This week, Tom, a Digital Media graduate, talks about his experience working in digital and how his course helped him gain skills that are sought after by employers in this field of work. He gives useful tips and advice for anyone looking to get into digital and explains what inspired him to consequently start his own business.
My name is Tom and I run my own online affiliate business – Decking Hero. We provide advice for DIY enthusiasts and help them to find the best price for their tools & supplies.
Looking back, I would say my career is more something I ‘fell’ into rather than actively pursuing! I hadn’t always known what I’d wanted to do after university, but once I found myself working in a digital agency I knew I’d found something I loved to do.
Where It All Started – Digital Media at The University of Leeds
My journey started at the University of Leeds in 2007, having been accepted for a course in New Media – recently renamed ‘Digital Media’. I’d dabbled with running my own websites and forums during my teenage years and I’d loved it, though I wasn’t always the greatest with code or programming. For me, the course was fantastic as it taught me many of the skills I’d always wanted to learn: design, digital animation and web design that was valid & accessible. Rather than put together a dissertation in our third year, we were able to put together a large digital media project. I chose to put together a large website build, which gifted me tons of experience and a case study of my work I could show potential employers.
Post-University – Working in Digital
After graduating in 2010 just after the recession, there weren’t as many jobs in my chosen field as I might have liked. After a wave of unsuccessful applications & interviews (usually something along the lines of: “sorry, we’re looking for someone with more experience”) I was given an opportunity to work with a digital marketing agency in Leeds. The job was in search engine marketing which I hadn’t had too much exposure to on my course, though I knew small amounts. I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s actually a huge skills shortage in the industry. Thankfully my new employers were willing to forego my lack of experience because I had a relevant degree from a well-respected university.
It definitely wasn’t easy getting onto the employment ladder! Looking back now I feel an enormous amount of gratitude to my agency for having given me that initial opportunity.
Advice for anyone looking to work in digital:
If I could offer a few words of advice for those leaving university and looking for work in digital, it would be –
- Most of the time, employers in digital are more interested in your enthusiasm rather than your skill-set. They know that the skills you need can be taught in-house, but attitude is key. I used to take a portfolio of my previous work into my interviews, in the hope that it would convince the interviewer just how passionate I was about the industry. I had a lot of good feedback about this!
- If you don’t have any relevant experience – make some for yourself! You’d be amazed at how many people are looking for help with their website. Even if you end up working for free, what you’re getting back in experience is invaluable. If you don’t know anyone, set up your own blog and learn through application.
- Don’t give up – an opportunity is most probably just around the corner. It took me 6 months of applications & knock-backs after university; then I was offered 2 jobs within a few days of one another!
I absolutely loved my time working in an agency. It’s fast-paced and nothing ever stays the same, so you learn to become agile and open to change. Because of the skills shortage in our industry I was promoted three times in 5 years and found myself managing my own department of nine people aged just 25! There aren’t many industries out there where you can progress your career & learn such a multitude of new skills at such a speed.
Starting My Own Business
Just one year ago I was ready for a new challenge and began working on the concept for my own business. With the skills I’d learnt during university and the last five years of employment, I felt certain that this should be an online venture. So I set about finding a small niche online with little competition and worked at making myself the expert in my own little corner of the internet! I use search engine marketing & social media advertising to drive people to my website, where we share expert DIY guides and deals. We then make money from those who advertise on our site.
Leaving my job 6 months ago and jumping into an ocean of uncertainty was certainly scary! It’s still very early days but I’m hopeful that the skills I’ve been taught will be enough to steer me through. I would whole-heartedly encourage any students reading to consider a job in digital – you’ll love it and it really will set you on the path towards a bright future.
If you’re considering starting your own business, or need advice with your application don’t forget to drop by the Careers Centre 1-4pm Monday-Friday or book an appointment. Additionally, SPARK, the University’s business start up service have a Business plan competition and Enterprise Scholarships which you can apply for.