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Beyond Text Books: Real Lessons from College

December 05 2014

Take a moment and read this letter from Jeff Freedman from Small Army

Shortly after graduating from UNH in 1990, one of my favorite professors invited me to speak with two of her classes about my new career in advertising. I had just started working as a Media Buyer at Hill Holliday, and was excited to share my experiences (and, of course, brag about my cool new job – especially since an ex-girlfriend was in one of the classes).

The first class went great. I wowed the students with the millions of dollars of buying power I had, working with brands like Lotus, Wang and Hyatt Hotels; how I was being wined and dined by people from The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated; and how I was spending most evenings at Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox games with free tickets from my newfound media friends. (I, of course, neglected to mention my huge mid-teen salary).

After the first class, I had lunch with the professor, who further complemented me on my amazing position, and then we went to the next class for a repeat performance. At the end of the presentation, one of the students asked, “So, how much did UNH prepare you for what you are doing today”? I paused, smiled, looked over at my ex, and said something like, “Well, honestly, most of the things I do now, I learned on the job.” Since that day, I’ve not only regretted my response, but the way in which I approached the entire experience. It was not my best teaching moment.

So, a few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to return to UNH and speak with the incoming Freshman class at UNH’s Paul School of Business, I presented a very different (and more meaningful message). The fact is that, without UNH, my advertising career would be very different (or, likely, non-existent) . College prepares us for the real world in many ways – but some of those are difficult to see at that time or, in my case, even for a few years after).

So, for those college students (or recent graduates) who are wondering how their days in college will help them in a career in advertising (or most any other industry), here are a few things to consider:

1. The toughest part about most careers (especially advertising) is getting in the door.
I was too busy playing in a rock band to take advantage of all the career services that UNH offered. So, by the time I got around to applying for internships, they were all taken. When I noticed that the rejection letter from Arnold Advertising was signed by my former Resident Assistant at UNH (Jon Castle), I picked up the phone and begged him for a job. He took care of me, and one week later, I was a media intern at Arnold Advertising. The toughest part of this business is getting into it. UNH (and Jon) took care of that one for me.

2. An internship IS school.
I’ll save the debate about paid vs. unpaid internships for another day (although, for the record, mine was unpaid). But, many of the “media-specific” skills I used at Hill Holliday came from my internship at Arnold – which was a credit-earning class from UNH (not a paying job). If you haven’t done so already, visit your school’s career services office and see how they can help you. Don’t choose it for the money, choose it for the experience. (Of course, everyone’s financial circumstances differ but at this stage, greater learning is more valuable than greater salary.)

3. What is in text books is only part of the lesson.
It is true that most of the day-to-day tasks I was performing in my new job were leaned “on the job” as opposed to from text books. However, without exception, every task was dependent upon my ability to work with other people. To collaborate, negotiate, share ideas, listen, learn from one another, navigate problems, etc. At the time I didn’t even realize it, but those are some of the most critical skills I learned in college (and some of the most valuable skills I use today). Every moment in college is a learning experience. Always remember that – and make the most of each one.

4. Every day is an opportunity to build lifelong relationships.
Success in any business depends upon relationships. And shared college experiences can be a great connection to build those relationships. The advertising industry in Boston (and beyond) is full of great people from UNH. People like Jane Deery (PGR Media), Lynne Montesanto (Dow Jones), Peter Ockerbloom (Penn Foster) and Mike Densmore (Bartle Bogle Hegarty). I’m proud to be associated with all of these industry rock stars – and each has been an important part of my career. Your college network can be among the most important network you will ever be a part of.

So, take a moment to thank your alma mater for all it’s done for you. It likely has much more to do with your success than you may give it credit. I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to re-visit my alma mater, and look forward to many more great conversations at UNH.

Go Wildcats!
Jeff Freedman

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