This article will be a sequential post of “find out what you want” post. If you haven’t found your passion in life, I suggest you read that post first.
Everything on your resume that screams about “Hey! I’m passionate about this stuff” is gonna work — Veronica Belmont
About 3 months ago, I had the determination to face the reality — I don’t like my college major. I stumbled upon a new passion, digital marketing, that I want to go after as my future career. I didn’t change my major in college to marketing, but I started my self-educating journey.
After doing that for 2 months, I found an internship in a digital marketing agency, without ever studied marketing in school — not even a single course — nor had pulled any strings to land on this job.
When finding a job for the first time, we all face a paradoxical catch-22 situation: Lots of jobs require prior experience, but how can I get any until a job gives me one?
If you’re trying to go into a field that you don’t have any relevant experience or a related degree, the catch-22 paradox just levels up to a huge boss-level monster.
In this post, I will show you how I did it, so you can apply it yourself:
- Step 1: Acquire Basic Knowledge
- Step 2: Get Your Hands Dirty
- Step 3: Job Hunting
- Step 4: Climb up the ladder
- Speed Up The Process
- Difficulties You Might Face
- Final Thoughts
- TL;DR? Here Is The Takeaway
Step 1: Acquire Basic Knowledge
Time: 2 weeks
When you’re out to compete with those who already have basic knowledge from a 3- or 4-year education, it’s a requirement for you to catch up with them.
If you’re still in college and want to take a few related courses, go for it. But if you have already graduated and you want to learn it yourself, which is what I prefer, it’s possible to do it, too.
Thanks to technology, we can get everything we need from the internet. I first learned the basics of digital marketing mainly from:
- More blogs
- A lot of blogs
1. Choose good quality resources: since you’re starting from zero, what information you absorb makes a big difference. You could follow the rule I applied in my how-to- read post: “you find the best and learn from the best.”
Especially in the case of reading blogs, there are a lot of noises online. Even the non-experts can publish a few posts, but they won’t give you much help rather than confusing you.
What I did was finding a handful of trustworthy experts and only read their blogs, back-and-forth. You can even find related online communities to see who are the experts people are suggesting as a prior filter.
Another good alternative is to shadowing someone who already knows the skill.
2. Avoid information overload: it will be, without a doubt, overwhelming when you try to pick up a new skill by yourself. There are too many things you need to learn. It’s like an endless black hole.
You should focus on the basics. Analyze what the basic skills are based on the 20/80 rule: what are the most important and elementary 20% information I should consume that can help me improve the most.
If you don’t know the answer, email some experts or ask questions on online communities.
Step 2: Get Your Hands Dirty
Time: 3 to 4 weeks
The second step is to start a project. If you’re worried that your knowledge is not sufficient enough to initiate a project, don’t be. Otherwise, you will trap yourself in a hole of endless reading without any implementation.
Why Should I do It?
This is the part where and how you get more hands-on experience through trial-and-error. You learn from solving the problems yourself and doing research online. And it’s way more efficient than learning in the classroom and passively listening to a teacher talking.
This is also the part where you will differentiate from others. Imagine you are an employer who is looking for a programmer, and there are 2 candidates. You ask about their experiences:
- One replies: “I majored in computer science and just graduated a few months ago. I did well in every course and graduated with a good grade!”
- The other one says: “I’m a self-educated coder. Here are the 2 websites that I created from scratch. And this is an app I built for my friends and their small SaaS business. I sometimes learn through helping people debugging at the Github community forum.”
Most people will be intrigued when listening to the second person talking and will want to know more about what he has done or learned (even if his projects aren’t perfect). Instead of a graduation certificate, you give out actual results. This is who we want to be.
How Can I Do It?
Since you are just a novice, you need to follow an “existing recipe” that experts created and see whether you can duplicate a similarly successful result.
On top of that, the project you choose should be:
- Free (or at least cheap): it shouldn’t cost you too much, so you won’t have a big loss if it fails. It will be easier to pivot to other projects too.
- Shareable: so you can get feedback from friends or even the public
- Low risks: it gives you the freedom to be creative and not afraid of failing
Simply, you should think about what projects can show your ability and value.
Step 3: Job Hunting
Time: 1 week
This is the part where we will break that catch-22 curse. I began to look for jobs not only for the purpose of career path planning but also for getting feedback faster for what I’m doing. I will list out the methods I have tried and the experiences my friends had.
(*Side note: Step 2 and 3 can be overlapped. Once you have some results from Step 2, you could start Step 3.)
1. Find Internships from job listing websites
Yes, I started with the good old way. I browsed through countless related internships posted on websites like Linkedin, Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com or the job results from Google.
I targeted the internships from 1) small- or medium-sized companies that 2) didn’t require applicants to have a related degree.
Most of the people will shoot for big companies that lead the market, but it’s too competitive that we will possibly get ignored. To get a little start to kick off and a higher chance of acceptance, smaller companies are our focus.
I also include the chances of “remote internships” from other countries. They do exist, but opportunities are less than the ones that require you to physically be in an office.
Some of them are hybrids — half of the time in the office and the other half for remote work. You can find these opportunities by googling “[the area you’re self-educating] remote internship”.
Additional from applying for listed internships, I also cold-emailed lots of companies that aren’t even hiring any interns — I mean a lot. This may seem annoying, but you will never know until you try.
First, I found whom to email to on companies’ career/job pages. At the end of each job description, companies would write “please send your application to: [an email address]”. That’s the email address you could use.
