5 things college didn’t prepare me for in the real world

Posted March 11, 2021 by Diego Escala

College is great. You can never find parking; you’ll drop a fortune on a piece of paper and if you didn’t have crippling anxiety before, you do now. One of my favorite things, however, is how professors can fail to prepare you for the real world. It’s not usually their fault — many of them haven’t been active in the industry in years (or are smug tenured professors who care more about going on about “the good old days”) and are a bit out of touch with an industry that moves at a breakneck speed. 

I figured since I’m a recently graduated student AND am working in a job that’s not a retail nightmare, it’d be helpful to write something for those currently screaming to the void because they can’t find parking and class starts in five minutes.

You’re Not Tom Brady; Not Everything Needs To Be Super Bowl Level

College professors have this really awesome, anxiety inducing way of pressuring you into thinking that if you’re not putting out Cannes Lions worthy work on a regular basis then you’re practically a failure in the field. You’re taught that everything needs to be this super clever award winning statement piece, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

My time working for a nonprofit (and here at Brightly Creative) has shown me that sometimes simple and to the point is what’s best. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be putting your absolute best into every piece of work that you do; you should always strive to produce good work, just that not everything needs to be this grand theatrical showpiece.

There’s a time and place for cleverness, but trying to make every piece you work on at the standard of a Super Bowl ad is going to lead to stress and creative burnout.

Don’t Just Write; Have A Conversation

Diego and Mocha discussing the next Brightly Creative project

There are two things people don’t want when reading something: to be talked at instead of with and to be bored. You should always go into your writing as if you’re about to have a conversation with the reader. But not in a condescendingly obvious “HEY KIDS, BRAND HERE TO SELL PRODUCT” way, but genuine conversation (as hilarious as the concept of being “genuine” can be from a person who works in advertising).

A process I’ve learned to do with my writing is to sort of speak aloud what I want to write as if I’m having a conversation with someone. I’ll do this during car rides (or when the home is empty so I don’t look like a maniac), and it’s easier to catch what doesn’t sound right when you actually hear it out loud instead of reading it in your head. This then in turn makes the writing process almost instantaneous as you’ve essentially “written” the entire thing in your head by this point. This has been my process for a couple of years now; it works for me and might be worth a try if you’re struggling with writing more conversational material.

Home Is Where the Office Is

Professors who worked agency life love talking about what office culture is like and definitely have an opinion on open floor plan offices. There’s a good chance however that you might not get to experience any of this. The past year has shifted the industry remotely, and a lot of agencies are finding they prefer it.

On top of that, stop thinking locally about job searching. Because of our new remote working future, you could easily work for an agency that’s based out of NYC while you’re states away. This is both the best and worst time to be looking for work; just expand your horizons and I’m sure you’ll find some opportunities waiting.

Diversify Your Criticism

As students we tend to get into the habit of falling into a passive behavior when dealing with groupmates. We instinctually go into “polite mode” and either lightly critique a classmate’s work or outright lie and say it looks great. I’m totally guilty of it; we’re practically conditioned to work this way because we don’t want to cause any unnecessary drama upsetting a person if they don’t take the criticism lightly and we’re stuck with them all semester. Either that, or we figure why work extra on top of our swamped workload by detailing everything that needs to be fixed when I can get an A+ on this peer review assignment for just saying “yup looks good, maybe change the colors?”

It’s a habit you should try to get out of, because when you start working and coworkers or clients start critiquing your work, it may be a bit jarring at the start. The best way of getting good, constructive criticism is to show your stuff to friends and ask for honest opinions; if they’re good friends they won’t hold back.

Also, people studying creative tend to only ever want to show their work to other creatives. Copywriters will send their writing to other copywriters, and designers will do the same. Get in the habit of sending your work to people who have nothing to do with what you’re studying. Yes, they’re likely going to have a very awful opinion on what should change, but there’s a good chance they’ll see something you never noticed. Remember, in this industry you’re not making ads to sell products to other creatives; regular folk are the ones who are going to be looking at your ad and buying what you’re selling.

Be a Human Swiss Army Knife

Don’t be the “I do this ONE thing really well” person. Something I made sure to do during my schooling was to expose myself to as many skills as possible. Being a one-trick pony is a hindrance in such an unnecessary way because we live in a time where you can easily YouTube a tutorial series about Photoshop and learn something like that at your own pace. You might not become a master at it, but it’s going to be so much better for you when you can go into a job for, let’s say a copywriter gig, and you come into that interview saying, “Oh yeah, but I can also design in Photoshop.”

I might not be quick on my feet with coding, and I’ll definitely have to Google stuff, but I can usually make *some* sense of what I’m looking at. Or how I might not be a savant at Premiere, but if you need some light video editing done I can knock that out in a jiffy. You might be able to do one thing really well, but I can do a lot of things pretty decently, and I’m slowly getting better at all of them.

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