Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Career Advice -Addressing the MSc Masters in Marketing from Strathclyde UNi

It has been a long time since I blogged about career advice for graduates from Strathclyde Uni's MSc Marketing, whcih I completed myself back in the early nineties.

There is a good reason for that - print media falls away, PR has changed to sound bite and fakish news, and online digital is a different beast from where even I was 7 years ago when I last worked in it.

So detailed advice on career paths is not something I can advise on, and unlike the old tweed jacketed fuddy duddies who worked in careers services 25 years ago, I am not getting paid for this, and you can take it or leave it as more general advice!

From hard, bitter experience and on the other hand many high points and having met a lot of sort of Euroyuppies, what do I advise now?

1) Get on the Ladder And Jump Up Rungs on The Ladder Sooner Rather Than Later

A thing I noticed was that a lot of people I met in marketing from around 2002 onward, had a recipe for success. Nearly all had treated their first graduate job as initial work experience, and bailed out pretty early if they were not on a Blue Chip career path internally. Even then they had moved up asap.

I always was under the impression that you had to get a year on the CV, but that is really wrong. Now more than ever what you need to be doing is looking for the opportunity to advance your career in its early stages before I would advise strongly, settling down for 3 to 5 years work at a company. I have been stung several times, even as a grey haired old timer, by accepting jobs to keep me in work, and then finding out that they were not as committed to me as I was to them, and being left in the lurch.

 I was at the executive job club on St Vincent Street twice in the 90s, both times asking to be on it after just a couple of months unemployment. There the leader said a strange thing i thought was very odd or off-hand at the time - " When you get a job, keep looking for other jobs". He obviously knew even then in the mid 90s that work was a lot less stable for those coming new to the market and those getting a little long in the tooth on the unemployment statistic. The point for you is that there is always going to be a better opportunity for the vast majority of graduates sitting in their first, often rather tedious job they think as a good career step. Get the Hell Out of There if you can get something which works better for you!

Looking for the opportunity means yes applying for other jobs, doing plenty of open applications to while in a job, and getting used to doing this. In the UK especially, the disposable, project telated worker is a thing which is spreading upwards in society as the entitled boss and owner classes can use the minimal legal requirements and treat staff even in intellectual value added positions, as a commodity, or as something whcih can be hired in and out. You should be very aware that companies expect on the one hand loyalty and hard work, while on the other they will dispose of you very rapidly when they see that there can be some 'down time' or a chance to stress the organisation and get higher productivity with fewer staff.

Opportunity also means conversely to this last statement, being open to running with the ball of new projects to taking new career directions. It means a deal of networking, which just means circulating yourself a little and asking people about their work, their companies, their needs for solving problems and completing tasks. You should I think take the option of something like project managing a new building or working as a quality manager in high tech if that is there for you for some reason. You need then to see what the opportunity is and how your personality and abilities could match it, rather than thinking within a small box of job and marketing. This goes internally and externally to where you work.

2) Relocate

This is the big bug bear for many folk from Scotland. We love where we come from and we hate the idea of working in the big smoke, London and the SE.

Basically unless you have a first class honours from your previous degree or a job in Scotland is tailor made for your combination of BA/BSc and MSc, then you are up against huge competitiveness in the market for marketing jobs. Nepotism is rife in marketing and Scottish private business, so if you don't have that on your side, then you are competing with folk that do.

When relocating then, dont think of London and the SE as all bad. I actually love the area, but then again I only ever stay in Hotels or with friends it has to be said. It is highly expensive but there are solutioins to that and in any case if you try hard.

Dont forget that the Manchester - Liverpool area is home to a lot of major brands and on line retailers, and in fact is only 3 hours from Scotland on a sunday night.

It took me five years of temp jobs and rubbish in Scotland to realise that I didnt' have a nice unique combination of qualifications which was so very sought after, and I was competing with old school ties, positive discrimination for women, nepotism and uni' hack networking. I moved to Manchester and never looked back, had a fantastic time. After two and a half years I had my pick of jobs and was able to move from mostly trad' marketing over to internet projects in 1999 at the right time for this.

3) Get Blue Chip on the CV

It is very hard to get into many blue chip organisations in marketing, because they often have a weird formula for success which has nothing to do with marketing qualifications. Quite a few major brands recruit only from Oxbridge and take people like English graduates who were in the debating society or so on. However it is worth trying and worth re-trying again with open applications etc. Here you can take that personnel are actually very often your worst enemy, they are gate keepers, You are far better networking your way to bosses in marketing.

