When you discover advertising and marketing later in your college career, switch departments, or decide to make a career shift after working in another industry, it can feel like you don't have a lot to bring to the table. Your lack of direct experience makes it intimidating to present yourself as a candidate worthy of being hired—especially with all the people who've been studying and interning from the get go.
I'm convinced that most of what we've done in the past—no matter what industry it was in—can be made relevant to what you want to do in advertising. Here are a few ways to position your non-advertising experience as an asset, not a barrier.
There will always be a handful of tools you'll need to learn, depending on your desired role. Prototyping tools for UX, various research platforms for strategists, project management software for digital producers. A lot of this learning will happen on the job. But there are also equally important skills that can be picked up in a ton of different jobs and industries. Things like cross-team collaboration, delivering feedback, presenting, managing budgets and timelines. Look closely at what you've done—chances are you'll find some version of these skills in your experience.
Realize that your non-advertising experience gives you perspective on how to work with your former role. For example, say you worked for a brand in some capacity—on the marketing team, as part of the corporate office, on the floor at a retail location. Your experience makes you a better partner to clients in an agency setting, because you have first-hand knowledge of how the brand functions from the inside, how decisions are made, or how its customers move through the in-store experience. The same thing applies if you're trying to switch departments. Let's say you're in account management, but want to be a strategist. Your experience as an account manager makes you a killer partner to all the account managers you'll work with as a strategist. Instead of being apologetic about what you've done, think about the unique perspective you bring and why it would be valuable to an agency.
Overall, the key is not what you've done—it's why it was valuable. Look for the whys behind your past experience, because chances are, they'll translate into needed whys in advertising. Instead of just listing what you've done for each past job, use the limited space on your resume to communicate why it was valuable, and how it can be applied to the job you're trying to land.
For the things you don't know or truly don't have any experience in, be transparent. Show an awareness of where you need to grow, a desire to learn, and a proactive plan to picking up these skills with the help of those at the agency—all while adding value from Day 1 with what you do bring from your past experience.
When you talk with those in the industry, you realize that a lot of people come from a non-advertising background. It's all about how you frame what you've done. Lean into the fact that differing perspectives lead to new ideas, and present yourself as the badass you are.