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Event Planner Career – Turning Ideas Into Special Events

by Marc Luber

Event planner career is a creative job for detail-oriented people with excellent communication skills, time management skills, the ability to juggle all kinds of personalities, think fast, handle chaos and cope with stressful situations. In today’s career videos, event coordinator Jessica Alpert answers the “how do I get into event planning” question. She tells us that once you become an event coordinator, the best part of an event planning career is getting to see a project all the way through from the idea stage to the special event. You get to see your efforts brought to life and learn what to improve for next time.

SNEAK PEEK   (Full Video + Transcript below)

RELATED CAREERS
Public Relations
Non-Profit Mgmt

Today’s Guest

Event Coordinator Jessica Alpert

Event Planner / Event Coordinator: Jessica Alpert
College Major: Psychology
College: UC Davis in Davis, CA
High School: Campbell Hall in North Hollywood, CA
First Job Ever: Summer camp counselor
Worst Job Ever: Hostess at a restaurant

Become an Event Coordinator

Jessica explains that a variety of educational backgrounds can prepare you to become an event coordinator and advises getting a college degree in order to be taken seriously when job hunting. She shares great career advice, emphasizing the importance of doing an event planning internship for a local catering company or hotel to get experience. Jessica also reveals that networking and informational interviewing got her her first event coordinator position and advises you to do the same. Internships of course provide you a great opportunity for networking.


Event Planning Roles

With an event planner career, you can represent a piece of real estate (a hotel ballroom, a convention center, a private room in a restaurant) like Jessica did in her first job, managing events on behalf of the owners of that real estate. Alternatively, you can work at an event management company or, like Jessica’s current role, you can work for a company that holds many events and needs someone to plan and manage them. If you’re feeling entrepreneurial, you can start your own events company! When looking to become an event coordinator, you may also see these roles referred to as corporate events management, party planners, meeting & convention planners, wedding planners, or conference planners.

FULL EPISODE


For our Audio Podcast: Careers Out There on iTunes

TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S INTERVIEW

Careers Out There host Marc Luber: Hey everyone – welcome to Careers Out There. I’m your host Marc Luber and we’re helping you find a career that fits you. Today we’re looking at the fun career path of event planning and we’re talking to event coordinator Jessica Alpert. She’s gonna tell us all about how to get on the event planning path and how to get jobs as an event coordinator. It’s gonna be a great show so stick around! [theme song] OK, we’re back – Jessica welcome to Careers Out There.

Event Coordinator Jessica Alpert: Thanks for having me.

Careers Out There host Marc Luber: Alright! So, you’re just a few years out of college and you’ve already had a couple really cool jobs working for companies as an Event Coordinator. So tell us – what does that mean? What does an event coordinator do?

[WHAT EVENT COORDINATORS DO at 0:41]

Event Coordinator Jessica Alpert: So at my current job, I work for a company called Spark Networks. Spark Networks you may have heard of – it owns about 30 online dating sites. I work specifically for JDate, which is our Jewish online dating site and I plan events for them.

[NOTE: Jessica is not here as a representative of her employer or in any way speaking on behalf of her employer. She is speaking on behalf of herself about the career path of an event coordinator in order to help you learn about this specific career path.]

So what an event means is basically anything from a happy hour to a wine tasting to a scavenger hunt, all across the U.S. and Canada for Jewish singles to meet. So what I do in this job is I come up with the idea for the event, I find the venue, I find the drink specials, I basically develop the entire marketing plan to have our members and the broader Jewish community buy tickets and come to our events. And at my previous job which is a little different but still event coordinating, I worked at Paramount Pictures as an event coordinator. So what that means was that all of our events were held on the lot. Our clients came in for anything from a non-profit to a birthday party to a Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah wedding…and what that really was was a lot of sales. I would sell the venue, come up with the proposal, basically tailor each event to that client’s needs and then from there I dealt with all the moving pieces on the lot to develop an event that my client had in mind.

Host Marc Luber: OK, so then – I want to make sure I’m getting this right for everybody. So at Paramount, you represented basically like a piece of land – almost like you’re at a hotel.

Jessica Alpert: Correct.

Host Marc Luber: And you would run events on that piece of land. You would be basically helping get people to use that land for events – for whatever – the weddings, Bar Mitzvahs…

Jessica Alpert: Correct.

Luber: OK. And now with JDate, you’re doing more events in different locations around the country.

Guest: Correct.

