Specialist Career Transitions: From Toys to Tech

Hannah MarstonMBA2019 Hannah Marston took her experience working in marketing with toy giant Mattel in LA and successfully transitioned into her role as Client Partner at Facebook here in London. She tells us about the successes, setbacks and surprises of starting a Tech career.

What were you doing (and where) before you came to LBS?

My first job was with a start-up; I was their first employee and it was a great chance to try many different business functions, thus allowing me to realise that I really liked marketing. After a year of that, I transitioned into a product marketing management role at Mattel on the Hot Wheels brand, working very closely with my cross-functional teams in design, engineering, packaging, etc., managing licensers in the entertainment and gaming industries, and leading many brainstorms on how to make the next great Hot Wheels car and/or track set.

Why did you choose to undertake your programme at LBS? What was your motivation?

My undergraduate degrees were in History and Classics, so not typical business education! That was actually one of the reasons I considered an MBA, because I didn’t have this formal education even though I’d worked in business since graduating. I was also in a post-MBA role right before LBS; everyone I worked with in the Marketing team had an MBA. So initially, I was quite hesitant to do an MBA. I really decided on it because the more I worked, the more I saw it gave people this strategic way of thinking. At that point I had such a specific skill set and the toy industry is quite insular, so I wanted to transition to a new industry, particularly tech, and experience something else. There really wasn’t a better way to transition from a specific industry like toys into a different field than through an MBA. An MBA also allowed me to try tech for the summer via an internship and so even if it didn’t work out, I knew it would stand me in good stead back in Consumer Goods and by doing it as an internship, I could recruit for something new in the Fall if I needed or wanted to. The MBA gave me a chance to be considered by my skills set as opposed to just my background and being in London gave me more opportunities to experiment since it is a hub on business globally.

Where are you now? What specific events/services/activities in your time at LBS helped you get there?

I’m now a Client Partner at Facebook – but when I entered the MBA, I didn’t even consider Facebook as an option. I knew I liked marketing and the MBA reaffirmed that; I felt that Amazon was the next step for me because I’d worked in Consumer Goods and I’d sold in products to Amazon previously. But then I went to so many information events throughout Term 1 and I discovered that the working culture at Amazon just wasn’t a good fit for me. What I’d really recommend is going to sessions, usually hosted by clubs, that aren’t specifically for recruiting, like panel discussions and ‘in conversations with’ events – that’s where I got a real sense of where I could see myself and where I couldn’t. Hearing from people that weren’t there with the explicit purpose of saying ‘come work with us’ was so helpful.

For me I found one-to-ones with coaches really key; after the required interview prep that you undertake in November I learnt that I wasn’t telling my story that well, so I made quite a few appointments with coaches to figure out how to do that more coherently across my career and that in turn helps you to believe in yourself and the story too. I think it’s so important to get that narrative sharpened in Term 1 – then when you come to do the job-specific interview preparation you know the point you’re always trying to circle back to in your answers. In my case, it was always around why this move, from consumer goods to tech, made sense.

What skills did you have from your previous career that were applicable to your new role? How did you make those transferable skills clear to employers?

People actually being able to know what your product was, was really helpful for me. I worked on Hot Wheels and immediately most people could picture what that was, and often it would start a conversation and build that human connection. More generally, I think relationship management was a really valued skill, whether that was working with cross-functional teams internally building licensor relationship externally. Similarly, problem-solving, examples of where you’ve managed up or worked around something to find a solution were often important – what are traditionally thought of as soft skills.

What challenges or setbacks did you experience in transitioning from a specialist career? How did you overcome them?

I was actually turned down from all the tech roles I’d applied to in the US, which was my original plan – all within a week’s period! I had no idea what to do, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do anymore. I went to all of the recruiting events in January to understand what else was going on, what different companies were doing, what other roles were available. I went to Expedia for example, and then to Google, but neither of them seemed to be right, and then came Facebook. My year was the first that they did a formal MBA internship recruitment drive in EMEA, so I went even though they hadn’t offered these jobs before and I wasn’t sure I wanted it anyway. But in their presentation, I realised with Facebook the role was actually relationship management, which really challenged my preconceived notions about the company. So whilst it’s good to have a list of companies to investigate and target, I would also say be open-minded about others that you might have dismissed.

For me, I was also pretty homesick in the first term and that made it difficult to imagine interning or living in London rather than the West Coast. But by Term 2, I started to think, ‘I could stay here in the UK’, which helped me bounce back from not actually being offered something back in the US. Eventually I just let it go, I stopped applying to US roles and concentrated on what opportunities were presenting themselves here in the UK, picturing myself here too. I just told myself, this summer is for experimenting, if it doesn’t work out there are plenty of other opportunities coming and that was a real mindset shift from thinking I just had this one shot to ‘get it right’. Talking it over with friends experiencing the same thing was also really helpful and the LBS brand and Career Centre connections definitely also puts you in a stronger position when applying.

One piece of advice for students looking to emulate your journey:

I would say give yourself a goal; my goal for my summer was to try out tech with a big company and if I couldn’t get big, then medium-sized tech, so I would know if it was right for me longer term. If it wasn’t, I could go back to Consumer Goods. I’d also recommend working with the career coaches early – and your peers – to develop your story. If you can get that part right, I think it all follows on from there.


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