to be such a bore, yet it afforded me the time to be able to research a business plan, try and fail with various ventures, build contacts, and establish my unique selling points. Use these years of study to make yourself stand out from the crowd as much as you possibly can.

I was recently diagnosed wth a very life-threatening form of cancer. If you are diagnosed with something equally as devastating tomorrow, then you will wish that you had done so much more than you are currently doing. Marketing yourself as a brand may sound like cringeworthy babblespeak which strips you of your humanity and turns you into a product, but I hope that this article has convinced you that it can be an adventure, something you can look back on when you're old and dying and be proud of. Build your brand online and offline, and be the confident self-starter that the media production industry is looking for. If jobs require you to already have some experience and you don't have any experience, then do what Amy did and build your own experience. Be visible and productive online. Meet new people offline, help them and let them help you.

Get out there and start your adventure, no excuses.