The comfort of education

Throughout the majority of our early lives, we are taught lessons in a structured way and then tested to see how much of this we have understood via exams, homework or similar assignments. This method of teaching then continues throughout higher education, albeit with more complex ideas and longer deadlines so larger quantities of work can be produced.

It is this familiarity with the stages of the education system that makes facing each step a little daunting at first but soon becomes a matter of getting back into the rhythm of it. Take my last year of university for example. With a ten-thousand-word dissertation to complete, (totalling twenty per cent of my overall grade), several essays and presentations from other modules all due at the same time I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed.

With that said, because I already knew the deadlines for each task, the weight of this pressure lifted once I began making a plan: How much time to spend on each task, what point I wanted to reach by the end of the week and which areas needed more attention. What seemed like an impossible task was soon broken down into smaller more manageable sizes of work. As long as I kept to this schedule, I felt glad knowing I was making progress.

Any time I felt like I was struggling, there was the relief in knowing that there were people I could turn to, especially lecturers, who could give such good advice because they knew exactly what to look out for in a high grading assignment and encouraged me to improve.

Starting at a Marketing Agency

Come to the end of my academic life, a few weeks before graduation, I was lucky enough to land my first full-time job at The Essential Marketing Agency. When I first thought of marketing agencies, making posters, banners and managing social media accounts came to mind. This assumption was mostly because of my background as a marketing director for a small magazine run by university students. That and I’m quite a creative person so making visual assets was at the front of my mind. But it’s so much more than that. Yes, there’s a lot of Photoshop and InDesign work involved with the likes of brochure creation or adjusting logo designs but there’s also writing blog posts, proofreading, overseeing client websites, making sure they’re optimised for search engines and so much more. Then there’s the channel; a system I knew very little about coming into Essential. Even when someone was explaining the hierarchy: vendors who sell their products to distributors who then pass on to resellers and finally consumers/ users, my head felt like it was spinning. While I have some previous I.T experience, I primarily come from an English Literature and creative writing background with some art on the side. All of this new terminology and the world of B2B marketing was a lot to take in.

First day on the job

My first day there was spent setting up accounts, meeting some lovely new faces and being shown around the place. I was surprised that we were quite a small business, which was nice because it felt close-knit and more personal compared to my initial judgment of marketing agencies being large corporate companies. Come day two, and it was all systems go as I was given my very first few sets of tasks to have a go at. This felt so sudden, nothing like school where we’d spend the first few weeks learning about a topic and then given time to conduct our own research and make something to show what we’ve learnt. The very first year of university was all about practice, a test year that wouldn’t count to the final grade. The essays we produced were only to get us settled in and see what progress we needed to make.

To start on a project so soon at the agency, I felt unprepared. Surely, I needed more training, a few trial runs before working on anything important. I was told to have a go at the task at hand. Anything I was unsure of I could refer back to the brief or ask my colleagues for help. I also learnt that when a piece of work had been completed, it would need to be proofed by at least two other people before it got the go-ahead to be sent to the client. This news made me relax a little because I knew that my work would be thoroughly combed through and not just for the likes of spelling or grammar but for further suggestions on how to improve. Getting feedback from another perspective was helpful because it encouraged me to also look at an assignment from new angles and consider changes that I wouldn’t have thought to make on my own.

With that said, I wasn’t expecting to be given so much responsibility or trust straight off the bat. After all, this was work for clients. What I would make would be seen by other people, shared online. Well, we sure weren’t in Kansas anymore. With Wizard of Oz references aside, this was definitely a step up. Into what though? The world of work? Adulthood? Independence?

I started to doubt my abilities. Over a decade of my life had been dedicated to preparing me for a job, getting good enough grades so my chances were better. And I had done it. My first full-time job, not retail, or another babysitting gig. An actual office job, a marketing agency, but was I really ready?

Don’t write yourself off yet. Have a go. You might be surprised to see what you already know, I told myself. Of course, there was plenty I didn’t understand just yet but by trial and error and figuring out, I was able to at least manage the basics of a task. By asking for guidance, I learnt more and was able to improve the project I was working on. As for the areas I still had difficulty with, by making notes and asking questions I made sure next time I could get them right.

A change in pace

Another aspect of working for an agency that took me by surprise was the spontaneity of it. During the interview, I was told that every day would be a little different, that we end up working on all sorts of projects for different clients, but I’m not sure I was quite ready for how many requests we can get at the same time. From being so used to following deadlines and structure, it became difficult to manage multiple tasks when there were further ones suddenly appearing with urgent deadlines or the client deciding that they want something to be drastically altered last minute.

Knowing what to prioritise and having to turn less urgent emails or enquiries away was something I eventually got used to. There was one point I can think of when I was struggling to balance several tasks at the same time. I had a main one to work on but I kept losing focus as I was also making edits from another project. Once those were sent off, further amendments were required and so this back and forth continued until the client was satisfied. However, my split attention meant there were areas of the main assignment that I had missed. I was frustrated with myself for letting what were simple errors slip past me.

Sharing my story

I talked about my experience with a colleague, and they reminded me that I was still new here and that the transition from university to the workplace was something they wanted to know more about. So, I was encouraged to write this piece. By doing so, I see now that there is still so much for me to learn and get used to but it’s ok to ask for help and by talking, I see that the people around me are also eager to understand my journey and support me. Writing this has also made me realise that not many people talk about what work is actually like. There is so much emphasis on attaining a good job but maybe more needs to be said about what to expect when you get one. I know some schools invite x-pupils to share their progress beyond education. That’s a good step in the right direction. Now we need to expand on this and make sure students feel confident in knowing about office environments, the pace of work and that it won’t always be as structured or certain as the education system they’ve grown up with. Each day can be unpredictable but that’s also what makes it so interesting.