2016 Grads: Don’t Close the Book on Your Education

At the start of each summer, college students across the country celebrate what is typically the culmination of years of formal education. Many thousands of marketing graduates will cross the stage this year, flip their tassels and toss their cap into the air, eager to apply classroom lessons in the real world.

I truly celebrate that enthusiasm, and did so with great gusto myself. But I also ask that you celebrate that while your schooling has ended, your learning has not.

Marketing is ideal for lifelong learners

Graduates, if you believe your education is over, you may as well quit now. The professional world brings with it new lessons each day. This is particularly true in marketing and communications, fields that are constantly experiencing small shifts that lead to great changes over time.

Take social media as an example: Facebook didn’t exist for most students prior to 2003. There were no books to read to learn how to build it. There were no college courses. Professionals had to learn on the job, and are still doing a wonderful job of doing so every day as they continue to evolve and grow the business.

As you begin your career, my advice is to seek out companies that value employees who are lifelong learners and that invest aggressively in their professional development. At Nelson Schmidt everyone is encouraged to join professional organizations, attend conferences and seek out opportunities to take leadership roles to expand and advance their capabilities, and by doing so, give back to the industry and help the next new market entrants who will follow you.

If investing in ongoing education delivers long-term competitive advantage to individuals and companies, then choosing not to do so is not really a choice.

Keep an open mind

Going hand-in-hand with lifelong learning is my next piece of advice: Keep an open mind about your career path, because you never know what opportunities might arise around the next corner. Don’t assume that because you have a degree in X, you must find work in X alone.

This advice comes from experience. I attended Stanford University and enjoyed earning degrees in biology and psychology, thinking I was pursuing a medical career. By the end of my junior year I had taken the MCAT, was applying to med schools and thought I was on my way to becoming a doctor.

Then I had the opportunity to shadow a surgeon and was exposed to the “business” side of medicine – a side I quickly realized I did not enjoy, and a side that still hampers our medical profession. Faced with this existential “crisis” I decided to literally change directions and took 13 months heading west to travel all the way around the world pursuing another passion: photography.

It wasn’t glamorous, and I worked several odd yet fun jobs to make ends meet while on my walkabout, always with my camera. But armed with a new and exciting portfolio I returned to the Bay Area, worked a variety of jobs related to photography and ultimately opened a commercial photography studio. Based on client demand and the growth of my abilities, the studio evolved to include design and then creative direction, which eventually led me back to Milwaukee to join my father’s full-service marketing agency and ultimately become its CEO.

Could anyone have predicted that? Certainly not me. But much like my year spent backpacking, one’s career is a long and sometimes winding road. Keep an open mind while remaining true to your passions and you never know how far you might go!

As a marketer, you can do almost anything

One of the best things about a career in marketing? If you embrace lifelong learning and keep an open mind about the opportunities in front of you, the possibilities are nearly endless.

You can work in a corporate role, for brands big or small, or in an independent agency like ours, or one of the publicly traded multinationals, where you may work on a number of different brands at any given time. You can work in just about any industry, in any geography of the world.

You’ve graduated with a degree that could point you in any number of directions. Perhaps you know – or think you know – what you want to do with your life. Or maybe you don’t yet have a clue. It doesn’t matter all that much. You’re a marketer, and you can do almost anything.

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