How to Succeed Without a Marketing Degree

Or Why a College Major Doesn't Seal Your Future

By Published on .

Brian Ruddock
Brian Ruddock

Two years into my college career, things were going great. I was done with all of my mandatory "core" classes and had a solid GPA. I had good relationships with a number of professors. I'd found a terrific group of friends. And I'd joined a fraternity that both allowed me to have an active social life while also giving back to the community as philanthropy chair.

There was only one problem: I'd yet to pick a major.

Some of my classmates came to college knowing their exact path from the get-go. They spent their first two years following, course by course, a rigid plan that would lead to their desired degree. By the start of their senior year, they had a very good idea of a handful of firms that they wanted to work for after graduation.

I was not one of these people. While many subject areas interested me, the concept of plunging into just one was intimidating.

After a summer of deliberation and conversations with various mentors, I decided to major in political science. By no means a political junkie, I felt that the courses would nonetheless hone broadly applicable skills like writing and critical thinking. The rest, I assumed, would take care of itself.

Six years later, I've spent my entire professional career working in digital advertising for two phenomenal companies, despite not knowing a darn thing about the field upon graduating. But the transition was not easy, and it's not for everyone.

As a non-advertising/marketing major, you'll be confronted with myriad challenges even before graduation. In a hypercompetitive labor market, landing a job in advertising with a different major puts you at a disadvantage. Whatever your academic focus, the onus is on you to explain to a prospective employer why they should even consider you. As someone unfamiliar with much of the industry jargon, your ramp up time will likely be longer. Be prepared to have a strong argument for how your accumulated knowledge more than makes up for this. Additionally, the professors you've spent the most time learning from won't be able to help you. You're going to have to work harder than marketing majors to even get an interview.

Once hired, you'll enter a world that is entirely different from the one you spent hundreds of hours studying and reading about. How clients interact with agencies, how agencies interact with publishers, how publishers interact with third-party technology firms; all of these complex relationships will be foreign to you. It's crucial to find a mentor who has the knowledge and patience to explain the overall marketing ecosystem to you. Once found, be sure to soak in everything they teach you, and make sure they know how much you appreciate their time.

Of course, as much as there is a marketing ecosystem, it is constantly changing. No less than an hour per day, especially early on, should be spent reading industry newsletters and trade publications. Initially, some of the content will be lost on you, but don't let it bother you. Keep plugging away and soak in as much as possible.

More generally, recognize that there are plenty of what former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to as "unknown unknowns." That is , there's a lot of stuff that you don't even know that you don't know. Throughout your early years, more so than marketing majors, you'll confront situations where you weren't even aware of your own lack of knowledge. This can be intimidating, but realize that you're not alone. Counter this by asking a ton of questions and listening intently.

Finally, be confident in yourself and your education. For all my lack of knowledge, I constantly reminded myself of what I had accomplished as a student. If you have the work ethic to write 20 pages about legal positivism, or ace a test on price elasticity, you're capable of succeeding in this industry.

For those solidly on the marketing track: kudos! You have a sense of certainty that many young people lack. For those who aren't quite sure: relax. Hard work and focus will lead you in the right direction…even if you're not quite sure where it is yet.

About the Author
Brian Ruddock is a New York-based account manager for LinkedIn's North America Marketing Solutions business. He provides strategic recommendations and daily support for a number of enterprise technology and telecommunications accounts, including IBM and Verizon. Prior to LinkedIn, Brian worked for an agency-focused Search Engine Marketing (SEM) team at Yahoo. Brian graduated from the University of Richmond in 2008 with a BA in Political Science.

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