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How I Turned My Major Mistake Into A Successful Marketing Career

Written by Dana Iskoldski

Photography by Ryan Bolton

Only one in four grads are working jobs that match their college major.

So if you worry about wasting time in a program that isn’t right for you, here’s the good news; knowledge is never wasted. Plenty of successful people have used their “wrong choice” to enrich their careers.

Tanya Moryoussef is an awesome example; she’s a Marketing Manager for LoyaltyOne (you know them better as AIR MILES), and she’s only a few years out of university (Western, anyone?). She’s already managing her own team and has worked on some cutting edge campaigns—including one with augmented reality tech.

Here’s the twist. Tanya’s major in university was actuarial sciences (the study of risk, as it applies to the insurance industry). She realized two years into her academic program, that it wasn’t a right fit.

“I remember being really frustrated and challenged by a program that I wasn’t happy in. So I quickly took steps to change my path.”

You switched majors halfway through university—what’s your philosophy on mistakes?

There are no real true mistakes as long as you’re learning from them. I don’t regret majoring in math, it certainly has given me an advantage in that I can think analytically. A lot of people get to that point where they’ve declared a major and realize it’s not for them, and the thought of having to redeclare is scary.

Two years in, I started to realize I wasn’t feeling motivated in the major I thought I loved. I remember being really frustrated and challenged by a program that I wasn’t happy in. So I quickly took steps to change my path. I took summer courses in things outside of my program to learn what I was interested in.

Coming from a math background, I thought I would specialize in something similar, like banking or investing, but when I realized marketing was the course I always jumped to doing work for first, I took steps to do that more. I fell in love with marketing.

How did you get your foot in the door at LoyaltyOne?

I had the opportunity to apply to Western’s business school, so I did. In my first year of business school (3rd year of university), we had a day where company leaders would present about their companies before recruiting season. That day Bryan Pearson came to talk about AIR MILES. After hearing him talk for 10 minutes, I knew that was where I wanted to work.

So I went up to Bryan after the session and I told him about my background in math and statistics, which was intriguing to him given that LoyaltyOne is a very data-driven company. He asked me to send my resume in through the recruiting process.

“Find those things that make you different and find a way to talk about them.”

Why do you think you were hired?

The fact that I came into the business program a very different way than most people did (only three actuarial science students were in my program). They were intrigued. They were looking for marketers who could get excited about data and really get into the analytics.

As a marketer, do you have advice on building a personal brand for students?

Find those things that make you different and find a way to talk about them. For me, it was my background and my education—what I studied before going down the business route. When I think about traditional marketing, that’s what a lot of great brands do. They find things about their product that make it special, or better yet, that makes customers feel they can’t live without it, and focus on that. As a person you should be doing the same thing.

Aside from that, you should invest less time worrying about your personal brand, and more time doing great work. Obviously when going through the application process you’re going to want to put your best foot forward and sell yourself, so that’s maybe when your personal brand matters a little more, but think about developing that reputation for doing great work.

“Find someone you admire and study them.”

One more question, do you have any leadership advice for us? I know you were a frosh leader at Western, and now you’re managing an entire team of people.

Find someone you admire and study them. That’s really valuable. I like drawing on the people around me who I find to be very inspiring leaders.

Like my boss, my boss’ boss—the way they lead their team. I look at how our CEO delivers speeches and information to our organization. It’s as simple as paying attention to how he crafts his emails, or when he’s doing a press release. I watch very carefully how they’re communicating, what they’re saying, what they’re doing to motivate employees, and I bring that into my own life.

An easy mistake to make is to think management is the same as leadership. It’s not. It’s one thing to manage a project really well (is it on time? budget? is it up to expectations?), and it’s another thing altogether to motivate people to do the best they can. It takes time and a lot of practice to get to that point. You will make mistakes, and you’re not always going to be the best motivator every single day, but by trying things out and experimenting, everyone will find their own style.

One more thing about Tanya…

She works really hard.

For her internship interviews at LoyaltyOne (it was a six-round process), she studied financial reports of the brand’s parent companies. She listened to earnings calls. She took summer courses and volunteered and didn’t sit around waiting for anything to come to her.

This is good news. It means no matter your circumstances or academic decisions, you always stand to become a stronger, better-rounded person. Hustle and a little bit of perspective on life are all it takes.


*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.