Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Unrealistic career expectations of undergraduate marketing students: What is the responsibility of the lecturer?

Anthony Copp and Mark Allan Patton
School of Marketing
Curtin University of Technology
This paper investigates the relationship between marketing students' career destination expectations and the reality that exists in the marketplace and discusses what responsibility academics have to re-direct students out of low employment probability areas. As a basis for the discussion, a survey of two hundred marketing students was undertaken to determine their expected occupational path. Students were asked to rank their career destination preferences from a list of seven possible marketing occupations. This will be contrasted with a content analysis done on the Saturday classified "help wanted" sections from the major newspapers in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore. The results indicate that students' expectations are not in line with the marketplace demand.

This outcome presents a serious dilemma for marketing academics. Are lecturers responsible for presenting the realistic career situation to students? What if the truth affects the enrolment prospects of a particular unit or major?


Thomas Elisha Berends, 5 years and two months old, has just declared his new occupational goal. He has jettisoned his previous dream of being an animal feeder at the Melbourne Zoo and now is set on being an ice-cream man. Mr Whippy is his role model! While we all know a "Thomas" or more likely have been there ourselves, often young adults' career aspirations are not much more realistic.

As the sales team for a School of Marketing at a large government university, the role of promoting the business school is a quarterly experience. In over ten years of talking with prospective university students in year 12 and first year business students, it is clear that their career goals are not far from Thomas' dream. Clearly over 90% of the inquiries are for the glamour fields of study. In the marketing discipline, students always ask for information on an advertising or public relations career, however, in the past decade, after speaking with thousands of prospective and new students, only three have asked about the prospects of a sales career. In business, some of the new "hot" areas young people are keen to explore are majors such as sports management, electronic commerce and even electronic multi-media presentations!

Really, what are the career prospects in these majors? How many people do you know that make a living as a ...? Few if any will have any prospect of using their newly acquired skills outside their lifelong hobbies. A study done by a marketing student association president attempting to find unpaid work experience for advertising students in early 1998 found that the best students could hope for was to be put on a waiting list with over four hundred others! They could not even get a "look-in" if they worked for nothing! Surly there is little hope for the aspiring graduate.

The real question, or dilemma, these majors present educators is, do we have an ethical responsibility to (young naive) students to explain the truth about career prospects in the various fields of study?


Why do majors in the business curriculum even exist if there are few significant realistic employment prospects in the field for graduates? The answers for this question are varied, broad and dangerous to discuss. Doubtless, one of the major motivators for developing such majors is the drive to increase student number due to funding restrictions. With departments starved of financial resources, any programs that may attract students and the dollars that follow is explored. From the pull side of the equation, faculty members are eager to pursue any option which will ensure job security, and who would blame them?

The dilemma continues when the question must be asked, are some academics just taking advantage of naive young people? As a society we police deceptive advertising and children's products to protect the innocent; why doesn't this happen with questionable academic pursuits?

To be fair, one must ask, does the business academic community actually understand what the professional business community wants? Some have serious doubts. Research into this questions indicates that business faculty are not keeping in touch when setting learning priorities for their students (Messina, Guiffrida and Woods, 1991).

Where are the jobs in marketing?

In a study by Patton (1997), a content analysis of the help wanted Saturday classified section was undertaken over five weekends. To get a good cross section from the region, the study counted the actual number of job advertisements from the Sydney Herald, the Melbourne Age, The West Australian and Singapore's Straits Times. The results of the study indicated that approximately 70% of all of the advertised employment were in one of three major categories: sales, engineering or skill trades. The number of jobs listed for sales professionals (the major employment category for business seekers) by city is listed below:

Location of PaperNumber of JobsSales Jobs as a % of Total


Obviously, the largest employment category for business jobs involve sales pursuits. Details of many of the "glamour" areas mentioned earlier had classified listings of less than 1%, truly not a promising prospect.

What are the career aspirations of marketing students?

To test the career preferences of marketing students a survey was given to 227 undergraduate students in marketing units. The survey simply asks them to rank seven different marketing career destinations in the order of their preference. This method was selected to see how many students would select perceived glamour jobs (as well as jobs that do not even exist!) over careers with high employment probabilities.

The results indicated that the first preference of the two hundred and twenty-seven students' for desired work in the following marketing percentages:

Direct Marketing
Marketing Research
Product Management

An ANOVA run on the data indicated that there were significant differences between different variables. Most of the differences occurred between Sales and Advertising careers. Older students and students from Singapore showed a higher preference for a sales career while younger students and Australian and other Asian students showed over a 50% interest in seeking a career in advertising.

While the findings are not surprising, they simply add to the question: Should faculty members tell students that jobs are difficult to obtain in a particular area of study?


While there is no definitive answer to the dilemma regarding the responsibility of faculty members in career guidance, several responses did arise when the question was raised. The point was raised by several academics and business professionals that it was a major assumption that academics were aware of what was really happening in the field. Many noted that the traditional academic push for research actually isolated them from their professional practice and moves them further form reality. Practitioners recommend academics consider spending time in the field to overcome the halo effect of the ivory tower.

It was also noted that many younger students will not heed any occupational advice from academics and efforts to do so would be fruitless. The draw of glamour is so strong that younger students would be unable to see themselves as the one unable to find a position. As in life, they feel invincible!

All being said, the question still remains: Do faculty members have an ethical responsibility to tell their students the truth about the job market?


Borin, N. and Watkins, H. (1998). Employers evaluate critical skills of today's marketing undergrads. Marketing Educator, Summer 1998, 20(3), 1-6.

Messina, M. J., Guiffrida, A. L. and Wood, G. R. (1991). Faculty/practitioner differences: Skills needed for industrial marketing entry positions. Industrial Marketing Management, February 1991, 20(1), 17-21.

Patton, M. (1997). Professional marketing jobs: Where are they in Australia in 1997? ANAZM Conference Proceedings, 789-790.

Please cite as: Copp, A. and Patton, M. A. (1999). Unrealistic career expectations of undergraduate marketing students: What is the responsibility of the lecturer? In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 84-86. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/copp.html

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