Where My Marketing Career Path Has Led Me…So Far

Admittedly speaking, the story of marketing career path  isn’t anywhere near complete.  Using a food analogy… because I like to eat, if my career were compared to baking cookies, I wouldn’t even be edible cookie dough yet.  Right now, I’m still in the phase of mixing in ingredients before someone can lick the spatula and throw the gooey, yet delightful, concoction in the oven.  However, all professionals, until the last day they punch the clock, are in the constant phase of the baking process – whether they’re just being mixed or they are being endowed with icing and sprinkles.  --- End Food Analogy

My career started with one trait I would assume is common for many who graduate from college – struggle.  I’ve said in the past that as a first generation college graduate I had the perception that at the same time I was handed my degree on stage, I’d also be handed a six figure job and the keys to a yacht.  Instead, I was destined to search Monster.com and other job boards on 28.8K internet in rural Iowa for any job that didn’t seem like a complete fabrication.  Finally, when I could sense that my parents were getting slightly perturbed to find me in pajamas every day at 5 PM after enduring long workdays, I took my queue to exit stage left and shake some things up.

My First Job

I came up to Chicago for a weekend on a whim to try to find work.  I applied EVERYWHERE.  From going into some impressive looking glass structures, to applying to work at the front desk at a Best Western.  Within days of being in town, I got a job offer as a doorman/bouncer at a suburban watering hole.  After about four months of that, I was lucky enough to get work in an office building working as a Student Advisor at an online, for-profit college.  It paid the bills and got me out of harm’s way, but it wasn’t remotely what I wanted to be doing.  

After a few years in the position with no luck finding anything else, I started to have doubts that anything else was possible.  I was getting older, my internship skills were growing stale, and my marketing toolbox was devoid of the latest and greatest gadgets.

The Transition to Marketing

I knew that my resume was likely being cast aside immediately by employers, because, on paper, I was a VERY underwhelming candidate.  I needed to up my game and get some experience under my belt.  That’s when I used my network to find a small business near my house that wanted to expand their marketing abilities.  I offered to create them a marketing and social media plan, free of charge, and help them execute.  My payment, being able to list relevant experience on a resume.  It worked!  I spun that volunteer work into a 20 hour a week, part-time job that paid $11 hour to do some communications and social media work for a small charity.  The extra few hundred dollars a month felt nice, but more importantly, I got more experience.  Then, the big break came.

Through some internal networking, I was able to move into a Marketing Associate role within my company.  I got to work with some talented marketers who seemed to have a pulse on a lot of best practices.  Admittedly, moving from doing marketing work in all smaller organizations throughout my career to a large, publicly traded entity wasn’t the easiest thing for me.  There were a lot of bumps and bruises along the way.  And, while I was able to get my feet wet and learn under some tremendously talented individuals, I was never fully able to realize my full potential there.  I knew I needed a fresh start somewhere else, but that I also wanted to challenge myself to navigate the waters of a larger, highly matrixed organization.

My Current Role

On January 6, 2015, I began working as a Membership & Marketing Specialist for the American Bar Association.  I can unequivocally say that it was the culmination of a lot of hard work, perseverance preceded by doubt, and successes after several shortcomings.  I set out with the goal of becoming one of those intelligent marketers that I aspired to be and exceeding what I thought my ceiling to be.
Not only did I feel there was a necessity to dig in and fully devote myself to my work – but I knew I needed to supplement.  I enrolled in Purdue University’s Master of Science in Communication program to supplement the real world experience with educational principles.  On May 7, 2016, I was awarded my degree.

My education and career progression both were closely tied and exhibited a new mindset for me.  In my undergraduate program, I left a lot on the table and didn’t perform to my potential.  In my graduate work, I performed at a level that I could have never fathomed six years before.  Additionally, as a marketer, I was always someone who looked at other marketers with reverence and wallowed in disappointment for what I didn’t know.  Now, I take the time and energy to become proficient in every aspect of my career.  The next 35 years of my career depend heavily on what I am doing now, and I need to make the most of every opportunity.

To Be Continued…

At this point, I am trying to plan for my desired future with actions that will provide me with the greatest probability of getting there.  In August, I began a Weekend MBA program at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management with one goal in mind – becoming an organizational leader.  I did exhaustive research on finding the program that would provide great return on investment and put me in a position to succeed.

While my ultimate goal is to be a Brand or Product Manager down the road, I want to leverage the skills from my past experience and education toward being the best employee I can be for the group I work for on a daily basis.

How will I get to my desired role?  That remains to be seen, but I keep as many irons in the fire as possible.  I work as hard as possible and maintain as many relationships in my current role to be an obvious choice for upward mobility.  

Additionally, I will gladly pay for lunches and have conversations with professionals in other organizations and industries who are willing to give me some of their thoughts and insights.  

I don’t know where I’m going, and I don’t know how I’ll get there, but I hope in 35+ years when the oven dings, the final product is something I can be proud of.
Learn More
Tom Felgar is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
Tom Felgar is a multi-channel marketing professional working for the American Bar Association in Chicago, IL.  Tom obtained his Master of  Science in Communication from Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication in May 2016 and completed his undergraduate studies in Communication Studies at the University of Iowa in 2009.  
In addition to his passion for marketing and communications, Tom enjoys outdoor activities like baseball, hiking, biking, and camping in his spare time.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.