Think Fast Think Ahead

Nov 21, 2014 1 Min Read
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Developing skills (and opportunities) in university

Addressing a lecture theatre of media students recently, I asked: “How many here would like to establish a successful career within the media industry?”

Inevitably, everyone’s hands shot up, with more than a few faces looking back at me with quizzical expressions, “You’re asking a bunch of media students who wants a career in media?!”

The students were a couple of months into their course, and I was invited along by my old lecturer to give them a talk on “Making it in the Media Industry” – an important issue to address, with only half as many UK graduate jobs available in 2013, as compared with 2008, and over 100 applicants chasing each graduate job.

“Great,” I replied, “now keep your hands up those of you who have begun to network with your lecturers and sought their advice and access to contacts?”

Without exception, all the hands dropped. I paused for a moment to allow the realisation to sink in.

In the media industry, I explained, there is no more valuable quality than the ability to create your own opportunities. Every graduate who leaves college will be able to create an all-singing, all-dancing website; every graduate will be a social media wizard; and every graduate will be able to provide a company advice on branding strategy until he or she is blue in the face.

In short, a college qualification gives you the tools to do the job – but it’s your job to build your career.

Skill deficiency

In every lecture hall, regardless of subject matter, everybody has the potential to be great, but not everyone will push himself to realise that potential. In the UK, the top complaint of employers is that, while graduates have all the necessary tools to do the job, they lack soft skills.

What are soft skills? Communication, commitment, decision-making, being a team player, leadership, problem-solving and taking responsibility, to name a few.

Building and opening doors

As a media student, I worked hard at acquiring the skills needed to do the job – but I worked even harder at creating opportunities for myself.

I emailed newspaper editors to enquire about work experience, I pitched feature ideas to magazines, approached radio stations to offer my services as a news reader (initially, I was very nervous but I knew I needed to work on weaknesses), and offered my services to voluntary organisations in order to acquire more of the soft skills so eagerly sought by employers.

Beyond academia

I also pestered my lecturers and made use of the fact that they were industry professionals in their previous roles.

Did they have any advice on how to become a journalist? Did they have any contacts I could speak to, or recommend any publications I could approach?

I was determined to spend my time in college as wisely as possible and create every opportunity for myself that I could, knowing I would be up against 70,000 other media graduates looking for jobs when it was time to collect my degree.

On average, a student’s time in further education is four years. Those uninterrupted four years – in most cases – allows the chance to learn, to create opportunities, and to start networking and invest in yourself.

Sure, have fun and don’t take things too seriously all of the time, but keep in mind your end goal: you want to establish yourself as the candidate with more goods than anyone else so that you can land your desired career. Yes, it’s a tough road and no, it’s not easy.

But, with effort and commitment to yourself, there is no reason why you can’t make a success of yourself.

Working for, and before work

After being handed my degree, I secured a job as a press officer for a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). Although I went through the same process as everyone else, what gave me the edge was that I had engaged in voluntary work for local charity organisations and spent time lobbying MSPs on behalf of the charities.

As a result, my name and quality of work became known. I had an edge over fellow candidates because of my determination to commit to and create opportunities for myself. Nine years on, I am an established journalist at a regional newspaper, and I also have a number of freelance commitments in radio, providing branding strategies for small and medium enterprises, and writing for national news outlets.

It’s not because I’m more skilled than anyone else that I’ve secured so many opportunities, but rather because I create the conditions to ensure they come along. And while not every venture is successful, the more opportunities I create, the more chance I have for success.

So, if you want to get ahead of the competition and make it in whichever field you’re in, make the most of your time in college by grabbing every opportunity that comes your way.

University of life

No one can make you a success but yourself – no one can and no one may. Your character is just as important as the qualifications you have after your education is finished.

If your character has been sufficiently developed, you’ll spot one of life’s head fakes: education doesn’t finish upon receiving your degree – that’s where it begins. Give yourself a good grounding during the formative years of college, and you’ll find yourself embarking on a journey that opens up a world of possibilities.

And from there, you will be able to head towards the horizon of success with complete assurance and confidence in who you are and what you can achieve.

A short summary

1. If there are few opportunities, create them.

2. Take advantage of lecturers’ and tutors’ experience as well as their knowledge; be proactive in asking them for direction and guidance.

3. Seek experience outside your field to develop and hone new skills. If you make the conscious decision to commit to yourself, you will create a mindset of success within yourself that will drive you towards the very successes you desire.

Sandy Clarke is a journalist in the UK with years of experience in journalism, PR and communications, and was press officer to the Scottish Government at one time. To get in touch with him, send an email to

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Sandy is a former Leaderonomics editor and is now a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. As editor of, he has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.

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