Like the trees shed leaves, we’d gracefully shed our old roles, marshal our way through winter’s challenges and emerge ready for rebirth in spring. However, life is more complicated than that, isn’t it? Change is tough and uncomfortable. To be honest, I hate it!
It requires putting ourselves out there, learning new skills and re-framing our personal narratives. For me, it also meant leaving a job I loved (TV news). Are you considering a new path? Wondering how to make a successful career transition?
Let me share a bit of my journey with you AND seven steps that worked for me. While my experiences are journalism-focused, these tips can be applied to any industry. I’m hopeful they will help make the process easier for you.
Hate your job? Think you have outgrown it? Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make a successful career change. You can’t just charge forward like a speeding freight train. You need self-assessment, a deep understanding of WHY you are considering this move. What are your needs? What will make you more fulfilled and improve your quality of life? Are there risks involved?
Skip this and you could end up with a new career, only to discover you don’t like it any better. And really—who wants to waste their effort?
My motivation came on two fronts. First, I realized my family and marriage was suffering because of my career. As a morning news anchor, I woke up around 2 a.m. and usually went to sleep before 7 p.m. I rarely worked a 40 hour work week and my husband felt he played second fiddle to the job. My phone was always at my side (What if I missed a breaking news update? Heaven forbid!) and when we added a baby to the equation, it just didn’t feel sustainable. I didn’t want my son to grow up with an absentee mother. I couldn’t consistently be pulled in two directions.
The other motivation came from changes in our industry. Sometimes, if you really love what you’re doing, it’s easy to ignore the writing on the wall. You think that if you work hard enough, you can rise above it. You can be the success story. Sadly, TV news is shrinking fast and the quality is sliding. Some of the best markets in the country are slashing staff, replacing veteran journalists—who command higher pay—with eager young reporter and anchors with a year or two of experience. I’m not knocking the newbies. It has never been easier to climb markets and move up quickly. However, these changes are damaging to them too, because they cripple their salary potential long term. They’ll find themselves working in a major market (likely as a one-man-band), doing the work of three people and receiving the pay of one (if they’re lucky).
Before you embark on a career change, it’s also important to remember your job doesn’t define you. It might be your focus right now, but it is just one facet of your identify. Easier said that done, right?
News was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I’ve dreamed of being a news anchor since I was in middle school, busted my butt through college to get my journalism degree and secure the necessary internships to build my resume, then spent the next decade honing my skills to move up in my field. I worked hard to earn my place. Consequently, I conflated my job with ME. I thought of myself as “Lindsay the news anchor” or “Lindsay the journalist.” If I lost that identify, who would I become?
A lot of soul searching (I talk about it in this post) and a cute lil’ baby helped me think beyond those labels. In addition, it reduced the pressure of my career change and allowed me to consider opportunities I might not have glanced at before. We are more than our jobs!
Just like you wouldn’t accept a marriage proposal before dating, we can’t dive into a new career with surface-level knowledge. Get to know what it involves. Talk to someone in that field and do an informational interview. Better yet, is there someone you can talk with who left your industry to make a successful career change?
Ask deep questions and push for honest answers. You want to get at the heart of their experience. Likewise, you also need to figure out if your skills are transferable. How can you leverage your background and knowledge in this new world?
Look carefully at those who are doing well in the career you are considering. Do they have any skills and training you lack? What will it take to acquire that? Sometimes it’s as simple as familiarizing yourself with new programs, so you can confidently answer… “Yes, I know those systems”… in an interview.
When I switched from TV news to a communications role in higher education, I knew I needed to learn a lot about graphic design and marketing to make this a successful career change. I knew how to write compelling copy and garner media coverage for my institution, but that wasn’t enough. So, I watched dozens of YouTube tutorials and taught myself Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, etc.
You also should consider how this career change will impact your loved ones. Talk with your family. Are they supportive? You will definitely need them in your corner.
Once you’ve decided to go for it, you’ll need to rebrand yourself. Don’t just throw your old resume and cover letter at a new industry. You must craft a narrative that clearly spells out what you can do for this employer.
I found it helpful to browse the LinkedIn pages of others who held the type of role I was seeking. How did they describe their accomplishments? This will get you thinking of ways to retool your experiences to better fit this new career. While you’re on LinkedIn, be sure to freshen up your own page and social media accounts (if you have them). Now, Google your name. What pops up? Trust me—I’ve sat on hiring committees before—employers will be curious. Make sure your online profile is clean and matches your goals.
Finally, do you have a professional head shot? If not, get one. You don’t need a professional photographer, but you do need an image that accurately represents the way you look now. Don’t use a picture from 10 years ago. My husband snapped the head shot I use on his cell phone. All you need is decent light and a patient helper! Try to keep your professional photo consistent in all of your materials (i.e. website, LinkedIn, professional social media accounts).
That old saying… “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”… is true! Don’t underestimate the power of networking when trying to make a successful career change. These days, the first round of the hiring process can be completely automated. You don’t want your fate left entirely to a computer.
Reach out to people on LinkedIn, send emails, call in a few favors. You want this potential employer to know your name, or at least have your resume in their hands. Push for an in-person meeting if possible. Mention you’re in town and would love the opportunity to introduce yourself, if they have 10 minutes free. Face-to-face contact is powerful!
During my time in news, I talked with a lot of CEOs and business leaders about hiring practices for economic stories. One key theme emerged. When looking to make a hire, the first trait they look for is coachability. Huh? What do they mean by that? Well, they want employees that are life long learners. People who are willing to listen, to grow and to take correction/direction with a positive mindset.
I chose journalism because I love learning. As a reporter, you’re always on someone else’s turf and need to become an expert in a topic quickly. I firmly believe those experiences make journalists some of the most coachable employees around. It was my most transferable skill and a real benefit in my current communications role.
Whew… We covered a lot in this post. Please let me know if you have questions in the comments below. I’d love to hear about your transitional career goals!
About the dress: This navy/white dress is my new favorite Amazon find. It’s $23 and fits like a glove. I was thrilled that I didn’t need to hem it! (If you are super tall, it might be a tad short on you, as I am under 5′) The material is a nice weight and has a bit of stretch, allowing it to skim your body nicely. In addition, I found the white detailing elongating and figure-flattering. Keep in mind this dress is not lined, so read the size guide carefully if you want a work appropriate fit. I wear this one a LOT!