It’s the greatest feeling to please your parents. Despite failing to meet their initial expectations to become a doctor or engineer, I put a lot of effort into my arts degree. Attending classes and doing readings resulted in a good GPA, which in turn resulted in a pat on the back from my parents.
I’d be naive to think, however, that that is the end goal.
There is a stark difference between taking pride in what you study and following it blindly. Wrapping up my sophomore year of university, and going into my third internship, I’ve noticed a few things about the changing job landscape.
Employers are hiring based on merit.
University enrollment in the USA has increased by more than 17 percent since 2004, meaning your degree isn’t worth nearly what your parents think it is. Employers can’t afford to take chances on fresh university graduates with no experience, so they resort to hiring based on your ability to do the job.
What does that mean for students like us? It means that companies aren’t looking for students that learn the theory behind a marketing campaign, they’re looking for students who have experience actually running one.
So where does that leave us?
I gave this question a lot of thought when entering my freshman year. I had initially planned to enter a business program in 3rd year, drawn by the promise of a strong starting salary and a "comprehensive business education." As the year progressed, I began to give more thought to the value of my degree. Specifically, whether investing $60,000 into a business degree would make me employable.
After speaking with a range of older students, fresh graduates, and experienced professionals, I felt that I had found the solution to the challenge of hiring on merit. Build a toolkit.
Dive into curiosity.
I promise you that ‘toolkit’ isn’t just another buzzword you might hear in management class. A toolkit is essentially the variety of tangible skills you will need to succeed in a specific career path. Throughout my time in university, I focused on building my toolkit to maximize my employability.
As an aspiring marketer, I’ll break down my path to building my toolkit, while outlining the steps that are transferable to any career path:
1. Do your research
When I first became interested in marketing, I thought I’d speak with older students to figure out why they were or were not interested in it. Common objections were that marketing was "too fluffy" and made little impact to the bottom line of a business.
After doing some of my own digging, I realized that these were just misconceptions. Marketers need to be data-driven, as they have to justify their ad spend and determine whether their efforts are successful or not.
Although not always apparent, every career path has a set of skills that are necessary to possess in order to be successful. Buffer outlines the idea of a ‘t-shape’ marketer, building from base knowledge like ‘storytelling’ all the way to channel expertise like email marketing.
After I learned the components of my toolkit, I was ready to start planning my growth. I know had a clear idea of what I needed to learn to be successful in marketing.
2. Start Building
I started my 2nd year with the goal of tackling this toolkit, and decided to focus on email marketing. As with other paths like UX/UI design, I found countless resources online that helped me to understand the basics of email marketing. Whether it was a section on Medium like Startup Grind, the blog of an industry leader like Avinash Kaushik, or content by leading companies like Hubspot, I soon compiled a general understanding of email marketing.
The next step was gaining hands-on experience in that practice. While I had a great time taking on leadership positions in school clubs, they rarely gave me the opportunity to practice my skills, aside from event planning.
With a basic understanding of a skillset like email marketing, it was easy to figure out which companies could use a hand. Using a combination of basic research and cold outreach, I found a part-time, remote job working on marketing for a startup. (I’ve outlined the full process in this post).
3. Re-evaluate and Keep Learning!
After a few months of doing email marketing, I started to become quite comfortable. It was only once I re-evaluated my progress that I saw where I could continue to grow — data and analytics.
As I mentioned before, marketing can be quite data-driven. As someone that was terrified of math in high school and pursued an arts degree for that same reason, it was hard to confront the idea that statistics and data was a part of the marketing skillset.
Regardless, I sought out an experience that would challenge that part of my toolkit and help me build it. I returned to Shopify, the company of my last internship, but switched from sales to business operations. I started learning SQL and building my Excel skills in my first week, and have since become a lot more comfortable working with data.
It was difficult to choose an unconventional path, but I strongly believe that I made the right decision. School initially gave me a sense of false security, and it wasn’t until I challenged myself outside the classroom that I found both direction in my career and value to my education. I’m far from being a master of any of these skillsets, but continuously working to build my toolkit keeps me motivated throughout my career.
Trevor Sookraj is a guest writer with UnCollege, and just wrapped up his sophomore year at Western University. He is currently interning at Shopify Plus in business operations. You can read more about Trevor’s experiences with marketing and tech here, or connect with him on Twitter here.