From Drumsticks to Online Marketing: How to Identify Transferable Skills for a New Career

In the past 10 years, I’ve transitioned from musician to blog editor to operations manager to marketing director to serial entrepreneur. No, I don’t possess any magical powers. I’ve just spent time learning how I learn new skills and subjects by looking into my past.[bctt tweet="From Drumsticks to Online Marketing: Use Existing Skills to Start a New Career, by @andyangelos" username="StartupInst"]

Drumming was the focus of my life between ages 6 and 22.  My family encouraged this pursuit (and more importantly, tolerated the noise!), which resulted in becoming a competent drummer. My skills were highly praised by teachers, community members, and friends, giving me the confidence to refine these skills in college.

Following college, however, I collided with an unfamiliar force that slowly eroded my confidence. My dad flippantly referred to this new mystical power as “the real world.” Whatever it was, it caused the once common praise to disappear and eventually left me searching for work with seemingly inapplicable skills in unknown industries.

You know the story. You might even have had a similar experience.

This is commonplace for many of us entering the workforce as a master of drumsticks [/enter your own liberal arts credentials here]. Sure, I could play a mean Purdie Shuffle, but I lacked the technical, managerial, or sales skills desired by entry-level employers.

I’ve since realized that my technical prowess in music was less important than the ability to teach myself new skills. Nobody cares about the speed at which I can play paradiddles with my feet. Learning how to learn, however, has helped guide me through multiple career crossroads (and likely many more  in the future) as I continue to answer the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

Below, I’ve shared a few examples of how you might identify the transferable skills you’ve already mastered and apply them to a career transition.     

Making Your First Noise

I had a simple goal as a six-year-old with a drumset—make noise that compliments a song!

It took years to master implied time signatures, four limb independence, and other holy grails of drumming. But making those first noises was fairly painless once I had the necessary tools. My parents probably have a different recollection of whether the process was “painless”, but that is for another discussion...

The tools necessary for my first noise were a drum, a way to listen to music, and of course a pair of sticks. For digital marketing, the requirements are even more simple—you need an idea to communicate, a creative outlet (words, images, video, audio), and access to the Internet.  

[bctt tweet="New job? Your goal should be to make your first noise to compliment the song, says @andyangelos" username="StartupInst"]

At my last company, I applied this idea of “first noise” to help interns and new hires discover how to connect with an audience. The exercise started by discussing childhood passions. Some people talked about sports, others shared stories of cooking with grandparents, or a latent interest in art that was dropped in college.

Next, everyone created the branding and foundation for a blog, newsletter, or social channel about that specific topic. Convincing 20 people (excluding family and friends) to subscribe for ongoing communication was the final step, which required learning about persuasion, copywriting, and persistence.[bctt tweet="I use the idea of 'first noise' to teach others how to connect with an audience—@andyangelos" username="StartupInst"]

Curiosity-Driven Improvement

After a few years of drumming, I purchased 'Wildflowers,' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I’d heard Petty hits like 'Refugee' and 'Free Falling', but the drum grooves on this album had an entirely different feel.

Listening to the album on repeat led to questions such as “Is this the same drummer from other albums?” and “How are all those sounds being created by one person? Is there a percussionist?”  At the time, I did not have vocabulary to articulate the differences in sound, but my curiosity led to discovering Steve Ferrone, which subsequently introduced shuffles, playing behind the beat, and other disciplines of drumming.  

Note that this was pre-Google, in the dark days of dial-up internet. Digging into the work of masters is much easier today. Make sure you’re actively analyzing the tactics of other marketers. As your vocabulary and knowledge expand, you’ll likely notice more patterns and strategies to reverse engineer. Some example questions include:

[bctt tweet="Curiosity-driven improvement is key to your development as a #marketer—@andyangelos" username="StartupInst"]

What Types of Work do I Like?

Selecting a career path in marketing can be daunting for beginners. How do you choose between content marketing, conversion optimization, paid acquisition, growth hacking, data science, social media or any other buzzword discipline that appears in the future? Spinning the marketing-roulette wheel is one option, but you can also draw parallels to where you derived enjoyment from disparate disciplines in the past.

[bctt tweet="Don't spin the career-roulette wheel—consider what brought joy in the past, says @andyangelos" username="StartupInst"]

With drumming, I love being the backbone of a musical ensemble. Success in drumming requires understanding music holistically. You are responsible for keeping the music focused, strengthening interdependencies, recognizing opportunities to shift tempo or style, and providing a foundation for your bandmates to explore new musical directions.

Not surprisingly, I’ve played a similar “backbone” role in business. I’m most satisfied in operational and strategic capacities where I help others on my team produce and persuade more efficiently. This does not mean I can ignore the buzzwords and disciplines listed above, but it does require accepting that I will not be the most knowledgeable person in the room on most subjects. [bctt tweet="To find out what kind of work you'd thrive in, draw parallels w/ past activities—@andyangelos" username="StartupInst"]   

Little boy studies drumming music
Little boy studies drumming music
Drummer at Emporium Arcade Bar in Chicago, IL; Andy Angelos on drums
Drummer at Emporium Arcade Bar in Chicago, IL; Andy Angelos on drums

I’d love to hear about any transferable skills and strategies you’re using to help transition from another discipline into marketing in the comment section. Remember—don’t dismiss what you already know, especially the path you took to get there.

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