From Retail Manager to Digital Marketer in 2 Months: How to Change Careers Without Going Back to School?

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The topic of a career transition has been on the rise in recent years. It’s especially popular in the retail community. Long holiday hours away from family and friends, shrinking payroll and lack of appreciation from upper management and customers all contributed to that.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

And because I know exactly how you feel, I want to share my experience of a career transition from a burned-out retail manager to a digital marketer working from my laptop.

Now, I just want to note that I’ve worked in retail for over four years, and despite its challenges, I enjoyed most of my responsibilities. I enjoyed the rewarding feeling of helping a customer, coaching sales associates and seeing them grow, meeting targeted sales goals as a team and merchandising floorsets on early Sunday mornings.

What I didn’t enjoy was closing the store at 10 PM and having to go back in at 6 AM for shipment (the famous “clopen” that most retail managers are familiar with). I didn’t enjoy working overtime during the holiday season when everyone else was off work and had fun. And seeing senior management who has worked these hours for 20–30 years left me wondering if there was something else I could potentially do with my life.

A little bit about my background.

I immigrated to the U.S from Ukraine six years ago at the age of twenty-one with a degree in History in my pocket.

Now, if you are familiar with the hiring system in the U.S, my degree meant nothing, and so I was left with a choice of either going back to school for another 4 years or working my way up through available on-the-job training and self-education. I picked the second option because I didn’t have anyone to financially support me and didn’t want to acquire debt I couldn’t pay off.

At the time I was living in a little town of Wisconsin Dells, where we had very limited career options. After working as a face-to-face marketer for a year (while simultaneously learning English), I found myself in a manager-in-training program working for Abercrombie and Fitch that has launched my retail journey. Two years later, my husband and I moved to Colorado, escaping the cold and depressing Wisconsin’s winters.

Without getting into more details, eventually, after four years of being an Assistant Manager and a Store Manager, I found myself at the same spot where I’ve started. I realized I did not see myself working retail for the rest of my life, so I was left to decide either to go back to school and get in debt or to give self-education another shot. And again, I picked the second option.

What exactly did I do to be able to change careers?

To all of you who are wondering about the exact process of how I was able to change my career from retail management to digital marketing, I outlined the step by step process.

But please keep in mind that it is my personal experience, I am in no means a career coach to advise this type of transition. I also hope that even if you don’t take these steps, it will still get your brain juices flowing and the information presented broadens your perspective on what is possible.

Step 1: Start learning about digital marketing in your spare time.

Or in fact, any other field that does not require a formal education will work just as well.

As a full-time retail manager and a full-time wife, I did not have much spare time. But there were brief moments when I could study, such as listening to audiobooks or podcasts on my way to and from work or while cooking, reading from my phone on my lunch break, and so on.

In addition to that, at the beginning of 2019, I started a personal blog to learn how to write (remember, English is not my first language). Because of the lack of time, my efforts with it were very inconsistent, but I was happy with any progress at that point.

Step 2: Save as much money as possible.

At some point, I realized that if I continue learning at this speed, it is going to take me several years to get where I wanted to be.

So I decided to create a game plan of when I was going to leave my job, and how much money I needed to save to cover my expenses for 3–6 months. I figured that would be enough time to find a job in the new industry or find clients to work as a freelancer.

There was also another factor that contributed to my decision to leave my job without securing the new one. I was so burned out and exhausted that I needed to take care of myself. Lack of work-life balance, poor lifestyle choices and the declining passion for my work contributed to my physical and emotional state. So I needed to buy myself some time to rework my mindset and my lifestyle on top of learning the ins and outs of digital marketing.

I just want to add, that depending on your commitments and expenses you might have to get a part-time job in addition to living off your savings. Be aware that it might take you quite a while to save enough money. On the other hand, if you can live frugally, it could take you 3–6 months. It depends on how much you make and how much you can save. It took me about 6 months of saving half of my income to be able to build that safety cushion.

Step 3: Create your curriculum and schedule for a full-time study period.

When you work on your self-development and self-education, you are the student and the coach all at the same time. There is no one out there who is going to tell you what exactly you need to study, no one is going to assign projects to you, and no one is going to tell you that you are doing a great job. But there are a couple of tips that I can share with you to make this process easier.

Tip 1. Go on and search job postings for a position you want.

Or on Upwork and read profiles of successful freelancers in the field. Compile a list of requirements for the role, competencies that you see are in demand, any certifications that are preferred or wanted.

Obviously, you would want to look at the entry-level roles mostly, but it doesn’t hurt to check out all of the job postings you can find. You should put the minimum requirements at the top of your list, those should be your priority competencies to study. As you progress you should use your list to continue learning and advancing in your field even after you secure a job offer.

Tip 2. Research free courses and certifications on-line.

The amount of information on the internet makes it hard to separate the seeds from the weeds, but it is honestly a goldmine. A lot of sites offer a free trial period for a month, so you can binge-watch and explore them one by one without investing a ton of money.

Check out Linkedin Learning, Learning@Forbes, HubSpot Academy, Google Ads Certification, Google Analytics Academy, Facebook Blueprint, and Skillshare among others.

Tip 3. Create a sandbox where you are going to practice.

Creating a sandbox is very important because even if you take notes of everything you are learning, most likely you are not going to retain as much information as if you applied your knowledge at the same time. Ideally, the sandbox should also expose you to feedback from other people.

Depending on the niche, it could be creating a simple WordPress website and social media profiles for your freelance business, a portfolio on Behance, Pinterest account to share your graphic design projects, joining Facebook groups that specialize in the topic of your choice, or like in my case, helping a friend who has a business to grow their online presence.

Step 4: Take a leap of faith and leave your job.