Luber: So you’re finding places to have events.

Guest: Correct. So it’s definitely very different.

Luber: Yeah! But still event coordination.

Guest: Correct.

Luber: So there’s different directions people could take this career path in.

[DIFFERENT TYPES OF EVENT PLANNING at 2:00]

Guest: Exactly – yet it’s still the same idea. You’re still thinking on your feet, you’re still conceptualizing an idea, you’re still – it’s still a people pleasing job – whether it’s a client who’s paying X amount of dollars or trying to find 100 people to come to an event that you feel would gear them towards the right direction – which at JDate is either having such a great time at an event that they want to go to another or finding love and they never need to go to an event again!

Luber: So in a sense you want to put yourself out of business by finding people who are not gonna want to come back!

Guest: Exactly – but with everyone who finds someone they tell someone and it adds a whole different member to us.

[MOVING PIECES AN EVENT PLANNER MUST COORDINATE 3:24]

Luber: Exactly. So when you talked about the moving pieces when you were at Paramount, give examples – what were the moving pieces. When you’re representing a space and you’re running events there and trying to sell events and coordinate events, what are these moving pieces that you’re dealing with? What is it that you have to see come together?

Guest: So for example at Paramount – let’s say that it is a non-profit event. With an event comes your décor, your food, your lighting, your parking, your props, your seating – basically anything that takes all these small pieces that add up to a larger whole. So it’s taking everything that you have available on this lot, whether it’s a prop department, a caterer and basically piecing it all together and acting as the salesperson for all of these different entities that we have on our lot. So we’re taking a blank canvas and creating something spectacular to meet the vision of my client.

[SKILLS & PERSONALITY TYPES FOR EVENT PLANNERS at 4:21]

Luber: Got it. So tell us then – let’s talk about the things that someone really needs to bring to the table for something like this. Obviously people skills have to be a huge part of what you need.

Guest: Without a doubt.

Luber: And you’re probably dealing with a million kinds of personalities, right?

Guest: That’s an understatement, yes!

Luber: So what would you say are the skills and the personality type – anyone that’s watching right now and thinking “maybe I want to be an event coordinator” – what do they need to come to the table with other than that?

Guest: A fantastic smile and a willingness to broaden your horizons on what you think makes an event. In reality, someone is coming to you with let’s say for example $50,000. It’s really their choice on how they want to spend their $50,000. You may or may not agree with, for example, a hot pink table cloth but you do it with a smile and you find it and you make them believe that their idea is the best idea and the newest, greatest idea that you’ve ever seen and no one’s ever done this before!

Luber: What’s the most ridiculous thing that you’ve had to see so far?

Guest: I had a woman come into Paramount who wanted a circus theme for her son’s Bar Mitzvah and wanted monkeys to hand out favor bags.

Luber: Ha! Real monkeys?!

Guest: Real monkeys! And – this is probably my second week on the job – and I sat there with a smile and said “alright, let me look into that one and I’ll get right back to you!” Where in the back of your mind, you’re thinking “I can think of a much better way to spend $10,000 then on monkeys!”

Luber: I love it! I can just picture the Bar Mitzvah, there’s like monkeys flinging poo all over the place. It would be great!

Guest: Right – ridiculous! Absolutely unacceptable!

[EDUCATION FOR EVENT PLANNERS at 6:09]

Luber: Yeah! I love it – it’s great! Classic! OK, so what about school? Tell us – you were a psych major, right?

Guest: I was.

Luber: Does that fit in with what you’re doing? Did you need to be a psych major? Would you tell someone else they should be a psych major or it doesn’t really matter?

Guest: My parents who paid for college would probably hate to see this right now but no, it doesn’t matter. Being a psych major, actually probably being any major in college really just taught me time management skills, ways to deal with people, ways to tackle large projects – I’d feel like any major that was challenging that included memorizing, writing, attending classes, dealing with other individuals – really wouldn’t have mattered – but I feel like I did have an advantage by being a psych major because although I still don’t remember any of the terminology or any of the sciencey aspect of it, I still can handle people, know which personalities are coming my way and kind of characterize how to deal with each person.

Luber: Right. So it does help in a sense.

Guest: In a sense, but a major is a major and I feel like I could have been a communications major, a sociology major, some sort of fine arts major and I would have been fine.

Luber: More personality type is a bigger thing with what you’re doing in this path.

Guest: Correct. It takes a strong person to be an event planner.

