Out of Nabokov and into nappies

March 20, 1998

Nick Chapman has been offered a job in his chosen career and he hasn't even finished his degree. This supplement is designed to give others the same opportunity and to help universities identify the skills their students need

Recently I seem to have been leading a double life. Like many of my friends I am attempting that tricky metamorphosis from unkempt undergraduate to polished professional. For the past few months, my normal existence as a final-year English literature undergraduate at University College London has been punctuated by visits to advertising agencies. It has been a bizarre experience. I have had to juggle Vladimir Nabokov with issues of nappy absorbency and the emotive qualities of Bran Flakes with those of William Blake.

As with most careers, the graduate recruitment process for advertising is truly arduous. For those selected, applications are followed by first interviews and then final ones that can last up to two days. Having applied for jobs at ten agencies I found myself attending four final interviews in a week, a display of sustained smiling worthy of any Miss World contestant.

The glamorous Saatchi and Saatchi was the last agency on my interview marathon and the one I was most nervous about. I was soon at ease though. The programme began with a talk given by a disarmingly affable group of last year's trainees. The candidates were then divided into groups of six and, after a brief tour of the agency, each group was led to its own room.

The first day was structured around a series of supervised tests. Projects ranged from devising a marketing strategy for an odourless perfume to constructing a working crane from sheets of paper. Advanced origami is not one of my fortes but thankfully how we went about things as a team seemed far more important than what we actually did. To be honest all we made was a considerable mess. It was beginning to look comfortingly like my own bedsit.

That evening we decamped en masse to a restaurant for a casual dinner with agency staff. For casual, read crucial as this was an important part of the process. The ratio of diners around our table to bottles of wine on it was truly alarming. A university education was clearly vital to the task in hand. Without the alcohol tolerance three years of pub crawls provide, you did not stand a chance. The party wound up at around midnight and as we were due to reconvene at 9.0 am that most important of skills, hangover minimisation, came strongly into play.

The second day's programme was much like the first; the difference being that by day two you were either getting matey or fed up with the members of your group. Saatchi and Saatchi was in fact remarkably successful in bringing us out of our reserved "interview" exteriors. By the end of the day, the observers were forgotten and it had ceased to feel like an interview at all.

Advertising recruits people with a wide variety of degrees and my time at Saatchi's certainly left me with the feeling that the qualities it looks for come not from specific training but rather those hazy notions of self assurance, ability to work in a team, discipline and maturity. Having said that, when I got the job I went bouncing round my room like a hyperactive toddler.

I join Saatchi's in September. Between now and then there is the small matter of my degree and, of course, my last few months of scruffy studentdom. My suit is staying firmly in the wardrobe and I shall revel in keeping personal grooming low on my list of priorities.

Nick Chapman was one of eight graduates offered jobs by Saatchis in 1998. Over 2,000 students applied for the vacancies.

*The graph was created by The THES from the Hesa publication First Destinations of Students Leaving HE Institutions 1995-96. Only those institutions indicating the known destinations of more than 500 students were considered.

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