Being brave

Gemma shares what it’s like to make the decision to change your life and start a new career from scratch.

Things have changed quite dramatically for me over the past eighteen months. After almost a decade of working towards my dream job of becoming a teacher, I made the difficult decision to leave teaching and explore another career path.

Trust me when I say this was no easy decision. I was invested in my students – I sacrificed so much of my time. I did lesson planning and marking at the weekends and well into the evenings because I wanted to capture my students imaginations and show them how important language learning was. What frustrated me was the education system and the fact that teaching was such a small part of my job. Instead data, reports and detentions took up more of my working day and I came to the realisation that it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever.

Fast forward a year and a half and here I am, an Account Manager at one of the most creative agencies in the south coast, aptly named Salad. I love working here and it’s largely down to the people – their drive and ambition, ideas and thinking as well as how they support one another. No two days here are the same which is why agency life is so exciting – you’re constantly on your toes. The best thing about my role at Salad is that I’m not just interacting with clients and reporting back to my team; I’m managing the projects too. Managing a web build compared to organising a class of thirty year nine students and their homework is a little different (and not always easier!), but that experience gave me essential skills to move forward with.

But it wasn’t the easiest journey to get here – there were a few rejections along the way, a few confidence crises and a job where I commuted from Bournemouth to London daily for almost a year in-between. I’d spent the best part of a decade crafting my CV to land me teaching jobs – volunteering during sixth form, school placements at university and on my year abroad, as well as e-mentoring, tutoring jobs and two year’s teaching experience. Whilst I had to work hard to convince an agency that I had a lot of transferable skills and attributes that would make me a great Account Manager, I also needed to find an open-minded agency who would take a risk and look beyond the qualifications I had on paper.

My job in London was an excellent stepping stone for my life between school and agency life. Working in a busy communications team within the Department for Education, I was able to take a step back and identify what skills I would really need to land a job in agency land. Whilst publishing on GOV.UK is not the same as a web build project, it enabled me to get to grips with the bigger picture – considering user journeys, analytics and target audiences and how to get information to reach more and more people. I learnt about making web pages accessible, I took part in workshops on implementing a new taxonomy on GOV.UK and went to basically any training sessions I could invite myself along to.

That learning and development is definitely continuing now I’m at Salad, but it’s not all work and no play. Salad has an amazing culture – from our weekly Salad lunches which we prepare and eat together, to Music Friday contests and team socials – there’s never a dull moment. The culture is what drew me here and it’s something that helps to make me feel like I belong as I work hard to learn fast for both myself and my clients.

For anyone else in my shoes considering a career change, here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • You need to get out and actively seek out opportunities – all experience is good experience, whether that’s enrolling on online courses or utilising training opportunities in your current role for future progression.
  • Crafting your CV to make the most of your transferable skills and qualities and help them to stand out to readers.
  • Spend more time on your cover letter – you want something that’s going to make an agency remember you and that requires some ‘je ne sais quoi’.
  • Don’t shy away – network and get active on social media – use the channels at your disposal.
  • Don’t take no for an answer. It worked for me!
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