[THE ART OF PLANNING EVENTS ON LOCATION at 7:38]

Luber: Right. OK. And so now with JDate where you’re doing events on location, you’re coming up with ideas for events?

Guest: Correct. So I’m coming up with what I personally feel would draw the masses to my event. Why should you spend your $20 on a Thursday night to come to my event? So my idea is to conceptualize it, figure out which part of the U.S. and Canada this would best fit with. For example, if there is a sushi making class, where will that best fit in? Would New Yorkers most enjoy it? What age group? Is that a 45+ event? Is that a 20s and 30s event? And honestly this job helps a lot more with my psych major – and also just being out there and being friendly and having the personality type that I do, I understand what people want.

Luber: Right.

Guest: And also it doesn’t hurt that I am that population – I am a Jewish female from a large population of Jews: Los Angeles.

Luber: But no longer single as of a week ago!

Guest: No longer single, no.

Luber: So have you tried any events with monkeys?

Guest: Pardon me?

Luber: Have you tried any events with monkeys?

Guest: Absolutely not. And I will definitely not. And if it’s my money to spend, there will be no monkeys. And I think it’s animal cruelty but that’s a whole other issue.

[JESSICA ALPERT’S BACKGROUND at 9:03]

Luber: Yeah, that’s a whole other world. So tell us how you got on this path? What led to you getting a job? So if someone watching is thinking “maybe I want to do this,” tell them how you got your first job on this path.

Guest: So I graduated college and realized that “I don’t want to live at my parents’ house”. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’d always heard of there’s doctors, there’s lawyers, there’s teachers – just your basic, basic jobs – and there had to be more out there. There’s so many ways in this world to make money – what can I do where I’m not stuck behind a desk all day – and I can meet different people and be very project oriented. So I basically wrangled up an entire list of my parents’ friends and my old professors’ friends and I went on the email chain and I just said “hi – I just graduated from college – I would love to meet with you to see what you do” and I scheduled informational interviews.

[INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWING at 9:41]

Luber: Perfect! Wait – that’s red magic marker territory! I want everyone to get out their red magic markers and write that down – informational interviewing – it’s key! Key! Right? It’s key!

Guest: It led me to my first job.

Luber: There you go.

Guest: So in meeting with all these people I learned what I didn’t want to do and what I did want to do. And whether they had a job for me or not, they said. “I don’t have anything available but I have a friend who works here who might know somebody.” And it was just meeting with all different people. And it also fine-tuned my interview skills. And it allowed me to see what’s out there, what the hours are, what the pay is, and just kind of gauge what best fits my personality. Because I knew that I didn’t want to go back to school to get a Master’s in psychology. So I met with several people – and one of them was the head of Paramount’s Special Events. And I went in for what I thought was going to be an informational interview. I had my whole notepad ready and I’d typed up a whole list of questions that was kind of like I was – this is what people do when they find venues – I basically had a checklist of “do they do this”, “do they do this”. So in reality, I was interviewing them just as much as they were interviewing me.

Luber: Yup!

Guest: So I went in for my informational interview, and it turns out that one of their event coordinators’ assistant had left a few weeks ago and they were searching for somebody to fill that position. So I did not know that until about 30 minutes into my “informational interview” when she got a feel for me and we realized that we had very compatible personalities and I was hired that day to be her assistant! I started 2 days later, and moved out of my parents’ house 3 months later!

Luber: That’s amazing! And then, explain how you moved up from being the assistant!

Guest: So I was the assistant to a special events coordinator at Paramount and a couple things happened and I would go on her client meetings, I would help her plan events and within 3 to 4 months, she no longer worked at Paramount and I took over her job. So it’s one of those being at the right place at the right time and it’s very funny because at the time I was 22 years old and I was introduced as her assistant, so it was a very tough transition to – a lot of these clients were spending 10s of 100s of thousands of dollars on events – to trust a 22 year-old to plan their events! So it also took a lot of me putting a smile on my face and pretending like I knew the part when in reality I was 22 years old and 3 months out of college and just moved out of my parents’ house!

[MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK at 11:08]

Luber: But it worked! You’re proof that it worked. It didn’t matter and probably doesn’t matter for anybody if you’re the right personality, you think on your feet, you bring those skills to the table. I love what you’re saying though – and this is seriously red magic marker territory – 2 big things: informational interviewing – huge way to do all the things you said – to learn more about yourself, the kinds of jobs you’re interested in, the kind of people you want to work for….I got most of my jobs that way for sure. And also making your own luck! We’ve written about this on the site – making your own luck. You had good luck but it’s because you put yourself out there. You wouldn’t have had that good luck if you hadn’t gone for it.