After you have saved enough money and created your curriculum, it is time to put in two-week notice at your job and begin studying full time.

If you have taken all of the prior steps, by now you should have some knowledge of the industry, which means that while you are studying you should also craft your new resume.

I started applying for entry-level jobs in the digital marketing industry after about a month of studying and practicing. I would advise not to wait too long because obviously, you don’t want to run out of your savings, and it does take time to find a job in the new field.

Additionally, you could create profiles on Upwork and Fiverr to start looking for freelance gigs. Remember, that you might have to take on some free or volunteer projects to gain experience but any experience counts on your resume.

If you want, you can also hire a resume writer to help you showcase your transferable skills and your new experience. I did not take this step only because I’ve experimented with over ten different resumes and was able to get an offer two and a half months after leaving my retail management role.

If I didn’t, I would probably get professional help. The resume is a very important step in getting your name out there. Many companies use software to sort through the applications, so it is crucial that you use specific keywords that are relevant to the position and the industry you are trying to get in. So if you don’t get called for a single interview after actively applying for a month, definitely reach out to someone who knows how the system works.

Step 5: Network and build relevant connections on LinkedIn.

I can’t emphasize enough how important networking in your new industry is. By building genuine connections with people you can learn from, you create a support network. Follow important thought leaders in your niche, career transition coaches, companies you would like to work for. There are so many job offers that never reach the job posting sites.

Update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your new industry and share your wins and your struggles with others. You never know where your job offer is going to come from. Reach out to people in your current network to see if any of them are hiring for the role you are looking for. Try to focus on providing value in these conversations, not just asking for help.

What was the cost of the career transition?

Like everything in life, there is a cost involved in a career transition. It is a lot less expensive than going back to school for four years, but it does cost you time, money to cover your expenses, and some sacrifices such as living frugally.

Additionally, you have to be ready to work for free during these few months as you are learning the ropes, and be ready to take a pay cut for some time. At my retail job, I was making about sixty thousand per year. It is a decent amount of money, and if I stayed there I had the potential to make a six-figure income over the next five to ten years. But at what cost?

At a cost of not having the lifestyle I wanted, feeling uninspired to wake up in the morning, and not being able to travel and visit my family for more than ten days without taking a leave of absence. That just wasn’t a cost I was willing to pay.

So I was okay with taking a pay cut in the short term to be able to change the industry and grow in a field I was excited about. But I understand that we are all different and that might not be possible for everyone.

In addition to the pay cut, if you decide to build a freelance business or work as an independent contractor, you have to sacrifice the comfort of having perks like health insurance, 401K, employee discount that you normally get as a full-time retail manager. Depending on the job you find it might not offer benefits at all or for some time, so if you have dependents, health insurance can get very expensive.

The other costs are pretty minimal, such as setting up your domain and hosting for your website, possibly some inexpensive courses on Udemy that you can get for as low as $9.99 or $19.99, or software subscription cost if you want to learn graphic design.

As an alternative, you could enroll in very popular nowadays boot camps that offer certifications and intensive courses that you can study over a specific period of time.

General Assembly is a great choice (not sponsored). Their certifications can range between $3,000 and $12,000. The great thing about GA is that they have various payment options that you can choose from, including a zero dollar upfront. So you can go through the whole program and only pay after you get a job in the new industry.

I would recommend Boot camp for someone who is trying to get into a more technical field compared to digital marketing. GA offers courses on software engineering, coding, UX design, data science, web development, data analytics and more.

The mindset shift that needed to happen before I made a career change.

As an immigrant, for the longest time, I had a mindset of a constant race against people who were born in the U.S, trying to be as good as them, trying to prove something to myself and others.

I had to learn at a very fast speed, and, let’s be honest, I wasn’t nice to myself along the way. As a perfectionist, over-achiever and ambitious person, I was always on the go, which eventually caused my burnout. I was doing things I thought I could do as an immigrant instead of doing things I enjoyed doing. I honestly didn’t even know what I enjoyed anymore.

Changing my mindset has helped me to make this career transition. I focused my attention on learning about the industry I was genuinely curious about. I did more things that I enjoyed. I committed to only doing things I could accept, enjoy or feel enthusiastic about.

I went through a whole inner transformation before I was able to change my career. I had to believe in myself and my worthiness before anything shifted in my reality. I was the only one responsible for the life I’ve created for myself, no one else. And accepting this fact empowered me to recreate my reality. I would love to share more about this but I think I will leave it for another post.

I want to finish this article with a thank you note to those who knowingly and unknowingly inspired me with their content, supported me along the way, believed in me and gave me a chance. I am so grateful that the Universe brought you in my life.


Top picks for freelance niches:

  1. Website development
  2. Sales funnels
  3. Copywriting
  4. Social Media Management
  5. Image production
  6. Video editing
  7. Video production
  8. Translation
  9. Transcription
  10. Graphic design
  11. Facebook Ads
  12. Google Ads
  13. LinkedIn Ads
  14. Pinterest Ads
  15. Linkedin Profile creation
  16. Email marketing
  17. Virtual assistant services
  18. Voiceovers
  19. Lead generation
  20. Phone sales
  21. SEO
  22. Content marketing
  23. Product descriptions
  24. Customer support
  25. Webinar slides creation

About the author

Tetiana DeJesus is a digital marketer and a content creator passionate about self-education, mindful living, philosophy, and storytelling.




Tetiana Furmanchuk is a digital marketer and a content creator passionate about self-education, mindful living, philosophy, and storytelling.

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Tetiana Furmanchuk

Tetiana Furmanchuk

Tetiana Furmanchuk is a digital marketer and a content creator passionate about self-education, mindful living, philosophy, and storytelling.

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