Success stories from industry leaders

Dreams vs. success stories – the sky’s the limit when you leave university!

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A question we were asked a lot when we were young. Particularly towards the end of our school years, it felt like we were being told to commit to one career for the rest of our life, which is pretty daunting. So it’s understandable that we treated this question as kind of a big deal.

But it’s time to broaden your horizons and realise that it could actually be a good thing if you end up in a different job role than what you’d first planned on your aspirational mood board.

We’ve spoken to high-achievers in a range of fields to discuss their childhood dream jobs. We asked them what degrees they studied and how they’ve put a success stamp on their industry, so you can feel at ease if things don’t exactly go to plan after uni.

Keep reading for some solid advice so you’re not left quaking in your boots at the thought of temporarily ending up in the wrong job.

You might find that you have more than one passion

During our conversation with Liz Sebag-Montefiore, she explained why a career path is never set in stone. Her story began as a young bambino at school, where she discovered a burning passion for the art world, specifically the rich history that lurks behind it.

She followed her dream and took off on a jet plane to the cultural gem of Florence, a city known for its Renaissance art, religious monuments and as one of the fashion capitals of the world. Here, Liz spent a gap year learning Italian (bravo!) and studying art history, before returning to earn a First-Class Honours in the subject at St Andrew’s University.

However, she was unsure exactly where her degree would take her, telling us, “on graduating I thought I’d continue in the art world, not knowing exactly whether I would be working for an art dealer, auction house or museum.”

She nabbed a temporary role at the National Gallery, but swiftly moved onto a HR consultancy as she discovered she was “passionate about helping people in their career”. Her success as a career coach led her to start her own business, 10 Eighty, which focuses on career management, leadership development and outplacement.

Liz is living her best life in her current role, explaining:

I’m thrilled to be helping people who are at a career crossroads come out with a career plan. Such a rewarding job! I now work three days a week, balancing work with my two young boys.

Journo dreams to job-loving recruitment director

Growing up, Jake Freeman (recruitment director at Goodman Masson) always wanted to be a journalist. He explained:

“I wasn’t incredibly academic but I really enjoyed Media Studies throughout school and was excited about my future career working on the Daily Mirror or Radio 5 or maybe even on Channel 5!”

After studying Journalism at university, Jake was still keen on this career path and took some experience with the local paper, but it wasn’t quite what he expected, so he had to reassess – the thing we’re all scared of doing!

Now, that’s not to say that a journo career wouldn’t suit other people, it just turns out that it wasn’t for Jake. He ended up taking a bit of time out instead:

After graduating and travelling, I decided that a job in sales would give me a better chance of earning a living and managing to afford to live in London. I put my CV on Monster and was swarmed on by a load of recruitment agencies like a pack of vultures.

“12 years later and here I am – still in recruitment! Thoughts about ever leaving the industry are pretty much long gone, I absolutely love my job”.

Jake has no regrets about his degree or experience at university. In fact, he thinks that it gave him the platform and confidence he needed to thrive in his current environment.

By the sounds of things, as long as you’re learning and enjoying yourself, you’re on the right track!

Don’t lose your mojo if you hit a dead end

Kara Buffrey, the senior PR account executive at Clearly PR, was dreaming of the freedom and creativity that finds its home in the fashion industry; her dream job as a buyer or stylist.

Like many students across the UK, she felt uneasy about choosing a specific career and decided on a degree in Cultural and Creative Industries to broaden her career horizons – while still sticking to her creative guns, of course.

It wasn’t all plain sailing on the deep blue career sea for Kara, as she found that the road towards her dream profession was perhaps a bumpier ride than she’d expected:

When I graduated university, I moved to Canada to pursue my fashion dreams but soon hit a dead end…I put fashion on the backburner, finding it an unfriendly profession”.

Upon returning home, she joined the PR and content marketing company where she is today and has sky-rocketed to success, with her first promotion in less than a year. As well as gaining national coverage for clients and managing accounts, Kara has even managed and mentored a junior exec fresh out of Bath uni, helping her get her very own promotion too. High fives all round!

Kara is testament to the Insta-worthy caption “everything happens for a reason” – even if you don’t end up in the exact profession you had originally set your sights on, it’s deffo not the end of the world.

From psychology student to recruitment superwoman

Zoe Morris, the president at Frank Recruitment Group, is a prime example of how studying a degree in one area won’t lock you into it for life.

At the beginning of her road to business greatness, Zoe studied Psychology at the University of London – fast forward a couple of decades and she has an impressive 20 years’ experience in the recruitment industry tucked under her belt.

“It might not seem like an obvious jump, but recruitment is a sales-focused environment, and there’s a lot of psychology involved in that, as well as leadership in general. So I’ve certainly used my degree, albeit in a way I probably never envisaged when I was sitting in a lecture theatre!”

Zoe has a list of career achievements longer than the Great Wall of China: she has played a key part in driving the company’s growth into a global operation across four continents, as well as winning industry-based awards such as ‘The best and brightest companies to work for’ and the ‘Financial Times FT Future 100 list’.

That’s not all either. The boss lady is also an advocate for creating a more diverse and inclusive space for women in technology and business positions. You go girl!

Feel like you’ve got a new calling? Grab hold of it like two tickets to Glasto

Knowing that you’re doing something rewarding can be more important than your wage. Stay with us on this, we’ve got a story here that helps prove it.

Alex Robins remembers hanging out with his pals at 12 or 13 years old and chatting about what they’d do when they were older. They knew (and this is straight from the horse’s mouth) that they weren’t good enough to play football professionally, but they definitely wanted some kind of career in it:

“One friend wanted to be a sports agent, the other a presenter on the legendary Italian football programme, Gazetta Football Italia.

“I, on the other hand, was taking this discussion seriously and due to the fact that my mum was a lawyer, decided that a career as a football lawyer was my calling.”

Alex achieved the necessary A-Levels at college, then enrolled and excelled in Law at university, but he had a nagging feeling that a career in corporate wouldn’t give him the satisfaction he was after, so he began volunteering at a local charity:

“Fast-forward 10 years and I am now a senior fundraiser at a large national youth homelessness charity called Centre Point. While I get paid far less than ‘Football Lawyer me’ would, every day is truly rewarding and I know that this is a career that will continue to give me satisfaction and purpose long-term.”

Take the ups and downs with a pinch of salt

We slid into Jess Constanti’s inbox to discover where her success story grew its roots. Studying fashion and textiles at Canterbury University, she found her niche within the world of men’s tailoring and had big dreams about where she wanted to end up:

“I really enjoyed my degree and as I started out I had it in my head that one day I will find myself on Saville Row working in one of the renowned tailors. I really adored men’s tailoring and I was the only one of my group to complete my final year producing only a range of menswear.”

Almost ten years down the line, she is now a beauty expert and social media manager for Procoal, while being a freelance makeup artist for weddings.

Although Jess followed a slightly different path, she’s still “super happy about where my path has taken me, including the ups and downs!

We hope you’re feeling uber-inspired after reading the success stories of some industry big dogs.

Did you have any crazy career aspirations when you were a kid? Perhaps you wanted to be an astronaut working for NASA or maybe you always fancied being the real-life Postman Pat – tell us yours on our Facebook page today or jump back to our blog for more student-friendly advice.