Second, you can also find out who’s in charge of the department that you want to join, then contact them through emails (use tools such as Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert to find their emails), Linkedin or any feasible and appropriate ways you could find. This is a shortcut for not going through the HR department.
Here is the template I used for cold-emailing:
Try to keep it short and clear since we are, at some level, bothering others. On top of that, you can also indicate that you don’t mind working for free or with low salaries to level up the chances. Our purpose at this step is to first get a foot into the door, instead of how much money you earn from it.
3. Join Communities
The third way is more indirect and time-consuming. It’s to join relevant communities and be an active member. One of my friends used this way from self-educating doing makeup to becoming an assistant for a makeup artist.
She joined a beauty community on Facebook that shared information about makeup and skincare. In the community, she not only shared the results of her work but also interacted with the members by replying to posts and asking questions.
One day, a makeup artist noticed her through her activeness in the community and approached her to see whether she was interested in going to a photo-shooting scene with him as an assistant.
You can extend this to real-life offline community events as well. Try to link up with like-minded people, perhaps they could be your connection one day.
4. Use Connections
Last, use your potential connections if have any. You should find someone acquaintances who work in the field you want to be in, who knows well about your project and understand what potential you could have. They can be your referral to related jobs.
As a matter of fact, linking up by referrals has a higher chance of getting a job. Compared to receiving applicants from job listing websites, having a referral introduction can cut down the uncertainty of hiring for employers — hiring someone employers barely know vs. hiring someone introduced by a trustworthy person.
Step 4: Climbing Up The Ladder
Time: as long as you want (until you die)
If you finished Step 1 to 3 and got a beginner job, you have broken the catch-22 paradox. I would suggest you keep working on your initial project while having your first related job if possible, so you could have more bargaining chips for the following job hunting.
There is a big chance that no one will pay attention to your college degree once you have the first job experience. What you major in college becomes a topic for coffee talks.
The question your next employer asks will be “what was your previous job?” and not “what did you major in college?” Now your hands and legs are one the ladder already. You could start climbing up — to work your way up!
Speed Up The Process: Parkinson’s Law
The time frame I provided in each step may seem too short for some people. However, based on Parkinson’s law, the longer the available time you have, the longer it will take to get the job done.
Think of college assignments. Professors have assigned the project at the beginning of a semester, but most people won’t start it until a few weeks before the deadline.
I limited the time frame to impose an urge on the schedule, so you can be more productive with each time unit spent. Otherwise, you could be stuck in a step for too long, especially the first one (acquiring basic knowledge).
Difficulties You Might Face
The process seems easier when described by words, but in reality, it’s like a roller-coaster ride with multiple ups and downs, sometimes even a 90-degree vertical fall.
1. The Plateaus Phase Of Learning
This happens at your “get your hands dirty” phase. Self-educating or any type of learning is enjoyable in the beginning because the improvement is huge and swift. The excitement of incremental improvement becomes a big part of your motivation.
BUT! Once you have more experience, the improvement process will decline and the roller-coaster will slow down — you’re at the plateaus phase now. It could be a depressing phase. You will start questioning yourself. I definitely did, and still do from time to time.
This is how your learning curve will look like and the line shows your performance:
Tim Ferriss’ words from The 4-Hour Workweek described it quite vividly:
“Is this as good as it gets? Perhaps I was better off when I was following orders and ignorant of the possibilities. It was easier at least.”
This is so common that sometimes even inevitable. The solution is either 1) changing your perception to get your motivation back or 2) increase the difficulty to have small wins.
To change your perception, you should revisit the reason you started the self-learning journey in the first place. You should re-envisage or adjust the outcome you want. It is when things get difficult that you start learning.
Focus on what you should do and trust the process. We need to reorganize the thoughts, break the task into small pieces and believe that the emotions you feel now are a part of the process everyone encounters — We have to love what we do, including what it entails, both good and bad.
To increase the difficulty, you should strike a balance between “Oh man! It’s too damn hard” and “Huh…It’s a bit boring”. Don’t make it too hard that you would want to give up altogether, but not too easy either that you would lose interest.
It is similar to playing tennis. If you play it with a world-class tennis player, which you always will lose, you end up being frustrated and eventually give up. Because there’s no chance for winning.
On the other hand, if you play it with a first-time player, the unchallenging wins won’t provide you any excitement.
2. Hello? Anyone there?
So often that when you cold-email someone, they won’t reply to you at all. Don’t blame them or feel disappointed. They don’t have any obligation to reply to our emails. We should not have an ultra-high expectation either.
There is a formula I once heard from Joe Gebbia (founder of Airbnb)’s interview:
SW²+WC=MO! (Some Will Love It, Some Won’t + Who Cares = Move On!)
Don’t take it too personal nor be upset if they don’t respond while being grateful if you do receive replies, even if it’s a rejection. Keep trying and believe that there are nice people in the world. (Based on my experience, there really are!)
Without a doubt, not every job is easy to come up with a related project to try, such as accountants or bankers. But what you should think of is how to create and demonstrate your own value before asking others for a chance.
You shouldn’t wait for someone to grant you chances; you could create an experience yourself. You don’t need others’ permission to do what you’re passionate about, so don’t be a passive applicant.
I would not say I’m really experienced with the process that you should definitely listen to my advice, but this was what worked for me and my friends. I hope it will work for you, too.
So happy job hunting!
TL;DR? Here Is The Takeaway
Step 1: Acquire basic knowledge
Step 2: Start a project
Step 3: Job hunting
- Internships from smaller companies without relevant education background required
- Join communities (online and offline)
- Use connection
Step 4: Climb up the ladder