The event management sector is thriving post-pandemic. As the world opens up again and travel becomes easier, companies and organisations are keen to make up for lost time. Many people left the events sector during the pandemic to pursue other interests, which has led to a perfect storm of increased demand for events and a shortage of people to deliver them.
So, if you’re thinking about making a career switch to the events sector, now is a great time to try it. There is a growing demand for talented event managers to help pull off increasingly elaborate and memorable events.
In order to maximise your time and streamline your career path, it’s important to have a plan in place before you enter the sector. This will enable you to make the most of opportunities as they arise and chart a course for success. Read on to learn more about starting your career in event management, whether you are a recent graduate or a professional thinking about a career move.
What is event management?
The first step to deciding if you should become an event manager is to understand exactly what you are getting yourself into. There are many misconceptions about the event sector that need to be cleared up before you enter the sector. It’s common for individuals to base their career direction on misinformation about what the role will be, and then feel disappointed when it does not live up to their expectations.
While there are glitzy and fun elements to the role, the vast majority of the role as an event manager is administrative work taking place behind the scenes. Typical roles and responsibilities of an event manager include:
Conceptualising and designing the event
Budget planning and management
Selecting and hiring vendors (caterers, decorators, AV technicians, venues etc.)
Managing attendee registration and ticketing
Providing information to guests and handling inquiries
Coordinating speakers, presenters, and entertainment
Supervising event setup and teardown
Tracking expenses and income
Identifying potential risks and developing contingency plans
Building and managing event teams (staff, volunteers)
Regular communication with clients and event stakeholders
Ensuring compliance with local laws and regulations
Developing crisis management plans and protocols
As you can see, only a small portion of the role involves spending time at the event. The majority of the work takes place in the run-up to the event.
If you have strong organisational skills and love the planning process, this could be the ideal career path for you.
How to start your career in event management
There are a few different routes into the event management sector.
You could study for a degree in event management and then secure an entry-level role after graduation. There may also be graduate schemes available to guide you into the sector.
You could start at the bottom and work your way up by taking an entry-level role with an events management company. This could include an administrative or support role that will enable you to get to grips with the demands of the role.
You could re-train later in your career to apply your skills and experience gained in another role or sector. This is a popular route for those looking to switch careers later in life.
You could find an apprenticeship within an events management company and combine on-the-job training with classroom-based learning.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. If you choose the education route, make sure that you pick a course that will enable you to gain as much hands-on experience as possible. If you are going to work your way up from the bottom, make sure you are clear about your intentions with your employer so that they know you want to take on more responsibility and learn about the event manager role.
It would be all too easy to study event management at university and never get enough hands-on experience to be able to take your education any further. Or you might find that you get stuck in a low-level job with no chance of progressing because opportunities are being passed to other (more motivated) members of the team. Be clear in your intentions and bold about your ambition if you want to succeed.
Who would make a good event manager?
Many different personality types are attracted to the event management sector for a wide range of reasons. You can be outgoing or more reserved, as long as you have the confidence to build strong relationships with vendors. Above all else, you will need the following skills:
Organisation and multitasking
Creativity and problem-solving
Attention to detail
Networking and relationship-building
Building your portfolio
If you are determined to work your way up to being an events manager in charge of your own events, you’ll need a strong portfolio. This can be a frustrating situation to be in because you need to run events to build your portfolio, but you won’t be able to do this without a portfolio.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other ways to build an events portfolio. You can start by getting involved with volunteer projects as an event manager. Offer to put your skills to work for a charity to organise parties, fundraisers and other events. Make sure you document everything and ask for quotes from key stakeholders and attendees to include in your portfolio.
You could also run your own events as a freelancer or through personal projects. For example, you could use your own wedding or birthday party as a case study. You could also offer to throw big events for friends and family members and include these in your portfolio.
And finally, you could work with an agency to get experience on the floor at more prominent events. While you might not be able to include these in your portfolio, you can certainly add them to your CV. It will also give you something to talk about during interviews to demonstrate your knowledge of the sector.
