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Jan 12, 2022

From Customer Service Rep to Paid SEM Specialist: Here’s My Story

Chiara Calabrese
Paid Search Marketing Manager
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Chiara Calabrese is a search engine marketing specialist at GetYourGuide. She joined GetYourGuide in May 2017 as a customer service representative and after a few years moved to the Paid Search team. Chiara explains how she used Kurzarbeit as an opportunity to get a master’s degree and follow her interests.

In this series of growth stories, we’re highlighting the people who paved their career paths within GetYourGuide.

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Making the move to Berlin

I’m from Italy, but moved to Berlin in 2017, and have worked for GetYourGuide since. I’m a social person who loves going out with friends, cooking, reading, doing yoga, and long walks in nature. I’m in love with Berlin in the fall — go out with me in October, and you’ll have to stop at every tree to take pictures!

I initially joined the company as a customer service rep in May 2017, where I was at the front line of the business, helping customers solve their booking issues. After one and a half years, I moved to the Customer Service Escalation team, to work on complicated customer situations involving other teams including Finance, Legal and Sales.

The turn of events and why I went back to school

My journey started when I decided to go back to school. I’d been interested in working in Marketing and Communications for some time, but had no experience or qualifications in the field, and didn’t know where to start. I’d always wanted to go back to university and complete a masters degree, but it seemed impossible while working a full time job.

In May 2020, I entered a long period of short-time work (in German, this is called Kurzarbeit). I decided to take advantage of all this free time, while hoping it would never happen again and started a masters degree in corporate communications. This gave me the basic knowledge of different areas of marketing and communications, including business strategy, SEM, SEO, branding, and PR.

I started my Master degree in June 2020 and completed it in March 2021, spending an average of one month on each subject. By the time I was halfway through, I had become so interested in this field that I knew I wanted a career in Marketing, even if I was still not sure which branch of Marketing I would join.

During my studies I wasn’t particularly impressed with the Paid Search course. It was described as a highly technical job, only based on costs and numbers, and I thought it wasn’t for me — I wanted something more content related, and didn’t know that I’d change my mind later.

In January 2021, I started helping the Marketing team with the corridor deep dive project. This involved navigating through our store and website as a customer would, in order to find improvement opportunities for the Marketing, Sales, Product and Content teams. I therefore spent most of the first half of 2021 working between Customer Service and Paid Search.

In June 2021, I joined the Paid Search team as a junior SEM specialist full time, working mostly on corridor management and supporting the team with a variety of other projects. When I started using our Paid Search tools, thanks to the corridor deep dive project, I experienced a completely different reality. Data and customer experience were strongly intertwined. So when the SEM specialist role opened up, I decided to apply straight away.

The corridor deep dive project allowed me to learn the fundamentals of how we do marketing at GetYourGuide. I was able to use tools such as Google AdWords and Databricks, develop strategic and analytical thinking, and my attention to detail.  

The time when I was moving from Customer Service to Paid Search was challenging, especially due to the workload and prioritization. There were tasks that had to be completed and deadlines to be met on both teams, and sometimes it felt like there wasn’t enough time to do everything.

However, this was a good learning opportunity, as it made me realize how important it is to prioritize the most important tasks, and even more importantly, my well-being. After some first overwhelming weeks, I learned how to respect my working hours, schedule my days in advance, and prioritize urgency and deadlines.

My move to the SEM specialist role involved a hiring process like nothing I had experienced before. When the role opened up in March, 2021, I had to send my CV and pass through different interviews, however my "training" had already started much before the position in the team was opened. I also already knew part of the team and processes by the time I applied. This made the process smooth, as I received training and support from the whole team, even before the idea that I could join popped up.

Entering a field like Paid Search without prior experience can be a bumpy road, for two reasons:

  • It's really technical, and there's a huge amount of knowledge to take in terms of tools, processes and data
  • It's also really experimental, and there are new products and tests coming up constantly, so processes and tools are changing all the time

The overall feeling for a person who joins with no prior experience is to be constantly training, as every day there's something new to learn.

Being in an entry-level role on such a specialized team can be overwhelming. Everyone has so much knowledge, and there’s a huge amount of information. However, it feels like a huge playground, because I have space to explore, learn, and make the mistakes I need to improve. I’m given the freedom to test new ideas and experiment with tools and changes.

Charting my career path

My biggest challenge was deciding which path to follow. For a long time I felt frustrated and stuck. I had received a lot of no’s but more importantly, I wasn’t sure which job I really wanted.  

Should I stay in Customer Service? Or move to a different department such as Supply or PR? Should I look for possibilities at other companies?

I then realized that what mattered more than a new job in the short term was joining a field that I found interesting. I took a step back to think about what I really wanted, and decided to try something in Marketing and Communications.

I thought; “Well I have a good and safe job anyway, let’s see what I can learn about this new field, and I’ll find a way to work in it with time.”

This mental switch helped me see my goals with more clarity, breaking them down into smaller steps and focusing on each achievement along the way. First, I wanted to find a way to study, then to finish my masters, then be selected for the corridor management project, and so on.

My advice for changing careers

My advice would be that finding out what excites you is key. Your job doesn’t need to be your hobby (I think it’s better to keep these two separate) but working in an area that you find interesting is fundamental to stay motivated. It helps to think if, for example, Sales is something that you’d enjoy doing in 2 years time, or if you’d enjoy working in UX more. You don’t need to know exactly which job you want, just start with the general business area that interests you.

Second, getting a promotion from your current role or changing companies aren’t the only options to starting a new career. You can find different ways to gain more knowledge and become qualified. There’s networking, diploma programs, courses, events, really anything can help! Do you dream of having your own scented candle business one day? Start looking up the ways to make the best candles in the world.

My final piece of advice is to be open to unexpected opportunities. Of all the subjects I studied, paid search was the last field I could have imagined myself entering. I thought it was way too technical and that working with data was not my thing. When I found out the corridor deep dive project was run by the Paid Search team I told myself that I have nothing to lose, just give it a try and see if it’s indeed not for me. I ended up loving it.

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