My last semester of college, the University of North Florida required me to participate in an internship. Desperate to get something I’d be proud of, the first place I ran to was the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. Being a marketing intern at a highly prestigious city landmark that hosts fancy cocktail parties will surely be the envy of all my friends. Plus, the networking that I perform at the events could provide me with potential career opportunities once this internship has ended. I thought that this internship was the doorway to the professional field that I so desperately wanted. I’d gain enough experience to fill up my resume with something other than retail, and maybe I could even learn about the finer things, like art, along the way.
The internship was a great experience. Working for a nonprofit as a marketing intern gives you tons of experience, especially since they didn’t actually have the budget to fund a marketing department or a marketing employee. I did the brunt of the copywriting, press releases, and newly discovered, digital marketing. Back in 2007, there were local event driven websites that allowed you to post local events and happenings to a digital audience. Social media for business was also on the rise and being utilized minimally. I worked closely with a new employee with tons of agency experience, Wendy Stines. Wendy became my mentor. She taught me things about the industry while supporting me and building my confidence to make sure I believed I could be successful in the advertising/marketing field. My last day, the director of MOCA and Wendy took me out to lunch at MOCA’s high-end restaurant, Cafe Nola. They spent the lunch showering me with compliments and talking about my letters of recommendation. Wendy and I made plans to make sure we met up regularly to keep me on the right track. I really thought that this was the beginning of my prosperous and highly successful career, but I was wrong.
Shortly after my internship ended, I graduated from the University of North Florida. I quit my retail job where I gained seniority after a three-year stint and decided to take a month off–just to “enjoy myself.” This was in 2008.
Then the Recession Happened…
As anyone can remember, 2008 started an economic recession that made it hard for people to get jobs, keep jobs and pay their mortgages. The time I decided to take off couldn’t have come at a worse time, as I would lose the momentum I gained from being fresh off of the college boat and ending an internship that was what I would call successful. Starting job applications after my month off turned into four months of unemployment, interviews, rejected resumes, and no-call backs from potential employers. Financially, I didn’t have a choice, but to take any decent paying job, but my pride wouldn’t let me return to retail, so I went into banking. I took a position as a teller at a local credit union turned bank. Instead of honing my skills in the emerging trends in marketing, I became complacent with my position, and stuck with it until my eventual move to Orlando.
Welcome to Orlando
My boyfriend at the time (now husband) decided to apply for his Master’s at UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy to get his graduate degree in video game programming. Clearly underestimating his talent, I agreed that we could move to Orlando if he could get accepted. Well, he did, and boy did that come as a surprise to me (I am kind of realizing what a horrible person I was retrospectively). But, I did see it as an opportunity to start this job search over in a new market, and so, I was hopeful and optimistic.
We moved to Orlando in August of 2009. By December, I had still not found a job in the industry. I had to forfeit my narrow job search of just looking within the marketing industry and broaden it to other fields. I took a very temporary job at Sea World during the whole “Shamu eats a trainer in front of a bunch of dining guests” debacle. Shortly after I left Sea World, I took another teller job at another local credit union. I was feeling discouraged and downtrodden from the endless job searches and my inability to find something I was passionate about. Wasn’t it just a little while ago that I was on top of the world?
When my boyfriend was offered a job in California, it was viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the both of us. He would be able to work at a big-time video game studio, and I could start over in a new market again. If you’ve ever looked for a job long-term, it can be the most disappointing, pitiful time in your life. It was endlessly frustrating.
Then, one day, someone took a chance on me. A small business owner was looking for someone to manage his digital marketing, and he had a list of clients in which he provided consulting services to, in addition to a variety of digital marketing services. The landscape had changed so much from 2007 to 2010, and I lied my way through it during the first interview. I did brush up on my skills during my seven-month long job search upon arriving to California, but it’s nothing like real world experience.
The first thing he put me onto was to fix the comment form on his own WordPress website. I had never even used WordPress before, let alone wrote one line of code. But with Google as my right-hand man, I was able to solve this problem. Solving his strange and complex problems became a rush. I didn’t have any other resources available to me other than Google. My boss knew about the concepts of SEO, web design, social media, but when it came to implementation, he really had no idea. His business consisted of 2 people: him and me. I attended SEO seminars and trainings to learn more about the concept, as well as some skills that can be implemented. Learning the fundamental concept of SEO was critical to my success as an SEO technician today.
I worked for him for two years before we moved back to Orlando, and I started working for On Target (a lot of moving around, I know). I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way, and here are just a few:
- Persistence is key. Don’t give up just because you’re complacent. Learn to have that drive and passion, and know what it feels like to love what you do.
- Make your resume stand out. As soon as I added colors, a customized header, a QR code (this was 2012 – don’t judge me), and my portfolio website address to my resume, I was able to line up several interviews in the field.
- Loyalty is valuable. My longevity with the company in California provided me with the stability I needed for my resume.
- Learn new skills on your own. Stop asking everyone around you if they can do it for you or if you can help them. Google it. Try and figure it out by yourself. Not only will this give you more confidence in your own ability in digital marketing, but it will also strengthen your research skills.
- Don’t stop learning. Digital marketing is an evolutionary field. Like search engine algorithms changes, so are the days of our lives. If you still think alt tags really matter to your SEO campaign, you’ve stopped learning a long time ago.
- Practice what you preach. Don’t go into a digital marketing interview and tell them you’re not on Facebook. What? You’re too good for Facebook? Maybe we’ll give the job to the other applicant who loves Facebook.
If you’re graduating from college OR if you’ve decided to change your career path and you’re looking to break into the digital marketing field, just know that you can do it too. Good luck!