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Snagging Six Figures: From Marketing Assistant turned COVID Freelancer and $60,000

The concept  ‘Snagging six figures’ was created after we had readers writing in asking for advice about how to use their degree and current job skills to launch into a different industry or career. We know that no one career story is the same, but telling the stories of others can challenge, inspire and shape your own. We are asking every interview the same five questions:

  • Why they picked their course
  • Their course experience
  • Their first job
  • What they learnt
  • Their next step
  • And their advice

Name: Zoe

Age: 23

From: A Bachelor of Media & Communications and Screen & Cultural Studies to Marketing Assistant at Hope Estate turned COVID Freelancer

Salary: $0 at 21 to $60,000 at 23

I studied a Bachelor of Media & Communications as well as Screen & Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne.


Why Zoe picked the course:

The choice to move from the Inner West of Sydney to Melbourne to study was equal parts a desire for change as well as an attraction to a prestigious university. I had never even visited Melbourne before I decided to move there for my three-year degree but the university had a high entrance mark and I assumed that meant a quality degree.

Originally I wanted to be a film critic and deep down just wanted to spend my next three years writing about obscure horror films and feminism. However, I chose to complete a double major with film studies and media comms, to make my qualification a bit more substantial.


Zoe’s course experience:

My three-year degree went pretty quickly, which was good because I didn’t want to be there for too long. I had to complete a certain number of subjects to fulfil my double-major requirements and got to pick the occasional ‘breadth’ subject.

Breadth subjects had to be selected from a different discipline like science, fine art, law, etc… If I could go back and choose subjects again I would probably pick law or business-related subjects. I spent most of my breadth subjects in classes like Street Art, Up Close and Personal with MTC and Same-Sex Desire: From God to Genes. While these were all very entertaining and I enjoyed going to the theatre for uni, I wish I had chosen more practical subjects.

Even the subjects I studied for media & communications weren’t particularly practical. A lot of them had a research focus and I think in my three years I completed 2 practical subjects that I would consider relevant to working in marketing or journalism.


Zoe’s anecdotal feedback on the course:

While I enjoyed my degree, I think universities like UTS or RMIT would have better prepared me for the workforce. The University of Melbourne doesn’t overly encourage placements or internships so a lot of students would have to find their own. Most of the practical experience I took from university was extracurricular involvement with Farrago and Judy’s Punch, two student magazines.

Upon graduating from university I felt inadequately prepared for any type of employment or even the ‘real world’. It felt like I had spent three years working towards a piece of paper and a qualification in basically nothing. I completely lacked any type of confidence. Cue quarter-life crisis.


Zoe’s next step:

After a mild quarter-life crisis I moved back to NSW and started a Certificate IV in Small Business Management. This choice was half panic and half an interest in freelancing. Strangely, I felt I learned more practical information in the 10 weeks of that course than I did in my three-year degree. It taught me a lot about tax, insurances and the fundamentals of marketing.

One of the harshest, but best, pieces of advice I received was from my business mentor who said “Nowadays everyone goes to uni, so you need to show them work you’ve done in the real world. No one really cares about uni work.” At the time it was a tough pill to swallow but that advice was crucial to my career path.

I heavily enjoyed my business course and loved my mentor, who inspired me to upskill and study a Certificate IV in Graphic Design. That was a 12 week course that was very hands-on and practical. I learned the basics of how to use Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, some of which I had experimented with at university but never really got into. By the end of the certificate I had a few samples of my work that I could use in a portfolio.

During my Graphic Design certification I started to freelance and intern with Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine which had me writing articles for the magazine, creating inspiration boards and producing content for their website.


Zoe’s first job:

After finishing my certificate, I saw the perfect job advertised at Hope Estate in the Hunter Valley. They host a number of large concerts, annual food and wine events as well as brewing their own beer and making wine. I applied immediately and got a call a few days after the New Year.

The job had me writing media releases and producing marketing campaigns for their music and lifestyle festivals, creating tasting notes for their brand new beers and social media managing. I hit the ground running and was loving every minute of it. My first week on the job we hosted Elton John and the following weekend was Cold Chisel. Arguably the biggest weekend in Hope Estate’s history, with over 54,000 visitors across eight days.

Unfortunately COVID-19 hit and just like a number of Australians who were working in the events and tourism industry, I was stood down from my position indefinitely.


Zoe’s pivot:

Thankfully, because of my small business certification, I knew how to turn it around so I started my own business to pick up a few gigs.

