In My Opinion: Courtnay McLeod: The importance of ‘snogable garlic’

IT’S that time of year; the end-of-term feeling is in the air again.

Soon-to-be school leavers and graduates are packing away their books and pencil cases for a final summer of freedom. It’s a time of anxious anticipation – what will happen next? Which door will open? What will the first step on the career ladder feel like? When will the journey into the real world begin?

The truth is, those still waiting on the adventure to start in the media have already ‘missed the boat’. If you want to work in the creative industries, you need to engage with them years before you start looking for your first proper job. A qualification on its own won’t ‘open any doors’. A qualification on its own is just a piece of paper.

Studying is more than an opportunity to gain letters after your name. It’s a time to network, build a profile, gain work experience, gather contacts. In other words, evidence showing just how great you are.

At the Scottish Media Academy I often tell students about the importance of ‘snogable garlic’.

The story goes… the training scheme being run by a well-known UK broadcaster had one place left and recruiters were struggling to decide which candidate to give it to.

One applicant was invited back for a second interview and, as he left the boardroom, he turned to the head of news on the panel and said: “On my way here, I walked through a market and noticed a sign on a fruit ‘n’ veg stall that said ‘snogable garlic’. I’d never heard of it before but, since it’s Valentine’s Day next week, it might make a funny story for the end of the programme.”

It got him the job. It showed his prospective employers something that a certificate never could – his story-finding and story-telling skills were instinctive, and he understood their programmes and audiences. This is the ‘star dust’ employers are looking for and shows that creativity and confidence are just as important as exam results.

Certificates, dissertations and graduation photos are valuable – nothing should take the shine away from gaining a qualification. But, increasingly, students need to realise that studying is the ideal time to engage with the industry. It is easier for doors to open when you are invited in.

Courtnay McLeod is director of the Scottish Media Academy and regularly teaches broadcast journalism at various universities and colleges, with special interests in media convergence issues and broadcast writing styles.