Don’t bet on that marketing degree, Gen Z

That marketing job is getting harder and harder to come by for Gen Z graduates as generative artificial intelligence can now do many parts of the job. — Photo by Windows on Unsplash

Companies want to hire recent graduates who pursued business, accounting and finance. Marketing majors need not apply.

Gen Zers, many of whom have grown up marketing themselves and building followings on social media, have gravitated toward the degree in the tens of thousands, according to Handshake, especially the creative side of the field that includes brand building and advertising. The career networking platform, which focuses on undergraduate students, estimates that applications for marketing jobs have nearly tripled since 2021.

That glut, coupled with new competition from artificial intelligence, is making it increasingly difficult for them to find employment: Nearly six out of 10 marketing students are working high school-level jobs five years after graduation, according to a new study from the Burning Glass Institute and Strada Education Foundation.

“It’s brutal, man,” said Olivia Simone, 22, who graduated from Michigan State University in 2023 with a degree in marketing. She now works as a receptionist in New York City. She said she began applying for jobs in the fall of her senior year and then moved on to cold calling companies, but only found jobs that required at least two years of experience. She’s been “ghosted” by what feels like “millions of employers”.

The fact that even low-level marketing jobs now require previous experience makes establishing a career an especially tricky prospect for recent graduates, according to Katie Birkelo, senior vice president of finance and accounting at staffing group Randstad.

“I would bet half of them don’t graduate with a job because it’s the same degree everybody else has,” Birkelo said, noting that in the past those studying marketing had much better prospects. “The times have changed.”

General marketing majors, who focus on brand management and advertising, now also need additional technical skills, according to Ryan Felkamp, vice president of recruiting at staffing agency Kelly Services Inc. The profession is becoming more numbers-driven and data-oriented as promotion moves online, while past marketing tasks, such as the creation of physical fliers and graphic design, are no longer a priority.

Many parts of the role can now be done by generative artificial intelligence, which can create designs and advertising content, meaning that a full-time employee is often no longer necessary for the creative work that marketing students say attracted them to the field. Felkamp estimated that only 3% to 5% of company inquiries he receives are in search of a marketing specialist. For comparison, about 75% are related to accounting and finance.

Natalie Zhong, 21, recently graduated from Baruch College with a marketing degree and lives in Brooklyn. She has been working at Starbucks, picking up marketing internships when she can. While she’s currently in an apprenticeship, she has seen little future or mentorship during her limited stints.

“I don’t know what I should be doing next,” she said. “I want a more structured path.”

Other undergraduate business majors are faring much better. For example, only 10% of those who studied business management were unable to find a good job after graduation, according to the Burning Glass and Strada Education study. Accountants easily got offers. Degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics also remain desirable.

When entering college, students often aren’t aware that some business degrees are more desirable than others. Katie Karl, 23, a recent graduate from the Kelley School of Business in Bloomington, Indiana, who now works in real estate in Chicago, said she pictured herself getting a job at a marketing agency and having stability. “That’s obviously not what I’m doing now,” she said.

Marketing graduates’ struggles stand out even more amid a relatively tight US labour market which has plenty of job listings. Andrew Hanson, senior director of research at Strada, said there’s a lack of coordination between universities and employers.

“It’s a general lack of alignment across the entire system,” said Hanson. “The faculty don’t necessarily have a strong sense of what employers are looking for with respect to specific skills they’re teaching.”

Frustrated with the futile job search, Simone plans to go back to school and get a master’s degree in political communications. Zhong said graduate school might be her next step if she can’t find work after her apprenticeship ends.

“I don’t think my marketing degree can get me where I want to go,” Simone said. “I can’t do this for the rest of my life.” – Bloomberg

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