Industry Change: Advertising >> Non-Profit
Role Change: Chief of Staff >> Management (Strategic Partnerships)
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1) What did you do, and what do you do now?
I majored in Politics (Public Opinion) in college and spent more than ten years in politics and advertising (which may as well be the same industry). In March of 2012, I left that world of messaging and marketing and joined New York Needs You, a nonprofit that works with students who are first in their families to go to college. A lot of friends thought it was a big change – and it was! – but it was also a logical transition.
2) So, why the change?
I’d been in the corporate or political arena for a number of years, helping to shape the message for either a candidate or a policy or a product. I enjoyed my different jobs, but the things that excited me most were usually the community building side projects that I got to work. For instance, the previous advertising agency I worked for allowed me to be the point person for our CEO’s relationships to nonprofits, and coordinate the pro bono work that our agency did. I led the staff community outreach for the public affairs team that I worked for prior to advertising. And every political candidate that I worked for wanted to prove their love to the community – so what better way than to encourage their supporters to do volunteer in community service … hey, the best way to get credit for doing something is to actually do it, right? At some point I woke up realizing that I don’t want to be 30 something and my proudest accomplishments in work would come from side projects. I wanted my passion to be my job, not the things that I do when I get permission from my job. I began speaking with several of my friends that were either passionate about their jobs, or made career switches to industries they loved much more than their current one. Each friend gave me something new to think of, work on, research, or even someone new to meet. I can’t say I targeted New York Needs You from the beginning – but when I found it, I couldn’t imagine myself working anywhere else.
3) How did you pitch yourself to the desired industry/role? What worked well? In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
From advertising and politics to the nonprofit sector, there are a lot of overlapping skills and core competencies – managing volunteers, pitching and messaging to potential partners, leveraging supporters stories for new business opportunities, etc. I stressed the skill sets I’d used in previous jobs, and where those skills could be useful in my new role. Also, management is management. If you’ve been at in an industry long enough to know how to keep the trains running in and out of the station on time, you can apply that same process to a new industry.Most importantly, I pitched the cultural and workplace fit. I thought I would be a good addition to their team and their team’s philosophy. Again, it’s easier to pitch if you believe in it, and I truly did. My advice would be to worry less about how you pitch or sell yourself, and try to find an industry or job that you think is a true fit for what you want to do (or even what you need to learn to do right now). It’s a lot easier to pitch yourself as passionate about a team and a company and a job if you really are.
4) What was the most valuable thing you did in preparation for the new industry/role?
I spoke to a lot of people early, and often. Career transitions are difficult, and I wanted to know as much as I could about new industries, but I also wanted to know the types of people that succeeded and those that failed. A mentor told me to assume I didn’t know what the best job or the best fit was – and just talk to friends (and their friends) with the intention of learning more, not just getting the quickest offer.Best. Advice. Ever.
It helps to have specific questions and specific goals, but leave enough wiggle room in your conversations to hear about jobs that allow you to do x, or careers that value your ability to do y. Whenever you say you are looking for z, remember to say “or something a lot like z.” That gives your friends and those you network with the ability to make broad recommendations, and then it’s up to you to research more.
5) What other advice or insight do you have for readers seeking the same career transition?
Send thank you cards. Not just emails, and never to people you didn’t enjoy meeting (sincerity matters more than style). But if you talk to many people about your future plans, many people will give you great advice. Especially if they don’t know you, the thank you email you send them is a step above spam, and a step below work. Take the time to buy some nice, blank, thank you cards and stamps. Write three sentences in one when you meet someone that really helped you. The next time a job is available, they will look up at the card and wonder whether you’re the right fit.
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