Ask The Work Buzz! Breaking into an industry with the ‘wrong’ background

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helpHere’s what Zaina‘s asking us: I am a hospitality senior college student about to graduate and would like to work in marketing, for which I developed a strong interest during my education. I have joined my college’s marketing club as director of advertising and I am seeking an internship to gain a first experience. How should I approach companies since I have not yet worked in this field, nor it is my major?

Well…Everybody has to start somewhere. Remember that, because you can easily feel defeated or frustrated when you’re trying to enter a new industry. There will be some bumps, but pretty much everyone in that industry was a novice at one point.

However, you’re about to graduate with a hospitality degree, which tells employers that you have an education and can commit to a task. (That is important, by the way. So many people are working in jobs unrelated to their degrees and you wonder how they did it. Because many employers are less concerned with what you studied and are more concerned with the fact that you decided to get a degree and completed it.) You probably learned quite a bit of customer service and interpersonal communication skills during your studies. You  might not have learned specific marketing terms and industry jargon, but you know how to relate to people, and those are skills you need to play up. That goes for people with degrees in education, English, and communications.

Plus, you’ve already done something right: You joined a college club. That’s a smart way to make contacts, get insight on what’s happening in the field and show that you’re serious about branching out. It’s easy to say you want to go into marketing with no experience to prove it. A college group shows that you’re willing to sacrifice your personal time for this switch. Plus, you have a role in the group, which shows initiative and leadership skills. That’s a smart move for someone wanting to go into marketing.

As to specifically approaching a company, you should act as confidently as if you did have 4 years of marketing behind you. Apply for internships just like everyone else is–you don’t have to take a special route or feel like you’re an outsider. Don’t be cocky, and acknowledge your different background, but don’t be intimidated. If your cover letter or interview consists of you apologize for your lack of a marketing degree, you’re basically giving the employer a list of reasons not to hire you.

  • In your cover letter and in your interview, refer to your background. In the cover letter, you can say that you studied hospitality and certain skills or experiences there made you realize you would be a good fit for marketing. Mention what you learned in the marketing group. Then move on to your skills and assets. Acknowledge, but don’t dwell.
  • In an interview, follow the same pattern. Though, it’s possible that the interviewer will bring the subject up before you do. It’s a perfect chance to say, “I know I’m a different kind of candidate, but I’ve got the skills.”

Plus, remember that you’re asking for an internship, not a senior-level position. They realize you’re trying to get your foot in the door and you’re probably not going to cost them much money (if anything at all, depending if it’s paid), so they understand there’s a relatively low risk in working with you. After all, how many college interns started out with a completely different major? How many interns don’t end up working in that field? At this stage in your career, employers know that you’re not signing on to stay with the company until retirement. They want someone who can fulfill the job duties (or go beyond them) and be an asset to the team. If there’s a chance for you to stay on, great for both of you.

You’ve taken all the right steps so far. A strong, qualified intern is a benefit for any employer, and that’s what they’ll be looking for.

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