Wednesday 21 August 2019

Leaving Cert results 2019: How I went from not getting enough points to running a successful business

Aoife Walsh

A Dublin entrepreneur has advised Leaving Certificate students to remember that there is "no one path in life" after he failed to get the points he needed for university, despite sitting the exam twice.

James McCann, founder of PR company ClearStory International, told of how his unconventional career path lead him to set up his own company.

McCann first sat the Leaving Certificate exam in 2003. As a youngster, he was hoping to secure an army connection by joining the Defence Forces. He planned to become an officer, and continue to move up the ranks from there.

Unfortunately, he did not get the minimum requirements or points needed to join the forces or to go to university.

"I didn't get the minimum required points which meant I couldn't go to university. I was going to go private and get enlisted through a cadetship, but my godmother encouraged me to go back and repeat," he said.

After repeating the exam in 2004, McCann came out with five points more than what he had gotten the first time around. He then turned back to his first plan of action and enrolled into a cadetship with the Defence Forces.

"I joined the Defence Forces to secure an army connection. I was hoping I could go on as an officer and go up that way. It's the best thing I've ever done. It was eight months of intense training which has stood to me to this day.

"My class started with 40 and ended with 16, and I was one of them. It was character building."

However, after three years, McCann decided to leave the forces.

He said: "It had the same issues it still has now, the pay was woeful, no career prospects, and I wasn't getting the experience of any oversea trips or courses. It was tough to walk away from after the hardest 8 months of training but I decided to walk away.

"In 2006-2007 before the crash, a friend got me a job in an insurance company. I did night courses in the meantime in event management.

While still working in insurance, McCann took up a part-time course in communication skills at University College Dublin. After, he completed a social science course in Dublin Business School. By 22, he had become involved in both politics and setting up neighbourhood watch in his local area of Sallynoggin.

Through this, McCann began writing press releases ahead of campaigns.

"I began drafting up press releases and I started to understand what was news. It was fascinating to see my actions in front of me and people were talking about it.

"A friend in a start-up then asked if I'd join and write press releases for them. That company then went under after four months."

After, McCann contacted a recruiter who found him a job in insurance. Hours before signing his contract, he got a call from WebSummit.

Through working with press and media with Websummit, McCann made connections while travelling abroad that spurred him to start up his own company.

Now, at two years on, ClearStory has over 10 staff, working with over 50 clients globally. 

Ahead of the Leaving Certificate results, James advised students not to get too bogged down if you don't get the desired result: "I think it can see you down an interesting road different to the standard career path the Leaving Cert system sets you up for. You get your points for college and get a job. My path is different, I didn't get the points. You can go back to college as a mature student at 23 and you can do interesting things your peers haven't done.

"People I meet find out I was in the army in my 20s they say 'Jeez that's unbelievable'. There's no one path in life. There's always chances and events that occur that send us down paths we're not sure of. That's okay. Provided you're open to new things and you have ambition and the drive to succeed in life I think you'll always be fine.

"The goal is never the job or the house or the salary, it's your happiness."

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