Are the methods used in lecture rooms, and the efforts employed by marketing students during their studies, setting them up for success in the workplace? This is the issue I investigated in my 2016 undergraduate research project, and I found the results fascinating.



The South African economy was experiencing slow growth, which had a direct impact on the retail industry. For marketing graduates, finding a job in the South African retail industry was a highly competitive endeavor, and marketing students should therefore have ensured that they prepared themselves in the best way possible to enter the industry whilst still at university.

The purpose of this research study was to determine the desired characteristics – specifically work experience, education and abilities, and personality traits – of marketing graduates entering the retail industry in South Africa, so as to equip marketing students with the necessary knowledge to better prepare themselves for their entrance into, and finding employment in, industry upon graduation, and better position themselves for success in their careers.

With the current amount of research into the matter of desired graduate characteristics within the South African retail industry being relatively low, the amount of such valuable information available to marketing students is limited, further fueling the motivation behind my 2016 research study.

The Study

I used a cross-sectional, quantitative approach for the study, which was exploratory in nature, and fell under the critical realist paradigm. Data was obtained by means of a number of self-administered surveys sent to marketing and branding professionals at a variety of retail corporations in Cape Town, South Africa, over a period of weeks in mid-2016.

Once the data was received and summarized, I conducted a statistical analysis, attempting to identify patterns and trends in respondent answers.


In terms of education, 70% of the respondents thought that graduates were only prepared for the workplace to a certain degree, with some stating that certain university courses were not adequately preparing graduates for entering the South African retail marketing environment.

100% of the respondents stated that, in order to be successful in retail marketing, marketing students should graduate with at least a diploma, and that it is not necessary to obtain a certification higher than a master’s degree.

90% of the respondents indicated that marketing graduates should ensure that they have knowledge of fields which are not related to their core discipline.

In terms of work experience, 100% of the study’s participants stated that they thought marketing graduates should gain marketing-related work experience whilst studying, with a large number of them stating that the gaining of work experience whilst studying provides graduates with a head start in terms of knowing how to apply the theory they have learned at university in a work environment.

100% of the respondents thought that marketing graduates should gain between 3 and 24 months of work experience whilst they are studying, in order to better prepare them for the retail marketing environment.

40% of the participants stated that the experience that graduates gain should be retail-related, while a further 20% of stated that the type of experience gained by graduates is irrelevant.

In relation to personality traits, the top personality trait was the ability to work well under pressure, with 90% of the respondents rating the trait as highly important.

In order of importance, said trait was followed by the ability to work well as part of a team; the ability to relate to the customer; the ability to accept and move past failure; and being open to new ideas.

The least important personality trait was design thinking, with 80% of the participants rating the trait as moderately important. Following on in order of least importance are good leader; confidence; independence; and patience.

80% of the study’s respondents thought that the right personality for a retail marketing professional can be developed by graduates in the workplace, over time. This, according to some respondents, was true provided certain basic criteria are met, such as graduates maintaining a positive outlook, and graduates’ values and work ethics aligning with the company’s and team’s culture.

What This Means

Of great interest to me were the high percentages of respondents who said universities could do more to prepare graduates, that graduates needed to broaden their skills beyond just what they studied, that work experience should be gained during the years of study if at all possible, and that working well under pressure was extremely important. I believe those are very helpful tips for future graduates looking to better prepare themselves for entering the workplace. The study may also help those wanting to adjust the education curriculum to better suit industry, as well as those wanting to offer internship or apprenticeship programs to students.

Further research into other courses and industries, other geographic locations, as well as research that contrasts different universities' approaches to preparing students, may be of interest.

If you'd like to read my full research project, click here.

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