It can be hard for MSc graduates to use sales in corporates as a way into marketing, as many want long term sales people to build "strong and stable" customer relations over many years, or very dedicated go -getting career sellers. However it is not that hard either especially if you can combine your first degree in terms of what you offer a company.

Also you don't need to work directly for a Blue Chip orgainsistion, you as a marketer may find it easier to get a job with an agency who deliver marketing services,  or be in sales and marketing in a quality supplier to the Blue Chip customers, and be able to put those names in what the job was about.

Blue Chip names really help your personal branding and make you shine. But there are alternatives in the career route.

2) b)   Choose Gazelle Companies and Sunrise Industries

This is a very fruitful approach, but you can get burnt by bankruptcies or buy outs and down sizing as a result. Gazelle companies are those with high growth rates, often explosive growth but investors refer to them as those with growth in top end sales of over 20%. Very often they dont advertise positions other than senior administrative management, because they are known in their industries and attract talent via open applicaitons and networking.

 This is because they are very attractive to work for . Very often there are new internal opportunites for more interesting jobs and promotion sooner than in lack lustre blue chips, who are always on the look for 'right sizing' and subject to the knives of merger and aquisition butchers. Gazelles are tommorrows blue chip companies, just look at Apple, a quirky home computer company which now is the worlds highest valued corporate!

Sunrise industries often have many companies who are not on the Gazelle listings you may find for your region or industry. THis is because many of them are in the start up and cash-burn phase rather than actually creating revenue. There are hundreds of app' boutiques, programming away for that next giga-app for mobiles for example. There are the biotechs, there are the nano materials, there are the AI companies. These can be risky to work for, because they run mostly on investor monies , burn capital, and so can have the rug taken out from under their feet and be forced to down size, But they are tommorows Gazelles and nowadays they are often run by people who truly want to build something and not just sell out once they reach a milestone or threaten the market leader.

These are great for the CV, and if things are going a bit pear shaped, then you have a good excuse for getting out when you go to other interviews.

2 c) Go Ugly Early

I have had a good few bosses who have indeed worked for 'blue chip' companies as managers, but not the type of glamerous FMCG ones you might expect. They have worked for faceless industrial supply or finanical services companies, or been managers at lesser known suppliers of marketing services or other supply in the bigger blue chip supply. In effect they went ugly early, they took a management career route in what externally seems a very dull company, a name you see by the motorway in Birmingham or a sign on the main industry area in Slough.

People management skills are actually quite few on the ground because so many companies are delayered. Many product managers these days have no line management resposibities, no longer do they have a 'gofer' assitant PM. Managing a department takes good people skills, which can be honed out in an area with smaller egos perhaps in a less glamerous company before you  move over to something a little more sexy shall we say.

3) Get Super Qualified

Dear MSc graduate, you need more  education I am afraid!

For movement into mamagement then you need to have better than that poor old one year MSc. An MBA is still a ticket into management, and the MSc counts towards units for Strathclydes programme last time I checked. Very often you will find yourself being managed by non marketing qualified bosses who got an MBA and decided they liked marketing best.

A part time MBA is also a good networking opportunity even if you take several years to complete it, or defer it a year or two and so on.

In a technical area from your first degree or perghaps a route you find yourself in, it can be worth doing further on the job certification or just as many courses as you can. Many marketeers end up on different careers because it can be a bit pyramidal and hard to get a management position as a marketer beyond product manager or say PR manager.

In the period of transformation from Trad' Marketing to Internet, I realised I was missing out on skills and knowledge in a lot of meetings, and had pathcy kind of IT knowledge. I did some training while working at the Uni in 1996, but also applied for the reknowned MIS (management for information systems) at Stirling Uni with a view to becoming more of a project manager than in marketing, and earn a lot more at that point in time at least. I deferred entry for about four years in a row because I would have to have funded it myself and gave up, but it would have been an excellent career boost for me at a time when the market for skills was changing rapidly.


Marketing is a very, very competitive career to get into and you will be surrounded often by very competitive people who can have rather sly ways of winning internal trophies and battles. It is a great career, interesting and varied I found. However dont' be precious with it, if you get an opportunity to be a manger in a different direction, or retraining internally as somethign which pays well, then take it.

I have made the jump over the fence so to speak into supply chain management, which for a marketer is going ugly late ! I still need more courses and certification to really get on, but enjoy it a lot more than I expected and as a middle aged man now, find that the tasks and ways of managing things, and not least the people and their attitudes to suit me quite possibly better than had I stayed in marketing.

Careers are about two things I think - committing to a route and then being opportunistic to get the best pole position to advance your career, and not being sentimental about jumping jobs or relocating.

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