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5 Things I Tell My Students Every Year

Date: August 24, 2020 • Category: Marketing • By: Ben Guttmann

With another fall semester starting this week, albeit a less-than-normal one, a new cohort of students are starting their college careers, or just plain getting ready to start their actual careers. Over the past 6 years, I’ve had the joy of teaching hundreds of students in my digital marketing class at Baruch College. My class is a “4000 level” course, which means that it’s almost exclusively filled with seniors, which in turn means that I’ve often had the scary responsibility of being the last class that many of my students take before walking out the door for good.

Throughout each semester, I try to always impart a few core concepts that I believe are useful to these bright and energetic students just starting out. As a new year starts in a weird, mostly virtual way, I figured let’s share them here.

1. The career opportunities are (still) in digital

Walk into any typical marketing agency, large or small and take a look at the different department directors. In most slots, you’ll find a grizzled 20+ year industry veteran with war stories of climbing up the ladder. When you get to the directors of digital, mobile, or social it’s a different story – they are 28 or 32 years old, polished but still fresh-faced.

Digital is the one vertical where it’s an almost-intrinsic benefit to be young. For better or worse, agencies will trot you out in front of clients saying “look, we have young people who get it, you should hire us!” Social and mobile being such relatively new fields, these young leaders help the agency look hip and with-it, but it also means that there are less people lined-up ahead of you to get the next promotion.

2. The business opportunities are in the unsexy places

I may eat these words, but the world doesn’t really need another photo app or social network. But it does need better software for medical imaging, or regulatory compliance, or managing housing inspections.

I get it, everybody wants to go out and make a cool app and marry the supermodel (quite literally the Snapchat story). But if you want to make money – and make a real difference – you have to dig just a little bit deeper. The world is full of terrible user experiences and outdated software. Use your entrepreneurial superpowers for good and solve the tough problems in healthcare, government, education, and industry. You’ll be surprised how much money is floating around looking for solutions in the “unsexy” industries.

3. Borrow other people’s brains

Despite what you may think at 21 years old, you don’t know everything. You don’t even know all the things you don’t know. At this stage, with compounding decades of a career and life ahead of you, you will most benefit from “borrowing the brains” of others.

How do you do this? Mostly read, and mostly books. The more you absorb from others that came before you, the better your own brain works to solve the problems that you’ll encounter in the years ahead. There’s nothing truly new under the sun, so pick up a biography, or a well-researched non-fiction book, or even a classic novel to give yourself a head start.

4. Value simplicity

People are busy. To have any success, you have to be able to communicate clearly and concisely – and this applies to all arenas.

Despite your rich and colorful inner life, to most people you are one thing, be it “the website guy” or the “TED speaker” or the “brain expert” or whatever. As you go about meeting people in this world, make sure that whatever that small remnant you are known as is helping, not hurting you.

5. Do the hard things first

It’s tempting to look at the big list of items on your day’s agenda, or even your life’s bucket list and start with the low-hanging fruit. You might be tempted to get a few wins under your belt before tackling the big hairy monster. I’ve always found this to be wrong.

If you start with what’s easy, you often never get to what’s hard (and what matters). You get tired, or you run out of time, or you get distracted. Before you know it the hard thing has become an even bigger and even hairier monster looming at the end of your checklist.

If instead you decide to slay the beast at the start, you’ll often realize that it really wasn’t that bad. And when it’s done, you’ve built up your “doing” muscle and everything else that comes next is a cakewalk.


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