-by age 20 - had my BA in English literature with a minor in French. Had some freelance writing work under my belt already but no regular job. Got a couple of minimum wage jobs in my Canadian home town, in the library and at a bookshop, and later doing surveys.
-age 23 - moved to Ireland, started working in a call centre for a major airline (at least I got to use my French). Wanted to work in publishing but all the companies were pretty small and not hiring much or wanted people with more experience.
-age 26 - moved to London and worked for two years in customer relations for a different airline.
-age 28 - partly through a personal connection and partly through an agency, got temp work with one of the world's biggest publishing companies. Spent the next three years doing contracts and temp work for them. One of the contracts was especially good (maternity cover, managing editor for their children's lit division) but they didn't seem keen to give me a permanent job though they always told me how good I was...I think my "skilled temp" status was a bit too useful for them.
-age 31 - got a permanent job working on the publishing program for an institution which offers speech and drama exams to the public. I've been there over a year and it's going pretty well.
-Alongside all this for many years I was doing freelance writing and had several educational children's books published. Not doing that much any more, the writing I've been doing is more poetry and such.
I'm not sure what my career path says about my education etc. I did always want to work in publishing and here I am. But it took a good while. The airline stuff was good for a few years as I got to travel on the cheap and so on, but it was unrelated to what I was really interested in. I was lucky to get a foot in the door in publishing when I did, and the personal connection helped at least somewhat. It's nearly impossible in the current economic climate. But being in London has A LOT to do with me finally having the job I want, or at least a job I want enough. There are a lot of arts/publishing/etc jobs here, though it's still a difficult area to get into (especially now.) If I'd stayed in Canada or Ireland I kind of doubt it would have happened.
I think education is important if you want a good job in the area you're keen on, but experience is king. That's what I've observed. And personal connections, certainly in the arts, publishing, etc. To an annoying degree, actually. The person I knew initially in the publishing company had nannying experience, and no degree, and now has a pretty major position in that company. She does her job extremely well, but it's not like she was remotely qualified (that actually annoyed me a bit when I was struggling to get a permanent job with them.)
It also amuses me a bit that no one ever seems to ask for proof that I have a BA, though I guess they could contact my university on their own, as obviously it's on my CV.