Alaina Racioppi is a 23-year-old who graduated from Point Park University in 2011. An advertising and public relations major, she interned as a social media intern at a clothing boutique during school. After college, Racioppi landed a job as an associate copywriter last August but was laid off in February. Since then, Racioppi hasn’t been able to find a job in advertising.
Like many of her generation, she’s living under her parents’ roof and saddled with student loans. But through all the searching — she looks for jobs on LinkedIn, Mashable, The Creative Finder, Mediabistro and Craigslist, as well as the good old paper — and coming up short, Racioppi keeps a positive attitude because she knows what she wants to do.
“I want to work in advertising for the same reasons everyone else wants to; I love the challenge of the pitch, the fierce competition, the uncertainty of showing your work, the process of crafting an idea that will propel an entire campaign,” Racioppi said. “It’s an exciting industry, it’s tough and sometimes a total pain in the ass but so rewarding when someone genuinely appreciates what you have created.”
After spending four years in the collegiate bubble, newly minted college graduates are finding they’re in a kind of purgatory: a tough economy, few jobs and a competitive marketplace of young twenty-somethings trying to start down the career path. One of the lessons we learn as we work our way up the corporate ladder is that it’s always easier to get a job when you have a job. This little truth, however, is one of those Catch-22s for many recent college grads looking to land that elusive entry-level job in the digital world.
Over the last few years, the advertising world has been hit by a torrent of change. Old stalwarts, like JWT Chicago, which once had 800 employees, shut its doors in 2009; a 2010 CMO Council report found that 60 percent of clients feel that agencies don’t offer good value for the money they spend; and, of course, analog dollars translate to digital dimes. All this change has created uncertainty in a shifting industry, and entry-level jobs become that much more difficult to grab and then maintain. Indeed, an Association of American Advertising Agencies report claims that agencies spend less on training and development per person than Starbucks does for its baristas.
But with the overall bad news, recent trends in digital media — like how Internet advertising revenues for the first quarter of 2012 were $8.4 billion (which set a new record according to the latest IAB Internet Advertising Report) and how digital agencies, like AKQA have more than 100 job openings — offer some glimmer of hope for the hopelessly despondent job seeker. But that silver lining is still part of a darker cloud that hovers the industry: Entry-level jobs are at a premium. How can a new grad get a foot in the door?
That means many recent grads resort to internships that are really meant for students. David Kenny, The Weather Channel CEO and former Digitas CEO, believes internships can be worthwhile as companies and the young workers can get acquainted.
“I would also recommend looking broadly at media,” Kenny said. “Local media, social media, outdoor and custom publishing are sometimes overlooked. Getting good experience opens more doors, and shows initiative.”
While there are many like Racioppi who spend every waking minute calling agency after agency, there are also plenty of recent grads who, like in the generations before them, take some time between graduation and work to recharge the energy units they lost while playing the game of University. Take Dat Le, a 22-year-old recent graduate from the University of Texas, Austin, who is looking to get into the creative side of advertising. He is in no rush to enter the workforce. Le lives with his parents in Katy, Tex., and doesn’t quite yet feel a sense of urgency to find a job.
“After all, once I jump into the real world, I’m going to be working for the rest of my life until I retire,” Le said. “So I’m in no rush to start that lifestyle just yet.”
This strategy could backfire, however, as the competitive landscape for entry-level jobs in media is pretty tough and only gets tougher in the months after commencement ceremonies. However, if you’re a college grad looking to take some time off between your idyllic collegiate experience of finding yourself and the harsh realities of the wider world, make sure you keep up with the industry.
Searching for jobs can be soul-crushing, but knowing that the digital media universe is large can help recent grads understand that there are opportunities that may not be best suited for them but can help get them on the right path.
“I keep hearing, ‘Everything will work out how it is supposed to,’ but it’s hard not to get jaded,” Racioppi said. “All you can do is continue to work hard, do your best, be persistent (yet respectful) and remain positive. Eventually, something will pay off.”