Guest: You don’t know what’s out there sitting behind your computer all day. It’s all about meeting and networking and taking a chance.

Luber: Yup.

[ACT THE PART UNTIL YOU CAN REALLY PLAY THE PART at 13:21]

Guest: And I always say that if you think you are the part, you definitely can be the part. So if I thought that I could be the event coordinator, I was! And you sit there and pretend like you know what you’re doing and nobody needs to know the truth.

[MOST REWARDING PART OF EVENT PLANNING CAREERS at 13:39]

Luber: That’s perfect! That’s great advice for everybody watching – that’s great. So tell everyone – what’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

Guest: The best part about my job and the most rewarding part about my job is that I get to see a project from nothing all the way into its entirety and I get to see the finished project. So at Paramount I got to see the happiness, the gratitude and praise from my clients. And at JDate I get to see couples meeting, matches being made, even when they’re meeting other friends who are like-minded single women. So there’s definitely an end product to this. And then there’s a whole other project to tackle.

Luber: Fresh things all the time. New – always starting fresh.

Guest: All the time. And you can learn from your past to make the next one better.

[MOST CHALLENGING PART OF EVENT PLANNING CAREERS at 14:23]

Luber: Yeah! What about the challenges? And what are the things you’d say would really weed someone out – if you can’t handle this, you can’t do this job.

Guest: If you aren’t a tough person, you cannot handle this job. If you can’t handle criticism, you can’t handle this job. You need to basically roll with the punches, take your criticism, take all the challenges along the way and realize that it’s all part of the greater whole. It’s all part of your greater project. And what you may think is an idea that would work might backfire in your face and you basically have to take what backfired and make it ten times better with a smile on your face because – I believe the hardest part for me is not showing anyone else that you’re struggling or that you’re suffering because if you’re confident, your client will be confident, your vendors will be confident and your finished product will be fantastic. So if you can’t roll with the punches, if you can’t think on your feet, if you can’t micromanage, this job is not for you.

[INCOME FOR YOUNG EVENT PLANNERS at 15:21]

Luber: Excellent. And what about money? What’s the money like on this path? What would someone be looking at for a salary right out of college if they got onto the event coordination path?

Guest: As an assistant at Paramount, it was a very very minimal hourly fee, which was anywhere from $10-$15 an hour, where in a city like Los Angeles, you definitely can’t live off of that! But it also, I believe, by me starting out with an hourly salary, it made me want to work harder. It made me want to put in those extra hours – because I knew that if I spent those extra 2 hours at work plugging away, finding clients, networking, seeing people come in – it really showed up on my paycheck. And within a few months, I actually was a salaried employee and that ranged anywhere from mid-$30,000s and now my second job, where it’s a little more steady of an income because our events are a little more steady and my hours a little more steady, it’s about mid-$40,000s is what I make now.

Luber: Where can you take something like this? What’s a superstar making and is the path to grow the most generally starting your event company? Or where do you take it?

Guest: In terms of events, I would love love to own my own event company. But with that also comes a ton more money – you’re probably looking at over $100,000 a year – but if you do have your own event company, you’re giving up your time. So with an event, you are there most weekends, you’re working for yourself, you’re always out of your house, you’re always on the go, there’s tons of costs for owning your event company – whether it’s gas fees, client dinners, the wheeling, the dealing, the wining, the dining- it’s just….but in return you have a much higher salary. So for me, I’m still not sure which way is better.

Luber: Got it. Well you’ll learn over time, right?

Guest: I certainly hope so!

[BREAKING IN TO EVENT PLANNING CAREERS at 17:27]

Luber: Yeah – for sure! Well what about this – give us some action plans. Let’s say I’m in college right now or I’m even just starting college and I think this sounds fun – I want to do what Jessica does. I want to run parties and this just sounds fun to me. What should I do?

