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Graduates: How to thrive in the post covid world

We talk to Adrienne Sutherland, who is working with Fluency on a 4-week Masters degree placement, to understand the skills that graduates in 2023 are learning and how they can apply these to working in marketing in the post-covid data / tech driven world.

What are you studying at University and why did you choose the course?

Currently, I’m finishing off my MSc in Economics and Strategy for Business at Imperial College Business School. Being a South African Economics graduate, I wanted a degree that combined my academic and technical economics training with a practical element, applying economics to real-world business situations. During my pure Economics studies, I learned how to manipulate, analyze, and interpret data while crafting compelling stories with the findings. The Masters programme expanded these skills and provided me with commercial awareness and a solid understanding of how corporations operate.

“I met with Georgie and Mike over coffee and now I’m working as a Junior Consultant Analyst for the month”

How did you get the placement? What role are you doing at Fluency M&C Saatchi?

As soon as I found out about the option of completing a four-week work placement as part of my Masters programme, I knew Fluency was the place for me. During my time interning as a data analyst for M&C Saatchi Abel in Cape Town, I had the opportunity to work alongside the Fluency team virtually and shadow some of their consultant team calls. I really enjoyed my limited contact with the team and jumped at the chance to join them fully in London. When I moved here to start my programme, I met with Georgie and Mike over coffee, and luckily, they welcomed me into the team! Now, 10 months later, I’m working as a Junior Consultant Analyst for the month.

One of my favourite briefs I’ve worked on so far involved converting a large survey dataset into executive summaries for three consumer groups. Fluency conducted a large-scale survey for our client FuboTV, to understand audience consumption and engagement with the English Premier League. My job was to sort the respondent data into three audience subsets and create a comprehensive summary document outlining their demographics, psychographics, and brand engagement. The next step was to transform this summary into a PowerPoint presentation that was visually appealing but also engaging and simple to understand.”

With a number of varied clients, Fluency’s consultants are incredibly busy so I’ve been lending a helping hand on a mix of projects which has given me a wide view of the breadth of services that Fluency delivers.

What job did you want to do before attending University, and has your course changed your mind or view of the career path you want to take?

Before moving to London, my plan was to use the Masters year to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I was interested in both the technical numbers side of things and overall business strategy, leaving my options quite wide. I considered roles as diverse as data analytics, programming, and brand management in the marketing field. Consulting (both strategy consulting and the kind of consulting work that Fluency does) in general always particularly interested me because it balances both interests. When I arrived in September last year, I realized I had less time to decide than I thought, as strategy consulting applications closed in October. I quickly immersed myself in the application process and landed a job offer by January. Throughout my Masters year, my desire to pursue this path only grew stronger. Similarly, I became more interested in the kind of work Fluency does, finding the bridge between the creative and data-driven aspects to unlock valuable insights for brands using data.

From your experience studying, what are the key differences between attending University now post covid, vs pre 2020-covid, and going back say 20 years ago?

My cohort was the first to return to campus ‘as normal’ following the pandemic. This meant that we did everything in person, including exams. While things weren’t remarkably different, there has been a huge change in the way we choose to work as individuals and as groups. There is so much more flexibility now, with lectures being stream-able from home and with the majority of meetings taking place on Zoom. Even if my whole team was on campus, we would often chose to tune in from different study areas at school, since meetings always seem to be more efficient online. As both a social and efficient person, I find this change quite bittersweet.

Has AI and data higher affected education? If so, how?

AI advancements have had a much larger impact on my year than the shifts due to the pandemic. For instance, a straightforward task like summarizing 20-page long meeting minutes for your team used to require skills of conciseness and communication and took a significant amount of time. Now, ChatGPT can do this in 10 seconds, better than 98% of people. I find the tool most helpful and time-saving for tasks like this and others like rewriting my text with a different tone or shortening my paragraphs to meet word counts. However, I avoid using it for retrieving academic insights and existing sources since it can be inaccurate in those cases. The education system hasn’t evolved fast enough to adapt tasks so that ChatGPT becomes a tool for deepening learning and growth rather than replacing the actual work. I do anticipate this changing rapidly in the coming years however. Universities will need to start encouraging the use of these tools and recreating assessments to incorporate the use of AI. I can imagine that grading softer skills, such as oral presentation and group work, will become even more important as AI continues to shape the landscape of education and work.

What key ‘new’ skills do graduates need to learn to succeed in finding jobs in 2023 and do you think higher education allow you to gain the skill and experience to translate to a working environment, or from your time working at Fluency, do you think there is a gap?

While this may not apply to every role out there, I’ve always believed that communication is the most valuable attribute in a job candidate, right after meeting the main requirements of the role. Effective communication involves both receiving and giving information. It encompasses fully understanding and applying a brief as well as grasping the key takeaways from anything, be it a dataset or a conversation. My university tries to instil this in students by insisting that 100% of our coursework is done in groups. However, I think this skill is hard to develop at the university level and should be emphasized more at the school level. Since it’s not something you can simply ‘acquire,’ I do observe a gap between what employers need in this regard and what students have to offer.

What tips do you have for students looking to secure a job once they have graduated?

My top two tips are: do your research and be selective. Fully understanding the ins and outs of the job you’re applying for is crucial. A job that sounds great on paper might not align with your interests and daily preferences. Make sure you have an idea of the day-in-the-life of someone in your role, and see if it resonates with you. Secondly, be mindful of the roles you apply to. Many of my friends at uni applied to 70+ jobs, but spreading your wings too far might lead to countless rejections and wasted time on IQ tests and cover letters. If you genuinely believe a job is a good fit for you, chances are the feeling will be mutual, and they will want you too.

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