• Nicky

From clueless to clued-up: 10 years since Sheffield

This week my LinkedIn feed has been populated with a number of inspiring video posts from the University of Sheffield celebrating and congratulating the Class of 2018 on their graduation. It’s been a decade since I graduated from that same university in South Yorkshire with a degree in History. It’s a cliché but it really does feel like a lifetime ago.

I resisted the temptation of a gap-year and threw myself into higher education as an ambitious but unsure18-year-old. Three years later and I sat in the Octagon Centre hoping against hope that actor Sean Bean would be present during my graduation ceremony, as he had been the previous July to receive his honorary doctorate. His portrayal of Sergeant Richard Sharpe was, after all, one of the main reasons why Sheffield was my first choice of university. To rub salt in the wound, he was a regular frequenter of my favourite fish and chip shop, The Broomhill Friery, which had become a staple Friday night takeaway amongst my social circle. I should have known better -

One does not simply walk into the local chippy and expect to meet Sean Bean...

It's not quite Yorkshire Day yet, but you've got to love this post from the Uni!

Now 10 years later, many winters have come and gone, and Sean Bean is an older gentleman and a distant memory. Instead I’m a newly-wed, working for myself in a field which I love, surrounded by friends, family, a 6-month old Cockapoo and a rescue cat named Ziggy. Life is good.

But it has not always been this way.

That transition period post-secondary school and higher education is one of the most unsettling ones you’re likely to have faced to date. In my case, I spent the best part of 17 years of my life sitting behind some form of desk – in a classroom, a school hall, an auditorium - with no clear direction of what my next move should be when it was all over.

Having departed university in 2008 I was left with the daunting decision of what to do with the next 47,000 working hours of my life. I have close relatives who are vets; I lived with fellow students studying to be doctors, dentists, psychologists; my dad was a solicitor – I couldn’t help but feel that my lack of vocation was a hindrance rather than an opportunity.

The opening sample from Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ felt very apt at the time – “Just what is it that you want to do? We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do.” I had the freedom – and the inclination – to work, but no plan of what I “wanna do”. At least, not one that I felt was worth pursuing. I’ve always been an organised and creative person – that I knew. But there was no professional label that I could apply to these skills, and so I was left to ponder my next steps for the entire summer after graduation.

The following New Year’s Day, I sent out my CV to every racecourse in Britain, hoping to combine my love of horseracing with a career. It worked, and within a week I was assuming my new role in the Sales & Marketing team at one of the tracks forming Jockey Club Racecourses – owners of leading racing venues including Cheltenham, Aintree and Epsom. From that point onwards, my belief that marketing could be a legitimate, dynamic and exciting career option grew stronger by the day.

Ten years, four London-based roles and one countryside-based agency job later, and I find myself setting up my own company. I’ve worked in busy press offices, in commercial teams for world-famous visitor attractions and charities, and for a global retailer, managing marketing accounts for some of the biggest brands in the world. All of which has led me to H!LANDER.

My varying titles ranging from “Commercial Assistant” to “Lead Site Merchandiser” to “Account Director” along the way have long perplexed my parents, who claim to never understand what I *actually* do but are immensely proud nonetheless.

Working on brand ‘accounts’ is often misconceived to be very dry and boring. Reams of receipt rolls spring to mind, as do demanding clients and tedious conference calls. The reality is incredibly different. I’m not an accountant, nor do I spend day after day on the phone. Not all marketers who work with clients are super-confident, bubbly go-getters, nor do they sit on the side-lines without a voice. What marketers are, is a group of highly organised and creative individuals who thrive on delivering results.

My skillset has grown to be as broad as it is diverse, having worked across a varied spectrum of specialisms, including social media, digital marketing, influencer and community management, SEO, PR, business development, copywriting, blogging (!). The list goes on.

As a young graduate, it is easy to become side-tracked by necessity – the need for an income, to be self-sufficient, and pay off your student debts. Every once in a while, though, it’s important to ask – do I feel fulfilled? Am I valued? Am I happy here? Work is such a huge proportion of your life that it’s imperative to get it right, and with a role as varied and interesting as marketing, you are half the way there.

All of my experience – professional and personal – has brought me to where I am today, and it just goes to show that being clueless at 21, doesn’t mean you’re clueless for life.

Good luck the Class of 2018! And remember, not all jobs have to be 9 while 5...