How stumbling into a career can be a blessing in disguise

Grads Corner
03 October 2017 | Grads Corner | upriseVSI Technical


For those that are struggling with the idea of university ending and the mammoth task of finding a job, I sympathise. In a job market saturated with university grads, simply having a degree isn’t enough - nor does it feel like the ‘necessity’ your A-levels teachers promised it would be. It’s all too easy to simply take the first job offer that lands in your lap. That is exactly what I did, in fact. And it has culminated in a career I intensely enjoy.

Full disclaimer: when I landed my first job post-uni I wasn’t thrilled. Marketing? Me? Not somewhere I saw myself in the long term, just a good stop off to get some cash in the bank until I found my ‘real’ career. After all, at twenty-one-years-old, I knew that the soulless landscape of marketing couldn’t be the end.

Little did I know, it was actually a great beginning.

Bleak House

The creative degree I studied at university was immensely fun - or at least the drinking part was - and I don’t regret it anymore. But, for a bleak four months I was cursing the English literature gods left, right, and centre.

Pressure from family, questions from friends and a plethora of rejection emails were piling up. So, by this point, I was typing anything and everything into the job search engines. It became less about what I wanted to do, but what could I do with only a degree and a bunch of intern experience under my belt. At this point, even supermarkets and fast food establishments were turning me down. It seemed my options were extremely limited.

As I sat on my laptop one morning, staring out at the September rains like a character in my very own Dickensian novel I considered my skills. Reading was a basic requirement of most jobs. Finding the meaning of blue curtains in a depressed character’s bedroom wasn’t particularly sought after (teaching aside). Writing… well, that could work.

In a last ditch effort, I typed ‘writing jobs’ into the engine and had a eureka moment. A good thirty options in a twenty-mile radius popped up, some of them on my very doorstep - which was important, as I was running out of money and a long commute would not have been doable.

Feeling positive and more hopeful than I had been, I set about applying for the role of ‘Content Writer’.

Sending a CV

Tailoring your CV to every job you apply for is old advice, but more and more relevant in the modern job market. My generic two pages full of internships, volunteering and education were slanted to highlight all of the amazing writing I participated in during that time. My cover letter was short and to the point; I didn’t have any experience in content writing, but I was willing to learn.

The only snag in my plan was the fact that they required a portfolio to go alongside these other mandatory job applications pieces.

Pro tip: I didn’t have a portfolio to speak of, so over a two-day period I created one. There are many, many, websites that accept contributions from guest writers. A few hours of making contact, a few more of writing and I had five good writing examples to send alongside my CV and cover letter.

It required a little bit of effort, but desperate as I was for a job it was certainly worth it. Especially when that request for an interview lit up my phone a mere day after submitting.

The Interview Process

Marketing is a career that sees young people thrive. The manager’s that greeted me were less than five years older, smart and extremely engaging. They had been sat in position only a few years before but had quickly worked their way up the creative department’s hierarchy. If I hadn’t been so nervous, it may have been inspiring.

The face-to-face interview was short and sweet. What came after was the true test of whether or not I would get the job: a writing sample. They knew I could write - I had my guest articles to thank for that - but, they wanted to test whether or not I could write under pressure.

Frantically tapping at a keyboard in a room full of your potential future co-worker’s? Probably more terrifying than an actual interview, especially over a two-hour period. Luckily, I am a fast writer and the articles flowed well. My future managers were impressed, so much so they showed my pieces to their manager.

I was offered the job there and then.

Now, in no way am I suggesting this is typical or that I am a phenomenal enough writer that they simply couldn’t pass me up. I later learned that their creative department had lost a pair of writers at once, their content was building up and they needed someone pretty sharpish. The fact that I could string a few sentences together was just the cherry on top of the cake to my immediate availability.

Stumbling into a career is a funny thing, but it laid the foundation for something I truly enjoy.

The Job

There is actually a lot more involved in becoming a writer in a marketing environment than I would have expected. Over a six month period I learnt the ins and outs of SEO, the sales funnel and even had a dabble in PPC. For someone who didn’t know what these things were on day one, this was an amazing learning opportunity.

With every new thing I learned, the more marketing grew on me. The people were smart, innovative and customer satisfaction was a much bigger aspect than I expected. In the modern day digital marketing, usability is key to conversion and so I was thrilled to be writing something for people and not just the mindless robots of the web. It was a natural progression and genuine enjoyment which saw my job role expand, my title change and a pay rise hit my bank.

For a further year and a half, I flourished in this role, creating whole campaigns for clients which created great conversions. A desperate post-uni grad had actually discovered a hidden talent for marketing, who knew?

Next Steps

From stumbling steps to confident strides, the next step in my career was very vague for a long period. Do I continue in content as I am and work my way into a creative manager? Do I try to expand my technical skills and move onto a whole new role? With a new manager, I knew my chances of upward movement would be stalled months, even years. So, it was either change roles or change company.

The decision to leave a job can be easy for some and hard for others. For me, it was logical but I knew without a shadow of a doubt I would miss the people. I had built a network of talented professionals and I was loathed to leave them behind. But leave them I did.

Except, I didn’t step under the roof of another company. I had been flirting with the idea of freelancing for some time. My independent work streak had seen me butt heads with a few micro managers, which meant I saw the benefit that working for myself could bring. The only question was: how?

Honestly, I was too scared to quit my job outright. I moonlighted as a freelancer, attempting to grow a network of clients and make an income that could support me if not outright match my salary. After six months, I took the plunge and met all of the difficulties head on.

Here are a few tips for anyone thinking of freelancing:

  • Invoice everything! There are plenty of horror stories out there about freelancers not being paid and some of them are even true, so be sure to protect your income. Undoubtable proof of monies owed is a great way to do so.
  • Try to be paid half of your agreed fee up front - not everyone is willing to do this, but it may save you a headache or two.
  • Freelancer insurance is vital. You have no company to protect you in the freelance world, so acquiring your own professional indemnity insurance is vital for those worst-case scenarios. This one can’t be stressed enough.
  • Ensure every project you get involved in has a contract attached to it - again for your legal protection.
  • ‘No’ is your new favourite word. No, I will not do a mountain of work for a fraction of my fees. No, I will not drop everything for your last minute request. And so on and so forth.


There’s much more, but these are certainly the things that irk me the most as a freelancer. But, outside of this it has been a very rewarding path so far!


Five years ago, fresh from university I would never have guessed that this would be my career path. Or career zigzag may be more appropriate. However, I genuinely believe that my unsure course and a stumbled path was a blessing.

Who knows what the future holds, but it’s been an interesting road so far!

Author bio:

A northern lit grad with a flair for words, Zack Halliwell started out in the world of marketing with nary a clue what he was doing. Isn't that a familiar story? Luckily, learning along the way turned into a fulfilling career as a freelance writer.

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