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    You don’t have to have a degree to lead an agency – in fact, it helps not to

    Agencies shouldn’t make degrees a prerequisite for a job, writes Joanna Trippett. On A-level exam results day, when many students will find out whether they will be going to university or not, the managing director of Byte and Dept explains how not having a degree has never held her back.

    Across the UK’s 150+ universities, over 800,000 undergrads and postgrads graduate yearly. Despite such a high number of graduating students, over half of the UK population doesn’t have a degree.

    For generations, the UK schooling system and large corporations have drummed into us that having a degree means access to management and C-suite roles. Does this mean that those who haven’t should not aspire to the same jobs and positions? In an industry that is increasingly conscious of diversity and inclusion and the positive impact it has, why do so many job descriptions still require a BA?

    I don’t have a degree. University wasn’t a path that I decided to take and, although I’m surrounded by many brilliant degree-holders, at 29 years old I’m the managing director of one of Europe’s fastest-growing companies. 

    How did this happen? I was fortunate that past employers saw something in me that they wanted to support. That leap of faith not only paved the way for me, but in turn secured the future for so many at Byte.

    Intelligence comes in many forms, as does education; rather than limiting our perception of education to higher education, it’s my belief – and increasingly the belief of others – that we acknowledge the importance of learning outside a traditional education setting.  

    I learned my resilience and work ethic watching my parents build a business with three children under the age of five. I learned to understand human connection and empathy from them. A job as a waitress taught me customer service and patience; tailoring my approach to a number of different people. My first agency role taught me how to problem-solve. Navigating a high-pressure environment within a five-person startup taught me resilience and the benefits of taking risks. Finally, I attribute my leadership skills to those who were willing to take a leap of faith in hiring me. 

    Yes, I had a lack of official qualifications. I may not have a degree, but that doesn’t make what I did and do irrelevant. 

    You can’t teach attitude. I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I thought not having a degree was my kryptonite, it was my strength. Those who don’t go to university instead have three years of work experience. They have the ability to bounce back, pivot and drop their egos – it’s what clients want and appreciate, and it’s a skill that can only be achieved through hard work and experience. 

    Be it education, ethnicity, neurodiversity, economics, gender, career history or family circumstance, many of our best people tried different careers before arriving at Byte and Dept. They bring a wealth of new knowledge that challenges perspectives, which in turn makes our work better and consequently more effective. Our job is to speak to and develop experiences for everybody – we need to reflectively influence all of our target audience. 

    With the cost of living rising by 9.1%, it’s important that every business has a minimum starting salary for anybody they employ. Salaries should be comparable and represent the value they bring to your business versus the role. A fair wage means a focused and loyal employee. Paying people for the job you’re asking them to do versus their ‘experience’ not only shows them respect but, in turn, means they respect you. 

    Please skip the education part of a CV and look at the experience that’s been gathered inside and outside of the industry. What skills can be repurposed, how can they apply themselves to the position, and what is it about them as an individual that makes them stand out? Working for you could be the best experience of their life – yourself, your team and your clients get to benefit from that. Nothing beats the absolute joy when you see someone thriving in a position they, elsewhere, would have missed. 

    ‘Great attitude, but they don’t tick all the boxes’ – remember that attitude and adaptability could be the reason clients stay with you. Diversification is critical to the future of advertising; ignore whether someone is the right cultural fit, and instead think about whether you’re being biased because they don’t match the look and experience of your existing team. 

    We need to continue to eliminate barriers to thrive in this industry. We can’t effectively market to people we don’t know. Lowering the barrier for entry doesn’t mean lowering our expectations or the quality of our work – it means opening our eyes to the value of a diverse mix of people with all different experiences, backgrounds, personalities, ways of thinking and walks of life. If all you look for is a qualification, you’re just being lazy.

    Joanna Trippett is managing director of Byte and Dept.

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