The Thing About Students….

by Ben Alford

The thing about students in my experience is that apathy is a problem and that few have a real strategy for life after higher education.

Such a strategy is useful because it gives a student a direction, a purpose and a way to move on in the face of rejection or failure. Strategy is an overused word – perhaps better ones would be simply ‘plan’ or ‘aim’. But I’m talking about practical steps which can be taken to get you where you want to be.

In some ways, students of today have far more opportunity for this than ever before with the power of social media (if used correctly and appropriately). However there is one simple thing to remember which is timeless:

A bouquet from a former student who came to me on work experience,
went on and got paid work with me and then later sought my advice as
he progressed in the media.


 Sometimes the best way to get ahead is to avoid being APATHETIC.

Those who do get ahead, again in my personal experience, have engaged with me or other professionals, have sought advice, and I can name at least half a dozen that I’ve personally helped who’ve gone on to successful careers in my industry.

I’ve found this energy-sapping apathy strikingly apparent working with students at A level and at degree level when I’ve done visiting lectures or talks and offered to connect and support those young people.

Part of it is age, the psychology of young people and the overwhelming nature of managing a course and coursework. Part of it is because some students are there to make up the numbers and are simply not interested in my topic.

Recently I gave a talk to about 80 media students at a university, two came up to me at the end of the session when I’d make it clear I was available for some one-to-one questions. I accepted that some people had to rush off to another lecture – but I gave out my Twitter details for anyone who wanted to follow me or follow up with me.


Out of those 80, three actually followed up. I wasn’t surprised because I’m used to that poor level of engagement – but it does students no favours. The truth for many students, in many, many fields of expertise is that finding a good, enjoyable and fairly paid job these days is harder than ever.

I’m not suggesting that I have loads of jobs up my sleeves – I don’t and I’m self-employed. But I do have connections, and lots of them in my industry, and I’m happy to share.


Getting that first start was hard for me in the late 1980s, so it’s even harder for the students of today.  I realized how important engagement was when I was 21 and started to do something about it during my post graduate year. Even armed with my high 2:1 degree and a postgraduate qualification, I found myself competing with hundreds of others at every relevant job interview. I suffered many failures and when I did get a break – I had to go off and do an intensive, vocational training course for five months.

Working in the media has, of course, always been competitive and it’s very hard to stand out from the crowd.  But there are many sectors like this – what about forensic science, professional psychological, archaeology, politics, law? How many of these industries can demand unpaid internships to get experience? How many of you can afford such a internship? It wouldn’t have been an option for me as I came from a family on very low income.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that many professionals in certain sectors are freelance, so you could be going for a job or a contract alongside others with oodles more experience.

However there are some simple things to consider and, I suggest, you should be taking them seriously from the first year of your studies.

Tip One:

If you know which job/sector you are interested in, start gleaning information about it and becoming engaged from day one. During term times, engage on relevant social media, maybe even do some guest blogs or articles as a contributor (or create your own online blog) but just furnish yourself with topical information about your chosen area  – in the real world. Ask questions in the virtual space? Don’t be afraid of being new and green. This will make you part of a conversation outside of your educational establishment and may help with work experience later on.

Tip Two:

If someone relevant or of interest comes to give a talk, make personal contact with them. If possible have a brief conversation, ask questions after the talk. As a minimum engage with them on social media. Most speakers who agree to do such talks (believe me they are not big earners) already have an interest in emerging talent so you are generally already off first base. So exploit that and connect with them. The joy of social media is that you can connect sporadically and appropriately without being seen as a pain in the a*** (that is the biggest no-no of all).

Tip Three:

If you do engage, don’t try any form of bulls***. It doesn’t work. Accept who you are and where you are and be open about it. That is far more attractive than a student who tries to pretend they know everything.

You may think to yourself  ‘what are you talking about?’. But I’ve seen this first hand. I once had a conversation with a student who felt that because he had a first class honours degree in media, he could enter the industry at least as an associate producer.

This hardly ever happens. Like anyone else, and especially in the media, you still have to start at the bottom.

Enthusiasm, engagement and energy are, however, very, very appealing. As is a healthy dose of common sense.

Tip Four:

Make use of long holidays. Many of you may have to spend your summer holidays earning money – I know I had to! But if you don’t or if you are doing bar work or odd shifts – try to connect with relevant companies or individuals within your summer community. Can you volunteer at a company? Can you link with a relevant third sector organisation relevant to your chosen field? Think of how you can use some of that time to smartly enhance your CV.

Tip Five:

Follow up on any opportunity. When you get towards the end of your studies, you’ll learn the hard lesson of many, many job applications most of which will be ignored or unacknowledged. But if someone comes back to you, even if it’s negatively then follow up. Eg. ‘Thanks so much for letting me know, I’d appreciate some feedback from that interview’ or ‘is there any chance I could come in for a week’s work experience?’ Show that, for you, a ‘no’ does not mean you are going to give up.

Written by Fiona Scott
Twitter: @Mum3Fi


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