A few weeks ago I was asked to be on a panel at Fairfield University to discuss my experiences in the media business. My fellow panelists held a variety of careers within the media world. They included an accomplished journalist formerly from ABC News now working as the managing editor for The ShriverReport.org, a newspaper reporter with 30 years' experience, a book publishing editor, a video producer and a video designer.
Before the discussion began the event organizer and fellow panelist, Audra Martin (video producer for Group SJR), informed us to be as honest as possible and not sugarcoat the reality of the job market or our collective foray into the media business. Audra also pointed out that over half these students will graduate from college without ever having an internship. The panel was insightful and the students asked incredible questions. I've highlighted the three main takeaways.
Don't dismiss internships
Internships have been getting a bad rap the last few years due to some companies being sued and some deleting their programs altogether -- like the media magnate Hearst. You can take a class, read countless books, ace every exam on a topic, but that doesn't at all compare to experiencing it firsthand. Internships are very valuable, every student no matter if you're hoping to work in sales, finance, tech or media should have at least one under their belt. It's a daunting process to narrow down an internship opportunity -- especially if your college career department doesn't have the right contacts.
Don't be afraid to look up opportunities on your own by tapping into your network. Reach out to former professors, family and friends and previous employers. You never know whose cousin's college roommate might be able to score you a great experience. A great untapped asset is connecting with former alumni for informational interviews. You can get a list of contacts from your career department or by doing a search on LinkedIn. If you also decide to apply for internships directly on an employer's website make sure you reach out directly with the hiring manager as well. Don't trust that sending your resumes to email@example.com will get you noticed. Instead, utilize your research skills and find out who the hiring manager and follow up with them directly.
Be persistent with a purpose
"How many emails and calls are too many," asked several students who were eager to get noticed but didn't want to become an annoyance to a potential employer. The panel was in agreement that in order to get noticed you need to be a squeaky wheel. On an average day, we collectively agreed that we receive 100-200 emails. It's very easy for something to get lost which is why it's essential to follow up. When you are following up always respond with something that , "I read this article on TechCrunch and thought you would find it interesting" or "I attended this marketing lecture and it made me think about what we discussed in our meeting."
The other point to consider is that when you are reaching out to someone in hopes of a meeting, job, or information you need to have done your homework and create an "in". Study the person you are contacting. Read their LinkedIn Profile, study their company and career history. Use this information to your advantage over email, "I read your article on PR trends and learned a ton" or "I see you work on the Today Show -- I'm such a huge fan. I especially love the Orange Room." This is your in. Chances are the people you are emailing know why you are contacting them but going the extra mile and doing your homework turns your "ask" into a relationship.
No one has their dream career at 21
When you graduate it's very easy to 'assume' that you'll be starting at the top (or close to it) - especially when you look at successful millennials like Mark Zuckerberg, Lena Dunham, and Instagram founder Kevin Systrom. Except that is very rarely the case. Most people start at entry-level positions -- and that's OK. Learning the ropes, watching from the sidelines and getting in tune with office dynamics will help shape your professional persona. Chances are you'll be interviewing and submitting dozens of resumes after graduation. The job market is constantly growing, changing and adapting.
There are so many different types of jobs out there. I've seen countless people pass up great opportunities because it wasn't their 'dream job.' That dream gig might never find you. If you get a job offer that sounds great and interests you -- take it. The time to experiment is in your 20s. Take risks, learn new things and be open to new experiences. You don't have a family to support or mortgage payments to worry about. Take that hourly wage earning, 3-month production assistant job on the latest Scorsese film.
This post originally appeared on Aol Jobs.