Dear Adrian—How do I break in to the event services industry?
Another issue of an occasional series—Dear Adrian—in which I answer questions sent to me about event design, elementary particle physics, solar hot water systems, and anything else I might conceivably know something about. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please write to me (don’t worry, I won’t publish anything without your permission).
Q. Dear Adrian,
I was wondering if you would be able to share some of your experience in the events services industry. I’m a Middle East Studies professional and I’m looking towards a career change into event management. I was just wondering what you studied, how you got into conference designing? What were some of the difficulties you had along the way? How does one “break into” the conference and events services industry with a degree in liberal arts?
In your book, which I am reading (which is amazing by the way, congrats!) it says that you managed a solar domestic hot water heating system manufacturing company? How on earth did you get into event management with that background?
I appreciate any answers you might have time have to answer and I thank you.
A student in George Washington University’s Event Management Certificate program.
A. Dear Student,
I’m afraid that the career path that led to my “breaking” into the event services industry is so atypical that it can in no way serve as a guide to others. Some information that sheds a little light on the circumstances can be found in this post.
And yet there is something one can learn from the strange journey that brought me into the conference and event services industry. Although I have only been connected to the “professional” event industry world for a few years, I have met and learned a little about the backgrounds of hundreds of event professionals in many industry segments. And I can assure you that a majority of those people did not plan a career in our industry but, like myself, found a calling or attraction to their work.
The people I’ve met have prior experience in all kinds of seemingly unrelated fields. Besides hospitality experience, which you might well expect to be a precursor, I’ve met people who have years of theatre experience, people with degrees in computer science or who worked in high tech, who started organizing conferences around a hobby they loved, and who ran companies and associations related to completely different industries.
As a result, my conclusion is that you are unlikely to be able to predict the fit for an events industry position by simply looking at prior experience listed on a résumé. Founding and managing my solar hot water manufacturing company, for example, gave me valuable business experience in a host of areas: finance and business planning, working with employees and contractors, marketing, and selling, to name a few. (And I’d add that your liberal arts degree could be excellent preparation for a career in the events industry, as a good program teaches you how to think creatively about a wide range of subjects; valuable expertise in such a diverse, wide-ranging, and often fast-paced industry as ours.)
What the event professionals I’ve met who clearly enjoy their work all have in common is their pleasure and satisfaction in successfully creating an enjoyable environment where people can come together, connect, and learn. That’s certainly what motivates my work. Is it something that also speaks to you? Then, if you have or can build the necessary competencies over time, there’s a place for you in this profession.
As far as practical considerations go, there are a wealth of opportunities available to you. I’m a big believer in the power of personal networking, whether face-to-face or, increasingly, online. The local chapters of industry associations are an obvious starting point. Reach out to your local chapter and explain your situation; attend a meeting or two and start to network there. Can you afford to volunteer or intern? This is one of the best ways for people and organizations to learn your capabilities, potentially leading to paying job opportunities.
Online, the MeetingsCommunity (commonly known as MeCo) has proved to be a great resource over the years. Check out the #eventprofs #mpi #pcma, and #ises streams of tweets on Twitter. Also, explore the many LinkedIn groups that cover every facet of the industry.
I hope this is helpful. Getting started in the event services industry is probably the hardest part. But persistence, with a bit of luck and serendipity, is usually rewarded. I wish you well in your endeavors. Keep me posted about what happens!
With best wishes,