Now or Never: A Conversation with Jess Burbridge (COM ’19)

Alumni Jess Burbridge is an assistant account executive at Hill Holiday and a former editor at The COMmunicator. In the fall, she graduated from COM with a master’s degree in advertising after six years of focusing on a considerably different skill set. While gaining plenty of real-world experience, she never forgot what she really wanted to do; going back to school was “a now or never moment.” I sat down with Jess to discuss her memories and reflections from the last several years.



Ruixin Zhu: Since you’ve just graduated this past fall, what have you missed the most about COM?

Jess Burbridge: Truthfully, when I chose to go back to school to do my master’s, I was making that decision for me. I never expected it to be what it turned into. I met a huge core group of friends. I expected it to be like, “alright, I’m here. I’m gonna get my Master’s. I’m gonna get a job. I’m gonna do this for my future.” Now, I talk to people that I graduated with daily. We all work together. We help each other find jobs.

It became more like a group activity that I never expected. They are people that I would talk to for the rest of my life. It’s amazing! It’s interesting, because obviously you meet friends in college, but, at least for me, I came back after six years out of my undergraduate. It kind of feels like that you have your life and you have everything, but I am still meeting new people! We’re all pushing each other to be better. You would go to class and be really impressed by the presentation. And you say to yourself: “I have to do better next time.” That drives you to be better. It’s competitive in a good way. It is a healthy competition that forces us to be better people and better students.


RZ: What was the biggest motivation for you to return to school?

JB: The job was the biggest motivation. I graduated with a Marketing degree. I always assumed I would go on to marketing. When I graduated, I moved back to the Boston area. I started coaching for my high school rowing program. It was supposed to be temporary, but FIVE years later, I kind of had this realization that I have truly loved every minute of coaching, and that was why I continued to do it for so long. It was kind of like my now or never moment.

I was out of school for so many years, so, I thought, if I don’t try to get into advertising now, it’s never gonna happen. I quit coaching and I spent six to eight months trying to get a job, but it was never working. It was mostly because this world is constantly developing. I actually had an interview and when I looked the person up on LinkedIn before I went, I saw that she had done the master’s program at BU. So, in the middle of this interview, we shifted. I was asking her questions about this grad school program. I did not get the job, but I did learn something.

It was kind of crazy, but I realized it was the next step that I needed to show people it was what I wanted to do. That was the reason why I went back to school, trying to better myself, and to show people this wasn’t just another job. This is really what I wanted to do with my life.


RZ: Among all of the diverse experiences you just mentioned, from which did you learn the most?

JB: I think coaching has helped me the most in developing skills for my current role. It allowed me to be the liaison between the athletes, parents, school and board members. Today, I use the same skills in relaying information between the client, account team, and the creative department. It is important that the right information is getting to the appropriate people and that everyone understands the bigger picture.


RZ: For those undergrads who are still deciding if they should pursue their master’s or PhD’s right after school, what advice do you have?

JB: That depends on the person. I wouldn’t change what I did in a second. I think, for me, when I graduated, I never expected to move home and start coaching. What I really did was coach for programs that allowed me to be more involved in their marketing and day-to-day business, beyond just coaching. I was responsible for annual running fundraisers, creating promoting materials. And part of that was because I had a marketing degree, and it is what I love to do.

For me it was definitely beneficial, because I got that experience, and it helped me know it’s really what I wanted to with my life. I’m choosing to go back to invest further for my future. I also think, if you’re undergrad student, and you know exactly what you want to do, and you want to continue your education, by all means! Go right into it! But in terms of going right into work, too, if you can find a job, what you can do is to do both simultaneously. If you start looking at graduate programs and see what interests you. If there’s one, it never hurts to apply. And then start to look for jobs, kind of put yourself out there. But I think if you know what you want to do, if it’s work-related, just apply! I’m kind of a believer of “things happen for a reason.” When the time is right, it all falls into the place.


RZ: Among all of the courses you’ve taken at COM, which one do you think was the most beneficial, in terms of helping you in your career?

JB: Truthfully, in terms of finding a job, I think AdLab is very beneficial, because you get direct client experience. Especially for freshmen or undergrads, how to pick up the phone, call a client, and have a conversation, are all skills worth learning. That’s what AdLab gives people. It is the confidence to put them out there to talk. It also allows whoever hires you to have that confidence to let you send emails to the clients. But there are also some classes that I really enjoyed.

I took a social strategy class, and I thought that was really interesting to deep dive into a company. You really dig in and figure out what they stand for, the importance of their structure, and how you create a social strategy around it. You start with that theory and you dig in, and learn about who their customers are, and why they are, and what they are trying to do as a company, but you have to make it practical.


RZ: Let’s talk about your work! Can you tell me a little more about your role as an assistant account executive?

JB: Healthcare and banking are both big at Hill Holiday. For me it’s just scheduling and coordinating. When we get something back from creative, I’m responsible for sending through proofreading to make sure everything looks good, and then I send it to clients. Because healthcare also has a legal review process, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the lawyers, and the doctors will tell you what you can and cannot say. We are working on a drug launch right now. Our job is to create the website and kit that they’ll give out to the reps and patients. For example, the creative designs the website and we show it to the clients. We have to do those legal submission process, and then we get their feedback. It’s then sent back to the creative with client feedback. It’s usually sent back and forth until everyone is happy.


RZ: For those COM Terriers who also want to pursue a similar career path as you, what suggestions do you have for them?

JB: I think getting some hands-on projects is great. The creatives have portfolio, but the idea is great for everyone, which is grouping your projects and what you’ve worked on. I actually went on an interview for an internship last spring. I brought my AdLab folder. I had my binder and everything organized so I was able to show exactly what I did. They loved it! Whether it’s a research project, a social strategy, or a deck from your final presentation… Anything you can do for real-world experience just shows you really want it. But it doesn’t have to be an internship. It can be a blog where you talk about what’s going on in the industry, or reading some articles, writing little paragraphs and putting them on LinkedIn. Showing that you’re passionate about the industry and why it matters to you is going to make you stand out over other people. Whatever you can do to show how much it means to you is beneficial.




Ruixin Zhu, Staff Writer

Ruixin Zhu is earning his master’s degree in emerging media studies at COM. He hails from Chengdu, China. Because of his anthropology background, he enjoys sharing cross-cultural experiences and thoughts through writing. Ruixin spends his free time singing and practicing nine different accents in Chinese, just for fun.


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