Emily Glen

Digital Marketing Manager

As a student, on off days, you’ve probably thought about the fact that Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are all college dropouts.

Why should I bother finishing all this shitty coursework? All these super successful Silicon Valley billionaires never even finished University. And you’d be right. Dropping out is not the end of your education or the death of your employment prospects. University isn’t for everyone. Many people express regrets about their higher education experience but there’s no question that, for now, it often creates better early career prospects.

Windows 95
Not everyone can be as smart and cool as this guy

Emily Glen, now a Digital Marketing Manager, left school in 5th year to study Corporate Communication at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen back in 2000. She explains why she decided to drop out:

“I dropped out mainly because I moved to Glasgow, transferred to GCU, and hated it. I hated the course and didn’t get on with anyone – which was mostly my fault. At 17 I was far too young to have gone to uni, and too immature to apply myself, so I gave up on the course completely and took an entry level job in insurance. Eventually left that and went on to a job in the NHS in volunteer engagement which was the first role I used anything I’d learned in Uni for.”

Digital marketing is an area where people are more likely to come from different education backgrounds. While developers may have app development or computer science degrees and designers may have vis comms, graphic design or multimedia qualifications, marketing professionals often have backgrounds in law, English, journalism or even film and television. This is partially due to an increased demand for digital marketers over the last few years but mostly because of the nature of the work they produce being mostly strategic, content driven and prone to change.

“The first digital job I went for initially was entry level digital copywriting. I totally chanced it by going for it but I had lots of experience marketing to volunteers, I’d completed lots of comms training with the NHS and I had samples of writing. The main thing that got me the interview though was that I knew someone who vouched for me. That got me in the door – which made all the difference. Social media management work got bolted on to the job pretty quickly and eventually I ended up training and working in broader digital marketing disciplines as my career progressed.”

This is arguably nepotism, but it’s a fairly regular occurrence. Having a friend, or even acquaintance, inside an existing business who can vouch for your competency is a huge benefit.

Work friend
The opposite of your problem

While it may be less important today, at the time, Emily’s lack of degree often proved to be an obstacle to job applications despite her considerable amount of work experience:

“I’ve definitely been turned down flat for jobs for not having a degree – which is partly why I’m working towards finishing it through distance learning. From my experience, reaching out to people in the sector and making yourself known has been hugely important. If you have a contact and no degree you can still get in the door, if you have a degree and no contact it’s less likely. The only relevant certifications and training on my CV for employers have been the ones that took place much later in my career. In digital marketing, you’re always going to have to demonstrate that you’re constantly learning, re-certifying and keeping up to date with platforms and techniques. It all changes so quickly, employers need to know you’re keeping up.”

There’s no doubt Emily’s path to her first digital role took longer than it may have done had she graduated University but, after not really having any aspirations towards a career in digital, she now finds herself in a good public sector role focused on digital marketing and marketing automation, largely thanks to her accumulated knowledge and experience.

It may be that you’ve gained as much as you think you will from your higher education experience and it’s time to rethink where you’d rather be. Maybe working your way up could suit you better. And even if you graduate with a degree related to digital, it’s very possible you’ll end up in another industry entirely. It’s up to you to discover what you really enjoy doing.

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