A while back I was approached by a person who was graduating from college soon and wanted to know whether I started freelancing right out of college or got an office job first.
They were considering freelancing but were concerned it might be too soon. Or that they might not be as successful without previous experience. They asked if I thought it would be beneficial to work in the industry for an agency or publication first.
It’s an interesting decision to make. I, personally got an office job first and here’s why:
Like many recent college grads, I wasn’t exactly sure which direction I would ultimately take in my career, only that it would be something to do with the written word. I also wasn’t quite sure where to start. Getting that first job in your chosen industry can be daunting.
At that point in my life, I would not have even considered starting my own business. As entrepreneurial as younger generations are, I think there is still a fair amount of growing that needs to happen before most new graduates are ready to tackle their own ventures.
Working at an agency allowed me the opportunity to dip my toes in the water. And my entry level position was important to my growth — without it, I doubt I would have felt comfortable making the leap to freelance at all.
Like most entry level positions, I did a lot of different tasks throughout the production department, which exposed me to many different stages and components of the production process. I was able to absorb a lot of information in a short period of time and suss out my own strengths, weaknesses and job preferences.
I learned a lot about what I did and didn’t want to do long-term.
The value of experience
I knew when I graduated that there was going to be a gap between what I learned in the classroom and the skills I would need to be successful.
Another advantage of getting an office job first, is the ability to gain the knowledge and experience of already established professionals. I worked closely with experienced copyeditors, fact checkers, writers and designers and got the chance to learn directly from them.
In the process, I picked up small bits of knowledge I might not have ferreted out for myself for several years on my own. This isn’t something that is always readily available when you work for yourself, by yourself.
And here’s the rub: How can you call yourself knowledgeable on a subject without experience? Sure, my college courses included project work outside of the classroom, but as valuable as that was, it wasn’t the same as work experience. Clients pay for experience and expertise.
I met people
People are probably your greatest asset in any industry. You learn form people and it’s the people you surround yourself with who will help guide your career. I wouldn’t have met any of the people I have, had I not taken that agency job first.
Everyone from the copyeditor who initially trained me, to the supervisor who oversaw my training, and the people who worked alongside me — all sharing their experience and insight — was a valuable piece of the experience.
I knew from the outset that I would eventually start my own business, but I didn’t expect that I would begin freelancing as early as I did — an unexpected move sped up my timeline. But I still feel it was important to soak up whatever knowledge I could while I worked for someone else.
I had a marketing professor who gave me this piece of advice: If you want to start your own business, the best thing you can do is to get a job in that industry first. It’s the same advice I would give to others.
Freelancers: Did you work for someone else first or go straight to freelancing? Why? And if you had the opportunity to do it again, would you do it differently?