Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

From Control Room to Cubicle: How I Switched Industries

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As children, we are all asked what we want to do when we grow up. And for as long as I can remember, my response was always “be a journalist.” I don’t even know how this word first entered my vocabulary, but I do recall watching Nightly News on NBC in elementary school, thinking, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.” I was one of the few people in 12th grade who tailored my college search to a lifelong desired profession. My parents considered themselves lucky (especially when we discovered that the best journalism school in the country was just a couple of states away from my hometown).

After finishing my bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri, I promptly moved to New York City, the birthplace of major news networks and world-renowned publications. The journalism mecca. I stayed there for five years, pursuing my dream job and lucking out with great mentors and once-in-a lifetime opportunities.

Until a strange thing happened: I didn’t want to do it anymore. The odd hours, missing Christmases and Thanksgivings with my family, the tiny salary—what was once the dream had become the reality, and it failed to meet my expectations. Alarming though it was, I took the “if I can make it here” sentiment of old New York to heart. I left to make it somewhere else, doing something completely different, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s how I did it, and what to keep in mind if you’re looking to make a change, too.

Doing My Homework

After covering the financial crisis of 2008 firsthand, I knew I wanted to enter the world of financial services marketing and communications. As with news, I could still learn something new every day and hone my craft, but I’d also have the ability to spend holidays with my family. But I was basically starting my career over from scratch. Where was I to begin?

I started by seeking out friends and acquaintances who worked in similar positions (usually over lunch—my treat), asking them about what they loved and hated about their jobs. No topic was off the table—this was a major, life-changing decision, and I wanted the nitty-gritty. Why did they first pursue this position? What did they like about it? What were the biggest challenges they faced? Was there room to grow where they were, and was it something they could see themselves doing for a long time? Why or why not?

Of course, there’s good and bad with every job, but I wanted to know if the good was good enough to counteract the bad. I was very lucky in that people were willing to be very candid with me. And once I got the answers I needed, I knew I was ready to make the switch.

This research step is crucial. It’s easy to idealize a new and different job, but a career change is a huge investment of your time (and often, money). It’s important to make sure the grass really is greener before you truly decide to make the move.

Resume Revamp

My next challenge was to translate the skills I’d gleaned from one field as being the perfect fit for my new career. After learning more about what it took to succeed in financial marketing and communications, I honed in on a few key links: For one, I had an understanding of various financial concepts after researching them for years as a financial journalist. I also had the unique perspective of knowing what the reporters required from publicists, such as which pitches work and which ones don’t. I put these items on paper as bullets on my resume and points in my cover letter, as well as asked friends in marketing communications to be references for me, which I hoped would boost my credibility.

And you know what? I found that, rather than ignoring my resume because I didn’t have a traditional background, employers were curious about my career path and why I was making a change. And after telling my story and confirming my qualifications, I found that most places were eager to have a fresh perspective in the office.

So, think about how you might offer that fresh perspective in your new career path—no matter what you do, there’s bound to be something from your past work that’s not only transferable to your new job, but that's pretty exciting to prospective employers.

Back to School

After networking (a lot!) and many, many conversations with potential employers, I secured my first job in my career restart.

But I soon realized that landing that first job was only half the battle. As a journalist, I knew plenty about my industry and the skills I needed in order to grow and succeed. But a completely new field also brought a new learning curve, and I thought it would be a good idea to increase my knowledge about the marketing world.

I didn’t want to take on any student loan debt, so I opted for part-time education, working during the day and going to class at night. Yes, this was a big commitment, but the supplementary expertise helped me get up to speed more quickly, made me a better asset to my new team, and—as a bonus—gave me greater confidence that I was right where I belonged.

Of course, doing something completely different doesn’t always require a graduate degree. A friend of mine got her certification in copyediting at the local state school’s extension program when she discovered her new job required a lot of proofreading. Online classes and industry conferences are great options, too. Ask others in your field what they’ve done to boost their professional development, and develop a plan for your career education.

A Lesson in Humility

I should also point out that a new career path will come with a bit of uncertainty. Being in the same job for five years gave me a lot of confidence day-to-day—I knew the ins and outs and could handle any and all situations that came my way. But this changed when I started over in foreign territory. Suddenly I wasn’t always sure of myself or my skills, and this was really humbling.

I tried to remind myself that it’s not easy to learn something new and that I wasn’t the best of the best on day one of my first job, either. I also sought out a few people in my new company I could rely upon for honest feedback and helpful advice. Finding these mentors and support systems is crucial, and it will make it much easier to grow and to learn to trust your instincts in a new environment.

A career change takes time, dedication, and a whole lot of learning. But, take it from me: When you’ve found that new job and are working toward that new career—it’s 100% worth it.

Photo of woman at work courtesy of Shutterstock.