I’ve told this story quite often, and with it being #NationalCareersWeek I thought I’d share to help inspire others and remind everyone that there’s more than one way you can kick start a career.
When I was little, I wanted to be an actress. Not a movie star – an honest to goodness on stage, classical theatre actress…maybe with a bit of improv thrown in for good measure. Looking back, what I really wanted to do was tell stories.
So much of my childhood revolved around stories. From the Sunday afternoon Jim Henson classic to the countless imaginary games I would play alone or with friends. That’s what I loved most.
I was an academic child, smart and always got high grades. At GCSEs, my year was one of the first where we could choose any subjects we wanted. My teachers all tried to talk me out of choosing Drama, Music and Media Studies, but I chose IT too as a backup. I figured I’d probably need to know how to use Excel at some point.
From there I studied a BTECH in performing arts. I also chose to do an A-Level in psychology – people fascinated me and I also wanted a traditionally academic qualification. Sadly, the schedules didn’t align though, and I had to drop it after a term – something I’ve always been sad about.
I got the highest grade possible, a Triple Distinction – equivalent to three A* A-Levels, and I applied to every drama school in London. My acting tutors tried to convince me to consider university too. I had nothing against it, but since I was old enough to watch Fame I knew I’d wanted to go to drama school.
I did well at many of the auditions and got great feedback. But getting in during year 1 is rare – they want you to go away and develop your craft, and come back and show them how you’d developed.
I threw myself into that with abandon, auditioning and taking part in every bit of community theatre I could. But that didn’t pay the bills. So I started looking for a job I could do alongside theatre, and saw an ad for Face to Face fundraising. I remembered thinking “Talk to people all day about charity and get paid £8.50 an hour? I can do that!” (£8.50 an hour was a lot more than most jobs at the time)
First taste of fundraising
I did F2F and the team leader role for a year. It was a tough year. Nothing builds a fundraisers resilience like face to face. But it was also an amazing one. I was lucky enough to learn from some fundraising legends (who are still doing awesome things in the sector today) and much of what I learnt I still apply to this day.
After a year or so, I decided ‘the streets’ weren’t for me anymore, but I knew I wanted to keep doing this fundraising thing. I’d had my first taste and I was hooked.
I saw a role in the Guardian for an unpaid internship (don’t @ me – they were very common at the time) and I was fortunate enough to be living at home, and so I was privileged to be able to go for that opportunity. My F2F fundraising experience was what got me the role, and I threw myself into it with abandon. I worked four days a week 10am – 6pm and soaked up every bit of information I could. It was there I learnt that people fundraising – community and events – was my forte, and after eight months, when I was certain I’d learnt all I could, I landed my first proper role as Events Fundraiser.
A career was born
It was only about a year or so later, when friends started inviting me to their graduation parties it kind of dawned on me. “Oh yeah….I didn’t do that university/higher education thing everyone else did”. I could’ve done. I had the academic skills and the drive to. I just chose not to. I found myself on a different path, and it was my lived experience and hard work that got me my first role.
In fact, because of how hard I worked in my internship, I skipped over the 'fundraising assistant' role altogether and started my career at Officer level.
I still remember that the job descriptions in the early days all asked for a degree. My managers told me to ignore that. They said my experience spoke for itself, and any decent hiring manager would see and value that just as much (if not more) as someone with a degree and no experience.
And that’s advice I’ve held on to ever since. It’s also why I never ask for a degree on roles when I recruit to a team. And I will proudly have that conversation with a Director or HR team who try to insist on including it.
I have every respect for everyone that went to Uni. One day I’d like to go back and pick up on Psychology, or maybe a degree in Fundraising or Charity Management. But for now, I’m proud of the life choices I made and where they got me.
Even if it does mean I missed out on being part of a RAG – something I know I would’ve loved!