The degree you graduate with isn’t going to dictate what field you’ll be working in. For many, that happens by choice.
You realize that what you studied isn’t what you want to spend your life doing. That’s normal.
That’s what happened with me.
And that’s what happened to some of the most successful people.
Walt Disney was a newspaper editor who got fired because he had no good ideas before he was, well, Walt Disney.
Julia Child was a CIA intelligence officer until she was 36 before she took to cooking French cuisine on TV.
Harrison Ford gave up acting for financial stability as a carpenter … until George Lucas called him up to be in a film called “Star Wars.”
Ken Jeong, aka Mr. Chow from The Hangover was a doctor (seriously, he has an MD), before he became an actor and comedian.
I majored in chemistry and now I’m doing marketing at a tech company called HubSpot. I realized that I enjoyed doing chemistry, but that industry wasn’t for me. Not as big of a jump as the names above, but a jump nonetheless.
So I embarked on a journey into digital marketing.
Here were the steps I took:
- Apply for a job
- Get a job
Simple, right? I’ll walk you through how I took those steps.
While going through those steps, there were four principles that carried me along the way:
1. Study. Don’t stop learning.
Just because you’re off the clock doesn’t mean work has ended. Self-education is the key to improving your career trajectory.
2. Take initiative. Do more than what’s normal or standard.
If there’s an opportunity at work to do more than what’s asked of you, take the initiative to suggest it, or even do it in your free time. There’s a saying I learned at HubSpot, “If you’re just doing your job, you’re doing it wrong.”
3. Think about the future. But know when to focus on your present opportunity.
It’s good to think about your next step and what you’re going to do next. That’s a part of growth and keeping an eye on where you want to go. But don’t let that prevent you from doing your best where you’re currently at.
4. Don’t kill your momentum.
You might find yourself moving forward quickly and sometimes hitting roadblocks, but don’t let those roadblocks hold you back. Hop over them and keep moving.
Here’s how I did it:
Since I got a degree in chemistry, I had to start from scratch by studying basic marketing guides to get my feet wet and get a foundational understanding of digital marketing.
After a four months of studying, I browsed Craigslist and applied for entry-level marketing positions and internships. After a month, I landed an SEO internship at a small company. The hours were short and pay was low, but it was an opportunity to learn.
That was the humbling part.
If we have an opportunity to learn, we should take it. We can’t expect to land a high-paying job just because we studied relentlessly.
We’ll eventually get there, but we have to start somewhere, even if that means starting at the bottom of the totem pole.
When starting off, it’s important to keep track of our results and accomplishments. This way, we won’t need to think very hard about what to add to our portfolio and resumes.
I emailed writers and editors to get backlinks and kept track of my success rate. I kept a running tally of how many calls I made to promote our conference. I kept a list of all the projects I contributed to.
My direct manager was generous with feedback and I absorbed it like a sponge.
Each day after work, I went to a nearby coffee shop and studied for three hours. I continued to studied so I could grow and improve my skill set to move into a better position. I wasn’t settling for this job.
After the internship ended, I took some time off from working and went back to studying six to eight hours a day. Now that I had real marketing experience, the material I studied dove deeper into a specific channel of marketing: SEO.
I also had a side project that I used to experiment with new marketing tactics. The project let me apply my learnings about copywriting and SEO and I also managed a team of writers.
My next job role was social media marketing for a French restaurant company in West Hollywood.
The studying paid off when I was able to flex some new marketing muscles. I was hired to run social media, but I took the initiative to design flyers, manage email campaigns, optimize our websites for local SEO, and run ads on Facebook, Bing, and Google Adwords.
Because I was studying on my own time, I learned how to implement those campaigns. I was by no means amazing at any of those things, but as I finished projects and had time to spare, I found where things could be improved and I jumped on the opportunity to increase our bottom line.
The most difficult part early in our career is trying to not make mistakes because we don’t want to be that new hire that sucks. Many employers won’t be very trustworthy of a new hire taking on projects without a proven track record.
I worked around the lack of trust by taking on projects without permission because I was 100% positive it would generate good results and there were no negative consequences if the project didn’t work out. It helped that Facebook, Bing, and Google give away coupon codes for free credit to use on ads so I didn’t need to ask for a budget.
I spent an hour each night on LinkedIn and Twitter, looking for people in the area who I thought I could learn from. I found the CEO of a marketing agency with the skill set I wanted to develop and sent a carefully written networking email to him to ask if he’d be open to coffee. He was.
I researched the company and the CEO so I would have thoughtful questions for our coffee meeting.
After the coffee meeting, I shot out a follow up email to show my appreciation.
To go the extra mile, I performed an SEO audit of the company website and sent it over. A few weeks later, after some back and forth, I got a job offer.
That was my first break into a company where I felt my growth would be further accelerated. So I stopped thinking about my next step, and focused on how I can help the company grow and succeed.
When we’re early in our career, we might get anxious and want to keep moving on to the next job, the next project, the next big thing. But we have to be aware of a great opportunity and take advantage of it.
At this job, I wrote in-depth blog posts and set up the foundation of a social sharing process to increase our social traffic. I ran reports for our clients and got a better understanding of the Facebook Ads platform. I helped book interviews with influencers and contributed to the increase of podcast downloads.
Thus, my foundation in content marketing was set and I continued to grow in that vertical.
While that job didn’t work out, my confidence as a marketer was up from just a year and a half before when I got my first internship. So I kept the momentum going.
This is when I decided to reach high and out of my league.
We may often get discouraged when we see job listings that state requirements like, “2-4 years of experience.” Often times, the length of experience isn’t important. If we show a history of improvement and the ability to learn, then we’ll likely be considered.
At this point, I knew where to look for the jobs I wanted: LinkedIn, Portfolium, Inbound.org, AngelList, Growth Hackers, and Glassdoor. I applied for positions with more responsibility, roles like content marketing manager, and product marketing. I applied for positions across the country.
That’s when I applied for HubSpot. I first found the right person to get in touch with and reached out to her on Twitter before sending an email. I got an interview.
Again, I did my research into the company before the interview so I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about, what questions I wanted to ask, and what questions they might ask me.
After three interviews, I was offered a job in a week.
And here I am now, on the growth team for Sidekick by HubSpot. I don’t need to study outside of work because I work on things I’ve never done before. And I’m not focused on my next step because this is a great opportunity to learn and I’m not going to pass up on that opportunity by thinking about other things.
When you’re in the early stages of your career, the most important thing is to not settle. Imagine the type of job you want, or the type of company you want to be at, and continue to work toward it. Do more than what’s expected of you. Don’t stop learning. Keep grinding.
The best feeling is when you surprise yourself by exceeding your own expectations.
What’s the next step in your career?