It has been going quite well for the past few months and I’ve been able to maintain virtually the same income I was receiving from Hope Estate from my own business.

This year has been pretty rough for a lot of young people looking for work, we’re often the least paid and the most expendable. Though I wouldn’t say freelancing is the most secure form of employment, in a strange turn of events it was actually my saving grace.

A lot of the freelance opportunities I’ve picked up were from people I knew through either family or friends. There is immense value in maintaining good working relationships with people you know, for me it was the make or break.


Zoe’s advice:

It can be hard graduating into what is a highly oversaturated market and creative industries, for the most part, require portfolios. The difference you will need to make is taking opportunities where you can find them and reaching out to individuals. Most of these will probably be unpaid and if you’re fortunate enough to work without pay, grab them.  For me, having written work published in a reputable magazine helped not only my confidence but gave me great work to add to my portfolio.

Modern career-paths are about flexibility and resilience, as we’ve seen during COVID-19, a number of workplaces transformed. Traditional 9-5 jobs being converted into digital nomad-type careers, and this could be the future of the workforce. Find your niche, add more skills to your repertoire and look for the next thing to learn that will increase your employability. Although I didn’t find my degree overwhelming helpful for my career path, there is something to be said for the power of that piece of paper. That degree alongside my certifications has helped me build a portfolio and not be afraid to pivot.


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  • This article is terrible because it doesn’t show any acknowledgment of the obvious privilege Zoe quite clearly has.

    Earning $0 and is able to move interstate for university (and if she is 21 earning $0, I will assume she chose not to work throughout her degree while living out of home) and having a mentor? That is something reserved for rich kids.

    Annoying that she complains about the lack of internship or placement availability, as if a lack of self drive that exists in some students is the universities problem.

    “It can be hard graduating into what is a highly oversaturated market and creative industries, for the most part, require portfolios” You should be able to use your assessment pieces for your portfolio. While I do agree the market is oversaturated due to uncapped university placements, I did not find it difficult to find a job quickly after graduating from a media comm degree. Many of the other students I did my final subject with also had no issue. While I will acknowledge that not everyone found relevant work, those who didn’t seemed more interested in ticking university degree off their life to do list than establishing a career and made very futile attempts to network or get industry experience until post-graduation, where it is often too late for that shit. Again, lack of self drive.

  • In response to your comment Lucy, I would just like to point out that this rhetoric of not being able to find a job due to “lack of self drive” is quite damaging and also one that comes from a place of privilege, much in the same way that people might make assumptions about people on unemployment welfare. While you were able to land a job right out of uni, not everyone has that same experience. I would invite you to look at your own experience and reflect on the privilege you might have over others.

    It’s hard finding a job. I myself have been lucky enough to gain a number of years of experience at several different companies, but have been in positions where I have struggled to land a job. While I was working at one job I wanted to leave, it took me over 5 months to be able to land my next one. I applied for dozens and dozens of jobs, attended a number of interviews, made it past 2 or 3 rounds, etc. And I would consider myself lucky that I had a stream of income as I was looking for my next gig.

    Regardless, I don’t think that was the point of this article at all and I don’t think it’s fair to zero in on one point giving context to the main contention and call it “terrible” and “annoying”.

    Thank you Zoe for the insightful article and for sharing your experience.

  • Hey Lucy,

    Sorry to hear you thought my article was terrible.

    I just want to give you some clarification. Yes, there is definitely privilege involved, I see myself as incredibly lucky. But that is the case for many people. Whether you’re born white, male, from money or have been able to attend prestigious universities, there is an element of privilege in a large majority of people’s lives. Personally, I didn’t need to think I had to preface my article with that in mind as its subject matter is purely what I studied at university and where I went from there.

    I also didn’t think to mention my career-defining three year stint at Bed Bath n Table. Though it helped me put food on the table, travel and pay for my bills, it’s not something I think relevant to my career. But I can give you some great advice on some sheets if you’d like!

    What I meant in my article was that the University of Melbourne is somewhat archaic. In that it is highly research focused. I spent most classes learning about the Public Sphere. From the subjects I was able to select as part of my major only one ultimately gave me great portfolio material. The remainder of my portfolio was filled with magazine work I did at the University of Melbourne as well as Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle.

    This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Everyone experiences university differently and everyone’s career is on a different trajectory. I’m glad you and your cohort got your dream jobs. And I am also proud of what I’ve done with networking and building a business during a global pandemic.

    I don’t think it’s ever too late to try to start anything. Success can be found at any age. I wish you a wonderful career.


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