Guest: Number 1 get your college degree because no one will give you the time of day if you do not have a college degree. Number 2 I strongly advise interning. I would look for your local hotel or your local catering company and try to get your foot in the door and see what events are and be a waiter. I would shadow an event coordinator, I would work for a catering company and basically see the behind-the-scenes of what goes into the event: the planning of the event, the take-down, what each event – the time period, the time frame that it actually is. There are tons of catering companies that are always looking for waiters and there are also tons of hotels that do big meetings. They’re probably not going to be the most glamorous of events but you can still see the process that goes into this. I truly believe that in order to understand how to hire a caterer, you need to work for a catering company and you need to see the behind-the-scenes look of it. In order to know why, for example, Paramount was better than if you go to the Four Seasons, you have to go to the Four Seasons! You have to know exactly why you’re better and what they do versus what an event lot can do versus what a hotel can do. So it’s good to go and explore your options. Most places will basically give you the run-down. They’re not really gonna sugar coat it for you. So, definitely get your feet wet. Jump right in and I would schedule as many – red marker – as many informational interviews as possible. I would – there you go – [in reaction to sign Luber held up saying “Informational Interviews” and “Make your own luck”] – don’t mind his handwriting – I would meet as many people as possible. If you want their job in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years or even right now, meet with them. Most people would love to speak with you about what they do. It’s what you do for a living – it’s how you make your living. I could speak for hours and hours and hours but I would love if someone came to me and said, “what do you do – what’s the best part about your job – what’s the worst part about your job?”

Luber: I feel like I just did that!

Guest: Yeah – you did that – exactly! So basically we’re just cutting to the chase here!

Luber: So what about if I’m done with school? Maybe I’m already out there in the working world and I’ve got some job that I hate and I want to do what you do because I’m watching this video and I’m thinking, “wow – she’s having fun and I’m not.” What can I do?

Guest: Know that a job is still a job and nothing is as fun as it seems on paper. True! I’d utilize LinkedIn as much as possible. I would always have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile because you never know who’s looking for a job, who’s looking for an employer, you never know who’s there to network and wants to meet with you. Also, I would search LinkedIn. I would search event coordinators in your area and you can always send them an email just to say, “hey – I’m doing this now – just curious what you do.” Basically an informational email – it couldn’t hurt! Also, I would go to smaller venues, not as glamorous, but I would go to a hotel and maybe see if they need someone to help on the weekends to see if they need like a day-of coordinator, or they need someone to help with their wait staff. Get your foot in the door – whether it’s an extra 3 hours a week – it couldn’t hurt. Get your foot in the door. And take chances! So my job at Spark Networks I basically saw an ad posting on line, figured I had nothing to lose, updated my resume (on Paramount’s clock – but we don’t talk about that) and I updated my resume and sent it in and at the end of the day, it’s really great to look for a job while you still have a job. So it doesn’t hurt to put yourself out there.

[KEYS TO SUCCESS FOR EVENT PLANNERS at 21:28]

Luber: Yup. Excellent, excellent advice. Wrap us up with some keys to success! Tell us what are some things – maybe it’s even repeating some things you’ve already said – or maybe throwing in some new things – wrap up with some keys to success for anyone watching who wants to do what you do.

Guest: Keys to success on how to be an event coordinator would be learn how to budget your time, learn how to juggle your time, email etiquette is key. If you’re 22 years-old or 65 years-old, know how to professionally write an email. There’s something to be said about proper spelling, proper grammar, and proper email etiquette. You have to learn to think on your feet, you have to roll with the punches – I know I’ve already said that 100 times – but I cannot stress that enough. Tailor your personality based upon your client – you may have a client who wants you to plan their entire event and to pick everything down to how tall the candles are on the table. And if that’s the case you do it – and if you don’t know the answer, you know the answer for the day! And you also may have a client who sits there who has every idea in the book and that’s your job too. You basically never know what your day will entail when you go to work. So rolling with the punches, taking it for what it is and knowing that you have a pretty cool job! Because you’re not stuck behind a desk all day, you’re not crunching numbers and you get to meet all sorts of people and you have fantastic, fantastic stories to tell from that.

Luber: Excellent advice! Excellent. And my favorite story is the monkeys – I’m never going to forget that with the monkeys – that’s just brilliant! Thank you so much for joining us Jessica!

Guest: Thank you.

Luber: Everybody we’d love to hear from you. We love your feedback in the Comments section. Let us know if we covered everything as you want it – or if you’re looking for more information still, we’d be happy to answer your questions. We’d love to hear from you so please – Jessica will help us out with that – so leave your feedback in the Comments section on the site. Thank you so much for watching everybody – look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks again Jessica.

Guest: Thank you.

Luber: I’m Marc Luber. Look forward to seeing you again soon. Take care.

(C) 2010 Careers Out There

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