ALEx stories

COVID-19: How Recent Marketing Grads are Coping

Aliyah Mallak May. 21, 2020

The end of spring has always been a time full of promise and joy for colleges and universities. Seniors are graduating, joining the workforce, applying, and interviewing for that first “real” job that will mark the beginning of achieving their professional aspirations. But what is usually an exciting time, has become full of uncertainty; not the uncertainty of not knowing what one wants to do with their life, but the kind that poses the questions, “When will I be able to start this new chapter of my life? How will I pay for my student loans? Will the career I dreamed of even exist post-pandemic?”

The pandemic has left 1.3 million graduates wondering what their future holds, and for how long their future needs to be put “on hold.” This includes those recent grads who make up the next generation of marketers. They will become media planners, copywriters, creative directors, account executives, social media managers, data analysts, and more. Our industry and community will rely on them to keep taking our tech to the next level, to key us into audiences of the future, and to connect consumers with brands in more meaningful ways. We need to keep developing diversity of thought and to embrace new perspectives on critical functions, such as how to understand data and turn it into insights.

But right now, we have a talent pipeline stuck in post-grad confusion. They have been put on pause and what they choose to do with this time in limbo could make the difference in landing a coveted job when the market starts to open back up again. One thing’s for sure, the competition will be fierce and expectations for new hires will be high.

So, what are they doing to gain a competitive edge? How are they coping? Who are they turning to for help?

We sat down with Laura Roha, Education Services Manager at the American Advertising Federation (AAF), and discussed what she is observing and experiencing with the students she works with. (Laura is responsible for providing guidance and resources aimed at helping over 3,500 students propel their careers, including the highly regarded annual National Student Advertising Competition.)

When the pandemic first hit the US with a vengeance in March, Laura’s students felt the immediate wave of uncertainty that blanketed our country and our workforce. Couple that with general anxiety of finding a job, or even a summer internship, and it can be downright depressing, especially for seniors. The second half of their last semester of school was suddenly over. Many were missing their final season of sports, their big senior presentation, saying goodbye to friends and professors, even graduation. The reality that they were propelled into was not something they could have prepared for, and not something anyone could have warned them about.

As these recent grads have been forced to reset their expectations, they have pivoted what they are devoting their time to, and in turn, are resetting their short term goals. With the help of people like Laura, students are hopeful again and are clear at least on the fact that their current efforts will make them stronger when new opportunities arise.

Laura explained that the students she works with are becoming more optimistic. They’re asking her for career training resources and looking to the future. They’re accepting the problems the pandemic has inflicted and focusing on skill-building instead of securing a job. The industry as a whole has switched gears to developing resume-building skills, such as Google Ad Words, Adobe Creative Cloud, and more - and there are a plethora of curated tools and partnerships with the AAF that Laura is sharing with the students to keep them going down the right path. Now when jobs do become available, the students will have more of the necessary skills employers are looking for.

One big question among students has been whether or not to become a master of one or a “handyman” of many skills. Some of the sponsors that work with the AAF have advised students to learn a swath of new skills and improve on the ones they already have.

The truth is, not even the most senior marketing executives know what their talent organizations will look like or where the gaps will be when we reach a state of “new normal.” The goal is to get the recent grads started speaking “the language” that can take years of on-the-job experience to learn, even if real industry immersion experiences for newcomers have temporarily been put on hold.

A question we had for Laura was what she thought the future is going to look like. As of now, 65% of schools are planning on having in-person classes in the fall, which gives Laura and her students hope that things will return to some sort of normalcy. Will that actually happen? No one is really sure. What she does know is that most companies are putting in contingency plans, creating online access to everything, and keeping up with current news. And, while many agencies and companies have temporarily removed internships and entry-level positions, not all hope is lost. Some companies are still hiring for specific skill sets, such as in the healthcare industry.

The AAF is going above and beyond to keep students learning and growing, getting creative in their work with partners, brand agencies, media companies, and more to provide a wide range of online learning opportunities. This includes webinars led by industry leaders sharing their experiences and giving advice. And we’re proud to be a part of this effort by providing additional support with free ALEx subscriptions for this year’s AAF student members.

The AAF is truly one part resource and one part inspiration to students who are struggling through this tough time. They continue to practice what they preach and are part of the glue that holds our community together. AAF and Laura - We applaud you!


The AAF is the only organization that includes members from all disciplines and career levels in advertising. Established in 1905, the AAF has more than 200 clubs across the United States that represents some 40,000 professionals. They help more than 5,000 chapter members start their advertising careers.