This is Not a Test
Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash
Sometimes the best way to take a look at yourself is through a fresh set of eyes.
As an industry, we spend a lot of time analyzing, reviewing, and discussing ourselves. We break down the details of everything that we do in digital into neat spreadsheets and share our findings with each other through talks, papers, social media and blog posts just like these. While all of that self-reflection can be valuable, it comes with assumptions and biases based on the fact that we do this stuff every day.
This post is an opportunity to take a step back, to offer a fresh perspective at what it’s like to enter our industry, especially as a new graduate experiencing it for the first time.
Right now, we’re fortunate to host a practicum student from the UBC Digital Marketing Diploma program. In just three short weeks, Mel Webb Wilkinson has been a breath of fresh air, and it’s been fascinating for us to work so closely with her as she experiences the inner workings of digital marketing and the consulting business for the first time.
While we regularly lead training and onboarding for our clients’ new hires, we’ve taken this opportunity to learn everything that we can from Mel about her experience diving in head first. What’s surprising? What does she pick up easily and what’s a friction point? Rather than hoard those insights, I’ve asked Mel to share her unfiltered take with you here in a two-part series, book-ending the beginning and end of her time with us. This is Part 1 – The First Impression:
I thought that this practicum would largely be a test of the skills I learned during my diploma, but what I’m coming to realize is that I am learning a whole lot more about the way I work and where I want to go within the industry. This isn’t a test, this is my journey into the working world of digital.
Throughout my Undergrad I was dead set on completing my degree in five years, mainly to max out on all five years of athletic eligibility for university competition. I have always been a student-athlete, specifically with my sights set on representing Canada on the world stage in rowing after graduation. While my friends and peers were setting themselves up for the careers they desired by taking on summer jobs and internships, I was spending my days on the water, with total tunnel vision on my athletic goals.
In the winter of my fourth year, when it was time to decide on courses for the following year, I suddenly felt uneasy about it, and the idea of returning for one more year of athletics didn’t excite me like it used to. I realized that somewhere along the way, my goals and values had changed and I was far more excited about all the opportunities outside of rowing. For the past two years, I was a member of our team’s student executive, managing the social media accounts and writing race reports. I loved this role and had done a good job creating content that increased engagement, and I came to realize that I could turn this passion for digital into a career in the field.
I had a fear about applying for graduation – I was afraid that it would mark the end of learning and the beginning of work, yet I had zero relevant working experience, let alone education in the digital field. Cue hours scouring every inch of the internet for a solution to how I could make this new dream a reality, and many more hours spent contemplating if this was even a realistic goal. This led me to the UBC Digital Marketing diploma. I saw this as the answer to my problems, not only because it would give me the piece of paper that said I could do the thing that so many job postings required, but it also had a practicum portion AKA work experience that didn’t require previous experience.
I was confident about the classroom portion of my diploma, but entering a practicum position, particularly one in the field where I want to build my career, felt daunting. It was foreign territory. To ease the transition (read: calm myself down) and get comfortable in the position, I reflected on the academic and athletic conditions that allowed me to thrive and then related them to the workplace. This is what I came up with:
- I wanted to be part of a small team within a growing business. During the early stages of my career, learning from strong mentors is very important to me, and I believed that was more likely to happen as a member of a smaller team.
- I wanted to work on a diversity of projects. Applying my newly acquired digital marketing skills within a variety of industries was important to me in order to be well-rounded.
- I am big on feedback, so being in an environment where feedback is frequent and encouraged is one where I felt I would have the most growth.
That led me to apply, and ultimately be accepted for the practicum role here at Junction. Prior to my first day, I was given an overview of the projects I would be working on and expectations were set out of the skills I would be using.
During the first week, there was no expectation of output. I was told: “Just be a sponge, ask questions and then be prepared to dive in during week two”. This was extremely helpful and a relief, as it gave me a stress-free environment where I was able to learn the processes of the company, get to know their clients, and figure out where I could add value.
At Junction, there are no set hours, and only limited time spent in the office is required. It was made clear that my success in the role wouldn’t be measured by hours put in, but rather by output. I related to that idea, it seemed familiar to my time spent as a student-athlete. Though hours and hours go into training, in sport your success is ultimately determined by output. Maybe my career wouldn’t be so different from athletics after all.
After the first week, I was asked to audit Junction’s digital properties. I’m not going to lie, I was uncomfortable and pretty intimidated by this task. Think about it: after one week, I was being asked to audit and provide recommendations to my current bosses. As cliché as the saying is, growth rarely comes from staying within our comfort zones, and that’s what this position is all about. This task proved to be an invaluable opportunity to get to know Junction and apply my education, in addition to soft skills acquired from sport, to benefit the company.
To fast-forward, in the last three weeks I have:
- Researched and audited digital properties for three clients and one charity
- Audited Junction’s digital properties and provided recommendations
- Participated in one client strategy meeting
- And now written this blog post
My biggest observations and takeaways so far have been:
Managing my time without the structure of 9-5:
I love the flexibility of choosing my own hours and doing work when it is best for me, but it can be challenging. I’ve needed to ensure that I’m self-directed and productive. This can be particularly difficult when working outside of the traditional office environment, where there can be that pressure to work 8 hours straight just by being physically around other productive people – you are at work, so you need to be doing work. At home, if you’re not doing work, it’s hard to emulate that feeling. Accountability and output are crucial in any business, even more so when you aren’t in an office with co-workers and superiors day-in/ day-out. It has definitely been a learning curve, and the key may be scheduling myself better on the days I’m not in the office.
Communication and asking questions:
In the school setting, regularly checking in about work you’re doing is not a thing. No one cares about where you are at in the process of a project or that you check in at all for that matter, and it is often frowned upon to ask profs questions about best practices. In the employment setting, asking questions can be a reflection of your learning, being present, getting things done and communicating. It is also an opportunity to gain insight into the perspective and best practices of coworkers. What I’m learning is to adapt to being regularly in communication and enrolling those that I’m working with in where I am at with projects and asking questions when necessary.
Taking Extra Time:
In the first week, I moved through my projects pretty quickly. My work was good, but it definitely could have been better quality. By week two, I had learned that I need to take more time to evaluate, reflect, and maybe dive in a little deeper before turning my findings over to my boss. In a job, you aren’t given a syllabus like you are in school, where there’s a list that feels like a black hole of reading or studying that you could be doing, so it is easier to feel like you have completed your task when you could actually dig deeper.
Especially during week one, I wasn’t sure how exactly I would apply everything (or nothing) that I’ve learned to be useful and add value to the business, and honestly questioned whether or not I could truly be successful in this role without previous work experience. It’s exciting to work for a business that is growing and being trusted to add value to the business during a period of growth and evolution. Perhaps my biggest takeaway so far is that sports may have prepared me for work as much, or more, than the classroom did.
So far, this position has shown me that my dreams and goals are totally realistic, and that learning continues beyond the classroom. Reflecting on the last few weeks of work and the pathway of how I got here, I’m reminded to be flexible about both my goals and methods and mindset. There is no syllabus in work life, and things are subject to change at a moment’s notice.
Though it has only been a few weeks, I have touched on a lot of projects and topics covered in my courses. I am excited to dig deeper in the coming weeks, work with a few more clients, and further understand where I fit in within the industry. As for scheduling myself and what other growth I experience, I’ll get back to you on that at the end of this practicum.