How to get a career in communications and marketing without the qualifications - how I did it.

If you read my last post, you will know I was never certain about what I wanted to do in life. When I was studying at university, I was always told to "pick modules that would help" me in my career. And sure I did. But not in the way that others would have expected. For example, I took a module on teaching English as a foreign language, but it wasn’t because I wanted to become a teacher… I hated Linguistics because it reminded me of maths. So I either studied history and literature modules or another language. Which is where I began to build my career.
I picked studying languages at university because I was told to pick something I enjoy and that I was good at. Well, I was the kid that was good at languages. So I picked that. And I continued to pick languages.
In my second year of uni I spent a whole year developing not one, not two, but three languages. Yes, I was an insane person. Have you ever spoken four languages in one day!? The funny thing though is that if I hadn’t picked up that third language, I wouldn’t have met the lecturer who encouraged me to explore tech and the use of social media.
Christmas 2012, my wonderful Gramps bought me an iPad mini so that I could keep in contact with my family when I was on my year abroad six months later. It was such an alien concept for me going from being the girl who owned Nokia ‘bricks’ and used Pay As You Go contracts to a girl with an Apple-branded anything. But I remember thinking, I have the device, I might as well make use of it. So I downloaded Twitter on 1st January 2013 - the same day our living room ceiling fell in for the second time. #FondMemories. I couldn’t quite bring myself to give into Instagram at the time because I thought it was for people who were up themselves and liked posting one too many selfies. (I’m silently cringing considering how my grid looks now).
I can’t remember how it happened, but my Italian lecturer clocked on to the fact that I had an iPad, and so from there she asked me to attempt to use different apps, and then on our class trip to Jesi (Italy) that Easter, she asked me to document the trip on Storify - which I never completed because I hated using the app…
For the next two or three years, my iPad was glued to me as I took on a paid blogging role to document my year abroad in Brazil, which is where I stumbled across YouTubers. I had been watching Jenna Marbles for a year at that point - and my sister had been watching Shane Dawson and SMOSH for years, but I had never realised that ‘being a YouTuber’ was “a thing” so in my head, I consider the first time I discovered YouTubers properly to be when I had just uploaded a video of mine in July 2013, and a guy called Jim Chapman appeared in my suggestions list. And from there I discovered Zoella who only had about 500,000 followers on YouTube at the time… Imagine.
I’d say the only YouTuber I have consistently watched and learned from over the years is Fun For Louis. He is the reason I invested in a DSLR and a GoPro, and experimented with using them. If it hadn’t been for what he had opened my mind up to, my photos wouldn’t have appeared on Facebook or Twitter, or the videos continued on YouTube. I would have gone back to “you can’t make money from being interested in social media” and probably stashed away my creative side. I do remember thinking when I first got back from Brazil that I had to start being more serious in order to be hired. But then I also ran a campaign called “Hannah Time” when I was going for my first job out of uni so guess that stopped there.
My darling Italian lecturer, even though I didn’t take on Italian in my final year, put me forward for a position researching the benefits of technology in the process of language learning. Which led me to meet one the most amazing mentors ever!
In an academic world where tech and Humanities just simply didn’t mesh, this wonderful mentor kept my motivation alive. Inviting me to tech conferences in London, allowing me to play around with 360 cameras. Everything! She showed me why being a tech head and being unafraid of tech was important. She pushed me to create videos and still to this day likes my stuff every so often. If I hadn’t have met her, I would not be where I am today.
**Side note, I’m not really a massive fan of long posts, so I’m trying to keep this as tight as possible! It’s already taken me one train journey to write…
The moral of this story - if you hadn’t picked up on the trend by now - is that I got where I am today because I followed my intuition and my passion.
My first job out of uni, I didn’t go into a languages-based job, I saw that the students’ union was lacking a solid communication strategy, so I went for a director role - and thanks to “Hannah Time” I won it. My second role was three months writing a communications strategy for the enterprise department - because someone in the department had heard about what I was doing in my previous role.
When I moved to London, it was slightly different.
I sat with someone from a PR recruitment agency, and she told me that she loved my CV and what I had to offer, but I just didn’t have the necessary “London experience”. Now, I’ve been told she was chatting rubbish, but I still found the smaller roles beneficial to not only get me by in London, but to train me in being humble and appreciating the journey to working to the top. I can put my hands up and say I was cocky at the time and probably needed a knock down or two to grow back up again. Sometimes it’s good for the soul.
I worked in wholesale, SEO and customer service positions as well as social media manager and coaching other people. When I had finally had enough of hiding my true potential, I thought about what I really wanted to do all day and be paid for. Han Meets World was nearing a year old, and I loved where it was going and the opportunities it provided. I typed “social media” into the LinkedIn job search and spent a couple of evenings applying for communications and marketing positions.
Within three short weeks I had interviewed twice for a small start-up marketing manager position and was on my way. Summer 2016, I spent in intense training and working on the pre-opening to launch marketing for the start-up. The launch came around and I barely slept that week but it was a success. I went on to spend four more months in the position getting them through the troubles of business as usual and lastly investment stage at Christmas.
With the investment of five more branches across the country, my contract came to a successful close and I began searching for new positions. There was no doubt in my mind that communications was where I wanted to be. I had provided consultation on a couple of friends’ projects and rebranded a community page among other small side projects. My portfolio was strong and my work ethic concrete. It was onwards and upwards from here.
After spending a further couple of hours applying through ‘LinkedIn Apply’ - and getting very clear on what I wanted from one - I was contacted by a member of HR in an international company. Impressed with my skillset, I met with the head of PR first thing in the morning and was offered the position by the end of the day and contract signed two days later. I started less than a week after that.
By day I now work in PR, by night I have the mental head space to pursue all the creative projects I want! It has taken the best part of a year and a half for me - it may take others a shorter time. But I got where I got because I listened to my intuition, said yes to the opportunities - even if that meant a temporary set back financially, and I got the coaching to push myself further. Getting coaching meant I was held accountable for my dreams and making them happen, but also meant I had hands to hold while I took those steps.
While I don’t want to discredit any further education courses, I don’t feel at a disadvantage for not having studied marketing or PR. If anything I would say I lean on the soft skills learned from my degree, and the technical experience of my previous jobs. Yes, I am most definitely taking on other courses while working - I would never tell you to stop learning - it is the experience that has spoken for itself in my five years that I have been working in communications and social media.
So to wrap up, if you are looking to move into a communications/marketing/PR-focussed role but do not have the qualifications, here are a couple of things I did to help myself:
  • Build up a portfolio. I signed up to Pathbrite and linked my various portfolios to the positions on my LinkedIn profile. Saying you have done something is one thing, but providing evidence - especially visual - is another. (And if anything provides some fond memories such as when I used to put hashtags on the end of words).
  • Start a website or a blog, and keep it maintained. Everyone will tell you that blogging is a saturated market blah blah but in a world where personal brands are everything, you need to find a way to not only represent yourself on a reliable platform (MySpace who?), but to also learn to build a basic website. An invaluable skill these days.
  • Take on voluntary roles and keep practicing. Use any opportunity until you know you have the portfolio to start being paid. We all *think* we know what social media marketing is but until you’ve practiced with a real life community/project/business you will not know that it is a whole other ball game from simply updating my facebook status and sending the odd tweet about your holiday.
As always, any questions: let me know!
Happy growing!
Han x