There are some things no-one tells you when it comes to scoring your first job straight out of Uni and often you’ve just got to learn them yourself.

Meet Phiri Katsonga, a Digital Account Executive at IPG Mediabrands, a global advertising company. He’s been in the role for 10 months and has learnt loads and landed the position after completing his degree in Marketing, but getting his first major job wasn’t all plain sailing.

Phiri did a placement year at tech company HP during university, before applying for an internship that inadvertently led to his job. How did it happen? Well Phiri applied for a six-week Summer internship with IPG Mediabrands and went for an assessment centre and face to face interview. (P.S. you can get the chance to apply to the same scheme RIGHT HERE). Then IPG called to say that as he was finishing university, he should actually come in to interview for a full-time role instead of the internship. A few interviews later and he bagged it!

Here are 10 things Phiri has learnt after entering the world of graduate employment…

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1. Prepare for different types of interviews

A little research goes a long way for an interview. As Phiri says: “I literally typed into Google ‘typical interview questions at [company]’ and prepped for those! There was even a sneaky task in there that I was able to craft the perfect response to.”

Start focusing on how to answer competency based questions, and then move on to any specific questions they might ask you for the role – researching the company pays off big! Of course, there are always curveballs like ‘what kind of biscuit/animal/tree would you be?’ – but remember that they just want to see your personality. Phiri was asked a more media/marketing related one: ‘If you were a brand which brand would you be?’.

Remember the three golden rules of group interviews, whatever the questions:

  • Good leaders like to listen, and not just to get their voice heard
  • Teamwork makes the dream work: other people are your competition, but instead of focusing on their weaknesses, focus on how their strengths are useful in completing any set task
  • Manners are everything; be nice, always 

2. Make use of university tools while you can

After seeing his brother and friends struggle to find work post-uni, Phiri used all the tools he could at his university to make it as easy as possible to get a job. He said: “there was a job board that had details about what was new in the industry. Through that, I found out that the big companies that do grad schemes expect you to apply in September. I also found general jobs in other media agencies.”

There you have it! If you have no clue where your job board is at university – ask! Utilise all the career related tools your university has to offer before you leave.

3. Find out what you really want to do

This is a tough one, because HOW can you know what you want to do for the rest of your life? The only way to know is to try out different careers – and the key to this is experience. Interested in law? Do a week’s work shadowing. Interested in finance? Find out which banks/insurance firms/accountancy firms are offering work experience and apply! Work experience is the best way to really finesse your career goals. Phiri always knew he loved marketing, but only knew he wanted to do agency side because of his placement year at HP in the in-house marketing team.

He said: “Doing a placement during university makes you learn a lot of skills, and doing a whole year gives you a lot of responsibility and really gets you ready for work. After that, I liaised with a few different agencies because even though I loved my placement year, I wanted more variety in my job. I wanted to be in a role where I’m dealing with multiple clients so I get that variation!” “

4. Manage your personal brand

The age of the internet means there are more and more avenues for an employer to check up on you – so make sure they’re getting the best version of you. Have a look at your social media channels, especially LinkedIn. Brush up on your email technique and phone etiquette, and definitely your CV. Phiri says that when he was applying for jobs – “I completely revamped my cover letters and CV and asked a few people for feedback before I sent anything out.” Sound advice indeed.

5. Remember that getting the job is only half the story

Congratulations on getting the job if you’ve just landed one – but it’s here where all the learning starts! “Six months in, I had a three month period where my manager left” Phiri said. “During this period, I basically had to learn a lot and it worked out really well, because I grew a lot!”

When you get that first role, it’ll feel amazing, and it’ll feel like all your hard work has paid off. But a good role should challenge you, and develop all those essential skills like teamwork, communication, organisation and taking initiative.

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6. Don’t burn yourself out before you’ve begun

It can be easy to say yes to absolutely every task you are given, but it’s definitely important to be realistic with your time. Phiri’s most important lesson was managing client expectations – “not all clients know exactly how long certain processes will take, for example, getting sign off from different departments. So it’s really important not to over-promise. As long as you’re clear about how much time you have, and how much time a task will take – you’ll keep your client happy!”

7.  Don’t underestimate a real work load

Phiri said that once he started working properly, he realised how much work goes on in a top agency! “You might see an advert and you don’t understand how many months of work has gone into that one campaign” he said. “Something that seems simple actually takes a lot of implementation – that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt in my role.”

8. In those first two weeks – ask, ask, ask

So, it’s also pretty tempting to just nod when you hear a word like KPIs or USPs but actually – during those first few weeks – it’s absolutely fine to ask what those acronyms and words mean. It, however, becomes increasingly less acceptable as you reach the two year mark. Office jargon is more of a problem in certain companies, Phiri explains. “Office jargon is different at different companies, every time I come across a term I didn’t understand, I just asked what it means straightaway! IPG is less like that though, it has much more of a conversational, friendly and dynamic culture, so you feel more comfortable with people!”

9. Don’t suffer in silence

If you’re worried about applying for a job, or you’re suffering with stress or feeling overwhelmed in your work placement, Phiri advises talking to others. “Speak to a colleague or manager” he said. “If it’s a problem you feel you can’t overcome, speaking to someone else might help you with it. Everyone’s been there, so they’re always understanding.”

Phiri said that “there was a point where I felt like there was pressure on me with a certain account. I didn’t want to say ‘oh it’s too hard’ so I got more stressed than I needed to be. It’s not embarrassing to ask for help! The support was definitely there when I asked for it.”

10. Know your next step

Once you’ve landed your job or placement, it’s good to have a rough idea of how long you’d like to stay somewhere, and more importantly, what you’d like to achieve before you leave. Phiri says, “I’m really enjoying my role at the moment. I want to try and learn as much as I can and eventually progress to senior management level!” Go Phiri!

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