Last week, I met with a couple Loyola students to answer their questions about a career in digital marketing. It was interesting to talk about my own experience, the path to how I got to where I am, and what I’ve learned in 12 years of working in marketing. Some of my own advice stood out to me and isn’t just for new grads.
Every job is temporary. Sometimes you might find yourself working in a job that’s not the best for you. Maybe the job itself isn’t a good fit, maybe it’s the company, maybe it’s your boss. But remember that nothing is permanent, you can always leave for a better opportunity. Or create that opportunity yourself by launching some startup, so doing the work of your dream. Here, of course, you face many things to manage, like creating the idea/products itself, financing the project (learn more), etc.
However, you can learn something from every job. Maybe you learn what you don’t want to be doing. That’s valuable. When I started my career, I thought I wanted to work in public relations. After a few years in that field, I realized it wasn’t for me. However, it taught me a lot about communication, including how to communicate any message or idea to any audience, which is a handy skill that not everyone posses.
Be authentic. Unless you are a freelancer/independent contractor, I personally don’t think you need a “personal brand.” However, be authentic and honest in everything you do. From your resume to your interviews to how you do your job and interact with others. I’ve interviewed what I thought were amazing candidates only for them to show up to work and fall flat. As long as you’re true to yourself and honest, you will shine through.
It might take awhile to figure out what you want to do. I think with each job I’ve held, I’ve gotten closer and closer to figuring out what I really want to do. 12 years in, I feel like I’m in a really good fit, drawing on my personal talents, my skills and experience, to do work that I genuinely enjoy. You’re not going to get it on your first shot. And maybe not your second or third. But eventually you’ll get there.
Great bosses are awesome. I’ve been lucky to generally have pretty great bosses. But I’ve had bad bosses. (OK, one bad boss.) It’s awful. Once you realize that’s the situation you’re in … get out.
Speak up. Because awesome bosses? They will listen when you say “I really like this work that I do, but honestly I could do without that work, and I’d like to get more experience in this other area.” It took me years to develop the confidence to admit to a boss that there were parts of my job that I really didn’t like. But once I told her, she listened, and it didn’t happen overnight, but eventually my job shifted and it’s so much better.
Admit you’re not good at everything. I hate being a project manager. I hate writing creative copy. I hate coming up with creative content. But that’s fine because there are plenty of people on my team who are good at those things and enjoy them. So they can focus on that stuff and I can focus on what I am good at.
Volunteer. If you’re a new grad or early in your career and don’t have a ton of experience, you can get more of it through volunteering. I’ve been able to develop a lot of great skills and grow my professional network through volunteering, specifically being the Publicity Chair and then Event Chair of an American Cancer Society Relay For Life event and being a Business Volunteer for the Arts through the Arts & Business Council.
Blog. If you’re interested in a career in social media or digital publishing, start a blog, and related social channels. Not only will you gain experience but you can develop your own portfolio.
So what is all this advice based on? Well, my career path in a nutshell …
It started in the late 90s, when I was in high school. A history teacher tasked us with turning our term papers into web pages using HTML. I loved the turn-into-web-pages part way more than the write-a-term-paper part. So, for fun, I would create web sites in Angelfire and Geocities. I even started a journal on one of those sites … yes, my very first blog was started sometime around 1998-1999. I started college at Loyola as a computer science major, but a few weeks into my first programming class, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to. I switched my major to Communication with my sights set on working in public relations. My first job out of college was promoting accounting conferences (basically coordinating conference brochures and emails and putting together conference packets). After two years I left and got a job as a PR & marketing generalist for a Catholic non-profit healthcare system. For five years I did everything from traditional PR (news releases, crisis communication, writing for our annual report) to internal communication (event planning, managing our employee magazine) to digital marketing (starting and managing our first social media channels, managing content for both internal and external websites). Then my company merged with a similar company and I was in charge of social media, email, search, and digital analytics. I thought that was the perfect job for me, but for a variety of reasons it wasn’t the best fit, so I left for my current company, publishing content to mall websites. I still do that but I’m also doing some work in digital UX and analytics, both of which I’m loving.
What advice do you have for new grads? What have you learned during your career?