There’s a fine line between spending too much time obsessing over one’s next career move and wisely preparing for the time when by choice or otherwise you make a move to your next role. And there are plenty of people who say growth isn’t a straight line up, but a wiggly woggly one which eventually goes up as long as you refuse to give up, so why worry? Well, I’m a bit worried.
Given my position, a few outsiders have reached out to me regarding opportunities elsewhere. I didn’t actually want to take these opportunities, but I figured it would be good practice to get out and interview, to benchmark where I am in terms of attractiveness to other employers. The answer is, not attractive at all. My experience, it seems, is worth very little in today’s marketplace.
I’ll spare you the typical woe-is-me-sulking-in-a-corner post, and try to put this in more productive terms — what do I have to do today to prepare myself for “next?” Because that while I’m confident that while the last three or so years of professional experience has gotten me from the point in my career where getting an interview was near-impossible to landing a few interviews but not having the right experience to get hired, and that’s not going to change even if I stay at my current company for another 10 years. There’s no growth for me in my job today, and I don’t even think I deserve growth per se at this point, I just need to get a wider variety of skills, and honestly a solid, reputable, stable, successful company on my resume wouldn’t hurt either.
So one recent interview, which I thought went well, was followed up with an email canceling an in-person meeting, saying they decided to go with someone with more experience. That’s fine. But the role itself, in the job posting, didn’t call for someone super senior. The job listing actually seemed to describe what I’m good at (as opposed to a few other roles which I’ve taken interviews for that I knew just weren’t the right fit or were a major stretch.) Getting that feedback makes me a bit worried. Ok, a lot worried.
It’s not that I really imagine myself succeeding in Silicon Valley or technology. I’m not VP material. I can see myself as a successful low-level manager. Someone who is assigned projects and gets them done. I’m not a leader. I’m not good with relationships. I’m not the best at figuring out exactly what needs to be done and prioritizing those tasks to achieve exact objectives. I don’t know how to figure out what realistic objectives should be.
I figure there are three types of people who succeed in marketing: the brains, the creatives, and the relationship builders. I’m really none of the above. Or somewhere between brain and creative. But not a strong enough brain or creative to actually be hired for those reasons.
So what can I do? Well, I’m a doer. I’ll do what it takes. What I lack in intellect I make up in this do-whatever-it-takes mindset. Yes, I’m qualified for entry-level, project-based work. Barely.
What’s worse, I’m not qualified for any position that theoretically someone with my title should be. So you might be saying why does title matter – if title is an issue, just take something with a lower title and you’ll be fine. That’s actually not as easy as it sounds. I’m not qualified for those positions either. And, worse, most recruiters won’t consider me for manager-level roles because I have a “director” title on my resume. I can change that title to manager (which, when I get serious about applying one day, I probably will have to do), and maybe that will help, but I’m still missing some serious skills.
So how do I get these skills? Marketing in technology is an interesting beast. First of all, there are some companies that are just so technical that if you don’t have an engineering background you would struggle even as a marketer for that business. But those companies aside, it’s still hard to get your foot in the door without the right pedigree and experience.
In terms of marketing roles, you have product marketing (pricing, packaging, positioning, messaging, competitive and industry research), marketing communications (branding, content marketing, public relations, analyst relations), web marketing (website, SEM, SEO), customer marketing and demand generation (e-mail campaigns, events, webinars, et al.) Most startups hiring a marketing person want someone who can do all of those extremely well. And if you can’t do everything, they’ll take a person who is really good at analytics and math over someone who isn’t. Unfortunately, that is not my strong suit. My BFA arts degree seems to be the nail in my corporate coffin.
So, yes, I should learn more about analytics and data – but how? The people I know who are really good at marketing are just naturally gifted in these areas. They’ve excelled in math for years. I can take a stats class, which would help (I didn’t take stats in college), but there’s a lot more a math-minded marketer would just naturally think about while I’m focused more on some non-data driven creative idea. But not too creative. I’m actually not THAT creative. I’m not the type of marketer who would come up with a brilliant viral marketing campaign that happens to be hilarious and super sharable. No, I’m not that person either. And yes, I’d hire not me too.
The reality is, I have bits and pieces of many of these areas, but I’m far from an expert in any. In larger companies, you may be able to get away with getting a job for just one of those buckets, but then they want you to be a serious expert in all of the items that fall under that category. At manager level. I’m really not there yet. The closest role that I could potentially do would be marketing communications, if for some reason I lost my job and was desperate. I’m not exactly good at it, I just feel more confident in my experience there. But I’m not someone who is going to do “in-house PR” because I’m not good at pitching or talking to people. I’m better at writing and strategy.
Anyway, this gets me back to the question, what should I do to prepare myself for what’s next, or what should be next? It’s really disheartening to go on interviews and clearly not be right for any positions. I was very, very lucky to land my current role and to be fair to myself I think I’ve done the position justice. I work hard and give it my all. But people here want highly analytical, can-do-everything, have fancy degrees and big fancy companies on their resume. You know, that will never be me.
That’s why I’m considering moving on from tech. Maybe it’s not for me. I’m also feeling the strain of how expensive it is to live in an area where everyone is making $130k+ with many having dual incomes over $300k pre-tax. At the same time, I keep reading entry-level marketing job descriptions that I don’t feel qualified for. I swear I’m not just having a case of impostor syndrome. I know what I’m good at. And I’ve yet to figure out how that aligns to something where I can make money for the long run.
I feel like the only way to dig myself out of this hole is to somehow get an MBA from a fancy school. That won’t get me jobs, but it will give me the pedigree needed for people to take me seriously. And while they say most of the value of an MBA is networking, maybe I could actually get a lot of value out of learning how to be more data-driven and analytical. I don’t think I could get into an MBA program, the idea of spending over $150,000 on a degree that may or may not help my career freaks me out, but if I am serious about staying in Silicon Valley it seems the only way to move ahead in my career.
Or I just accept that this isn’t the right industry for me. I don’t know what is. I can just stop worrying about what’s next and be heads down doing the best job that I can right now. When it comes time to leave, if I should be laid off or otherwise, I’ll deal with my unqualified self then. I just wish I had some sort of clear steps to take in order to be a real marketer versus the fraud I am today.