To showcase your work and experience, consider starting a website or social media accounts. This will offer a simple way to spread the word about your work and perhaps even catch the eye of a hiring manager or two. This means that you won’t always be on the hunt for your next opportunity, as it could find you.
Finding a mentor
You’ll go further in the event management industry if you have a mentor on your side. A mentor is usually someone more senior in the sector who will benefit from having someone to teach. If you decide to seek out a mentor, you need to be sure you're ready to put in the work. A mentor won’t appreciate offering your suggestions if you can’t hold up your end of the deal.
Mentors can often be found through networking opportunities, or you might be able to access a formal mentoring programme through your educational establishment. When working with a mentor, you should have a clear goal or objective in mind.
Be clear about what you need for them and what you are able to do in return. It could be as simple as meeting once a month to discuss your career progression, or it could be more involved, such as shadowing them during larger events to gain more experience. A mentor can also be a great source of a reference, which can be difficult to acquire before you have gained a lot of experience.
Landing your first job
While the end goal might be to become an events manager, the route you take to get there could involve some job hopping. You could start as an events administrator or assistant. You might work in an agency or in-house. You might move around between these roles collecting as much experience as possible.
Going to lots of interviews for roles will also be beneficial. It might feel like a failure to not secure the job for the first interview that you go to, but you’ll gain insight into the sector by attending lots of interviews.
You should also consider your needs and what you hope to get out of a job. When you’re desperate to start your career, it can feel like every job interview is of the utmost importance. But if you take a step back and think of the bigger picture, you’ll see that every interview for the wrong role will bring you close to the right role.
The events sector is always changing, and external factors like AI are changing the way the role is carried out. You need to show you are committed to lifelong learning in your role as an events manager. What you learn at university or on the job might be out of date within a few years, so you’ll need to keep your finger on the pulse of new developments.
How exactly can you achieve this?
Instead of seeing your colleagues as competition, see them as a learning opportunity. Be curious about how they do their job and take what you can from their experience. They might do things differently to you, but this doesn’t make them wrong, they are simply approaching the problem from another angle.
Set a personal development schedule. This could mean committing to 1-2 independent learning opportunities per year. These don’t have to be directly related to your industry. For example, you might take a sommelier course, or learn how to implement AI in your workplace. There’s no shortage of skills that will expand your horizons as an event manager.
Ask about conferences and seminars you can attend through your employer. Your employer will likely want volunteers to attend these events, as it makes the company look good. Make it known that you’re interested in any and all learning opportunities with the company.
Long-term career prospects
For some people, the title of events manager is enough. They want to be running their own events and putting their creativity to the test. As their career progresses, the only changes might be that they have more support from junior members of staff, allowing them to take on more events or bigger events.
Some people will have career aspirations to work on specific events, such as London Fashion Week, the Mercury Awards Show, or political party conferences. Their career will be defined by moving closer to the type of events they want to be involved in.
And some people will have lofty ambitions of being the ones managing the event managers. Becoming the events director for a large agency or organisation is the end goal for many event managers. This will move them away from the challenge of everyday event management tasks and put them in charge of pitching for work and managing teams.
You don’t have to have it all figured out at the start of your career. Even the most ambitious and driven people can find themselves sidetracked in their goals when they discover a part of the role that they enjoy more than anything else. With events management, there are vertical and horizontal paths to take when developing your career, so don’t close yourself off to any opportunities.
Event management can be a hugely rewarding career path for the right person. If you are thinking about starting your career in events, there are many different routes available to you. Whether you are just thinking about your university choices or you’re switching careers later in life, there are plenty of ways to work your way up to the role of “event manager”.
Events management is not about finding the right personality fit, as there are all sorts of event management styles, and diversity is what makes the sector so unique. Finding a mentor and committing yourself to lifelong learning and development are two ways that you can maximise your chances of success.
Rather than seeing unsuccessful job interviews as a failure, take each one as a learning opportunity. You will find the right role for you eventually, and you can continue to develop your portfolio in the meantime.