Claire Maxwell works at Icon Books as their Publicity Manager. She has previously worked in journalism and bookselling, and she blogs at www.ithinkijustbloggedmyself.com. Here, at the age of 23, she tells us how she’s worked her way up to this role, without a degree.
‘You’re not going to get anywhere without a degree’ was one sentence I heard often, and got sick of quickly, while I was desperately trying to work out how my adult life was going to pan out at the age of 18.
I wanted to get into publishing but I didn’t want to spend another three years in education, racking up huge amounts of debt and putting off the inevitable. I wasn’t sure that publishing was an industry – like medicine or law, for example – that needed three years plus in a classroom, and decided that for a year or two, depending on how miserable I became, I’d make the most of having parents who lived near London and try my best to get into the coveted world of books.
While there is no fool-proof way of getting a job, you don’t necessarily need a degree. No matter how many people at school or on your internships tell you you do. That is what I want to argue.
I, in fact, don’t even have good A Levels, let alone a Bachelors Honours in English Literature as so many of my (very talented) colleagues do. I left school at 16, did two A Levels via distance learning due to ill health and gained grades I don’t particularly want to include on job applications.
However, I did do a couple of work experience placements at Hodder & Stoughton and worked in a bookshop for a short time, which turned out to be an invaluable asset to my CV. I eventually got my first full time job at a newspaper at the age of 21 – the other end of the phone to where I find myself now. I worked on local news stories by day and by night I built up a reasonable blog and social media following; reviewing books, waxing lyrical about what I was doing that weekend and taking pretty pictures of latte art.
When I came to leave my job at the newspaper, aged 22, and start seriously looking for a job in PR in a publishing house, I told myself I had everything a recent graduate had, if not more. It helps to give yourself a pep talk before a stressful interrogation, but it was also true. I’d had a year or so of stellar hands-on experience in the real world of work, media and PR. I’d created something successful from scratch and effectively promoted myself and my work via social channels. I wasn’t a high school drop-out with no prospects, as I was made to believe at the naïve and terrified age of 18, I was going to be just fine.
I believe that while there is a place for higher education, a lack-of is not to be scoffed at. Encouraging people not to go to university encourages a more creative approach to early career progression and a wider variety of experience within the companies these people end up working for. There are other, sometimes more effective, routes.
I’m still only 23 years old, but I’m now on my second job in publishing as the publicity manager at a thriving independent publisher in North London. And in my last round of job interviews I was not asked once about my lack of degree.