How many people learn their jobs by doing vs training?

Reading job ads I find myself laughing and crying all at the same time. The hard, sad truth is that I managed to skip around the foundational years of my career in my current industry. While I have built up my experience in junior-level positions, they were not in the typical junior-level position held by someone that is in the type of position that I’m actually getting recruited for. So I always end up either having to pretend to have all of this knowledge (some of which I do, some of which I don’t) or I have no chance of getting hired.

Why don’t you just go to a more junior-level position, you ask? Well, no one takes someone with a director title on their resume and nearly 10 years of experience seriously when they apply for lower level roles (unless they are a clear career switcher and even then it’s tough.) It’s also hard to go from making over $120,000 per year to making $40k-$50k. Staffing managers and companies know that most people who are further along in their career are used to sizable salaries and they would rather hire someone more junior (but still with some experience) to do these roles that allow for little autonomy and more mundane, repetitive albeit important work.

Yes, there are ways to learn all of this stuff outside of actual work, but it’s harder and doesn’t provide any real-world examples to talk about in the interview process. For instance, any marketing manager worth their salt would have run numerous advertising campaigns from SEM to media buys in their more junior positions and would have a very good idea of how to manage advertising campaigns. At the same time others in my industry were learning this in more junior level roles, I was focused on populating social media channels with fodder to build a brand. The experience was no less valuable, it’s just that I didn’t have the opportunity to really get that foundation that comes with doing the same types of jobs that my role now would typically manage. And that’s why I’m a bit of a professional train wreck right now.

So I’m seriously looking at my options here and where I want to invest my time and dollars to prep myself for actual success vs barely-hanging-on-by-a-thread-oh-shit-i-really-suck-at-this-i-am-going-to-get-fired feeling day in and day out. I know what I’m good at and there is a lot of stuff I can do well, but that’s not enough to be a senior level leader in an organization in my field. I need a whole lot more instruction in data models, best practices, et al – and then maybe one day I’ll be ready to really earn my keep. Until then, what do I do?

I was hoping my last role would be this great opportunity where I could learn on the job surrounded by experts in the field – and in a large part it was. However when you’re surrounded by experts in the field they also quickly call your bluff. So much for that plan of attack. Admittedly I’m not the type who can thrive in an environment where I feel like I’m a million miles behind and unsure what to do, so it was a bad idea to pursue that to begin with. I could have gone about the situation a whole lot better and if I had maybe I’d still have a job today. Even so I wouldn’t have managed to last that long… I just didn’t have the foundation to set me up for success.

So… is an MBA really the right route to go here? I’ve heard so many different things about MBAs and their value (if it’s just the network than it’s not worth it because I suck at social situations and I won’t be able to fully leverage that) but I’d like to think that an MBA program would make me over as a bit of a quant jock. Marketing, with the exception of the super creative side (which is mostly advertising anyway) is really a field about data. It’s all those years of math I zoned out during in high school. It’s the statistics class I never took. It’s all the reasons why I never should be hired for any marketing role in the first place.

I think I’d enjoy marketing a WHOLE LOT MORE if I felt confident in what I was doing. There are elements of marketing that I’ll never fully love (i.e. event marketing is a PITA and most marketers will tell you that) but I actually am interested in certain parts of it – specifically product marketing, user research, and messaging, as well as some elements of digital marketing. And I really think I need a killer two-year program to teach me how to think properly about all these things I need to know.

Yet I’m also tempted to switch careers entirely at this point or maybe find a way to build up my quant side while also getting better at design. There are so many people out there who are super quants and that I’ll never be. I’m a design thinker type and if I ever see myself as a successful VP leader it is in a design role, not in a marketing role. I might find a company where I love the product enough where success as a marketing leader is a fluke, but it’s not something that is maintainable over the course of my professional lifetime. Design however is something I could constantly remain excited about. I guess I just want to have a really solid foundation in marketing because once I do I know it’s something I could fall back on. I actually know a lot about marketing and business I just need the fundamentals to tie it all together.


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One thought on “How many people learn their jobs by doing vs training?”

  1. As a longtime reader of your blog, I really think you should pursue what you’re most interested in, even if it results in a pay cut. Maybe think of this as an opportunity to change your path? I’m sure the money part will catch up at some point.

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