How To Break Into Marketing Without A Business Degree


“You’re an artsie, you’re an artsie, you’re an artsie overjoyed…but you’ll always be an artsie and you’ll never be employed!”

Or so the chant goes. This was one of the playful taunts that would be hurled at us arts students back in university.

I studied political science and sociology in my undergrad and one question I always used to get from family and friends was, “What are you gonna do with that?”

Well, let’s just say I turned it into a blossoming career (modesty aside) in communications and marketing for the non-profit sector. It’s not quite the traditional or linear route, but is there ever such a thing in life?

I first broke into the industry back in 2009 with a winning combination of great timing, determination, and good ol’ fashioned hard work.

Social media (now part and parcel of marketing and communications) was just beginning to blow up in the non-profit world and I somehow nabbed myself a social media internship at an international development organization. Since then, I’ve worked in communications and marketing positions with non-profits and businesses alike. So how’d I do it even without the degree?

Hit the books

A lot of what I’ve learned has been self-taught. I hit the books and the blogs to learn about basic marketing principles and to keep up with the latest social media trends.

It’s something that I haven’t stopped doing since I entered the field. In the fast-paced technological world we live in today, it’s essential to keep up with the latest trends to keep your edge.

Be a Jack of all trades and a master of one

Who ever said that this had to be an either/or option? I honestly believe that in today’s world, it’s not enough that you just specialize in one thing and one thing alone. You’ve got to have a wide and diverse set of skills to thrive in this dynamic and often uncertain economy.

That’s why I continually build on my skill set, learning the basics of coding and Photoshop while exploring new tech tools available. Trust me, there is great value in this versatility and being someone that your employers can always count on ain’t a bad thing!

Leverage that arts degree

I didn’t go to business school and I don’t have a marketing or communications degree, but my background as an arts student has equipped me with skills absolutely vital in this field. I’ve leveraged the analytical, research and communication skills that every arts student has mastered (or at least should have mastered!) after four years of undergrad.

Network, network, network

When I first started, I networked like crazy. In fact, I still do and you should too. Attend industry events and connect with all kinds of professionals more experienced than you. Set up informational interviews to really immerse yourself in the field and extract as much knowledge and information from them as possible.

Plus, you never know when those connections can come in handy for more than just a coffee date!

Market yourself

What kind of marketer or communicator would you be if you couldn’t even sell yourself, right? Build your personal brand and carve a niche for yourself. Find a way to set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd. I’ve done that by making a home for myself on the interwebz and giving an alternative to that boring old text-based resume.

More than the degree, employers want to see that you can apply yourself creatively, so step up and give them something different.

Fake it ‘til you make it

The rest is what I like to call fakin’ it ‘til you make it. For a while you’ll feel like a bit of a sham working in the field without the degree or experience (I know I did!), but trust me, that stuff is overrated.

Live and breathe the position you want to see yourself in and present yourself as such. Learn the ropes, work relentlessly hard, make those connections, and before you know it, you’ve broken into the industry and are probably rocking it without even realizing.

Sales & Marketing Week

Photo credit: David Horowitz

About the author

Justine Abigail Yu is a communications professional by day and a freelance writer by night. Graduating from the University of Toronto specializing in Political Science and Sociology, her heart lies in the development sector where she has worked with organizations operating in North America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. You can easily lure her in with talk of international development, human rights, emerging technologies, travel, and yes, Mad Men. Or a slice of cheesecake. Read her blog here or follow her on Twitter @justineabigail.