As the current crop of marketing graduates prepares to enter the workforce, Rory Brennan offers some guidelines and insights they can plan their career from the outset.

Regardless of your ambitions to be a brand director for Coca-Cola or the marketing director of Aer Lingus or even the online guru with the next Google – the reality is your marketing career journey will be largely dictated by your first few marketing roles.

These are your first building blocks of experience that will copper fasten your CV into a tradable commodity within the marketing fraternity. I would go as far as to say that your remuneration potential will be more or less shaped for the rest of your marketing career by what you achieve in your first four years in marketing.

Marketers have a great passion for what they do. They also work in a fast-paced game where their performance is always being questioned while the return on investment is held up to greater scrutiny.

Skeptics will say it’s not all about success. Sure enough most marketers I meet enjoy fairly high degrees of job satisfaction during their career. But if you ask them if they have achieved their anticipated goals which they set out in the early stages of their career, a resounding 70% of those over the age of 30 will confess that they haven’t. Upon further scrutiny, they will admit that their initial marketing experience and career development choices actually ended up closing down career opportunities and restricting their marketing career paths.

So let’s say you started your career well with 490 points in your Leaving Certificate in 2004 and you finished in the top tier percentile in your UCD/DCU/DIT primary. And then you rounded it off with an honours post-graduate. So you are now ready to kick start your marketing career when you secure an account executive role with a leading below the line division of a medium-sized advertising agency. Five years later you have advanced to account director with a team reporting to you. More importantly, the board of directors love you as you chalk up nice billing and your clients can rely on you to get results for their campaigns. Your job satisfaction is high, the money is good even though you may have taken a hit during the recession. But the biggest issue is the role you have is starting to get repetitive and you find that you are under-challenged.

Your boss is blocking any moves for you to transfer to the above the line division as your such a good revenue biller. So that’s it – you’re going to apply for some brand manager roles only to be told by the recruiters that most of the major brand owners are rejecting your CV because you don’t have a proven track record on the client-side or with brand management. Incredible you think. You are a great marketer, you are just 28 years of age yet your marketing career seems to be already shackled to agency life.

Nothing wrong with agency life, I hear you say. It’s both financially rewarding and a very stimulating environment. Indeed a good percentage of our best marketeering directors have come from the big above-the-lines houses. However, these marketers planned their CV in advance and every career move has been a building block to reach a goal. That’s the key to remember – you have to manage your career and it’s best to do it from the starting gates.

So let’s go back to the blank canvas when you are about to start out because if you want to give yourself the best marketing opportunities you have to plan for success. The first step getting a good honours Leaving Cert – anything south of 440 points these days is not ideal.

In college, you need to get involved in societies and sports clubs and as much extra-curricular activity that you can fit to strengthen and shape your character. OK some of you say – that’s not possible because you’re doing part-time work to pay college – well that’s equally fine as working and making a living strengthens your resolve and improves your communications skills. It also gives you insights into the real world which will help you win interviews – and trust me it’s all about winning interviews.

Once you graduate from your primary degree – you will be trying to win interviews to get into your desired post-graduate or get onto an IBEC or Enterprise Ireland-backed graduate programme to kick start your career. For the rest of your marketing career, these interviews will benchmark you against the norm.

Interviews are your opportunity to showcase you – what you’ve done, what you potentially can do. They will show up your style and approach to answering key questions. Engaging with the interview panel gives them a real look at your own DNA.

The outcome of these interviews will decide the fate of your marketing career. It’s not all about having a first-class honours (which would be a huge help) but the hiring committee will be looking for bright and astute graduates who will embrace the commercialities of today’s business world from a marketing perspective.

Nearly all interviews at post-graduate stage will embrace criteria like verbal communications, demonstration of planning and organizational skills, a willingness to take responsibility, numeric agility, determination, writing and presentation skills, your work ethic, and your initiative. First impressions will also be taken into account as well as how you interact with the interviewees. So prepare, set your stall out and enjoy the opportunity.

Rory Brennan is a selector and recruiter for managing Marketing Career Recruitment Ltd.