Recently I was approached by a colleague and asked to sit on a panel discussing career change.
I changed careers a few years ago. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. It’s important to me to frequently come back to it—I never want to lose sight of where my career began or the extent of the journey my career change took me on.
The size of the shift I made is the defining feature of my career change journey. Here’s what I mean—I went from working in a clinical role inside a large hospital as a speech-language pathologist to where I am today—working as a digital marketer in financial services inside a large multinational company. I mean, could those two worlds be any further apart?
Here’s some thoughts on my own career change that I took with me to the panel discussion.
1. It’s okay to have no real Plan A, but a solid Plan B
I went into a career change without having a definitive plan for where I wanted to take it. I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something more creative, something with data and something involving tech.
As crazy or as reckless as that might sound, having a minimal Plan A is exactly what allowed for the dramatic nature of my career change. By having no solid plan I wasn’t locking myself into a predetermined role or industry I wanted to chase. It was riskier but it opened up even more doors because I didn’t lock myself in early on.
My Plan A wasn’t solidified but my Plan B certainly was. I knew my clinical skills would be in demand if my career change plans didn’t work out. I always had my clinical skills and experience to fall back on. I still do. I knew those skills would stand the test of time and any kind of radical digital or technical disruption. Robots or algorithms will never have the empathy or clinical expertise to treat a patient at bedside.
2. Switching industries is harder
The career experts I spoke to recommended I look for a way to switch roles in the same industry. This is what most people end up doing when they career change. They have an interest in another area in the same industry and they’re able to successfully transition while bringing their industry and process knowledge with them.
I asked myself some tough questions—did I want a work in healthcare admin? Maybe HR? Did I eventually aspire to be a healthcare executive? This drove my thinking early on and right out of business school I went to work in consulting in healthcare. Same industry, different job function.
Obviously consulting isn’t where I landed longer term. I enjoyed the difficult problem solving and the data analysis but I knew pretty early on that consulting wasn’t going to be right fit for me. I expanded my reach, thought more broadly and looked to enter, what was back then, the emerging startup scene in New York City. I networked like crazy and eventually met a small firm who was looking to mould someone with a healthcare background to kick off a new marketing initiative. They took a chance on me and I’ve never looked back.
3. Are you prepared to start at the bottom?
When you switch careers, and especially when you switch industries, you have to be prepared to start again. That might mean you have to start again at the bottom. The larger your career shift, the more difficulty you’re likely to have in landing a role at the same or similar seniority level.
When I entered the world of digital marketing I had no technical experience in how to execute a marketing campaign, how to set up email journeys, and the only marketing plans I’d ever written were in business school.
It was important to me when entering the marketing industry that I learn how to actually execute marketing. I didn’t want to advance into marketing middle management and not know how to execute on the basics. That was a model I’d learned from healthcare—in healthcare you couldn’t join the ranks of middle management unless you had once worked on the wards yourself.
4. Luck plays a bigger part than you think
I attribute a large chunk of my successful career change to luck. Many of the inflection points in my journey came down to being at the right place at the right time.
We have a tendency to minimize the role luck plays in our careers. I maximized the opportunities for luck to play a part in my journey by being relentless in expanding my skills and my network.
Rather than waiting for a my first digital marketing job to teach me what I needed to know, I took in on myself to learn what I could from online courses, books, blogs and industry leaders. I got comfortable and skilled at networking and talking to a lot of different people. I did this every day for years. I was persistent in asking for referrals, asking questions, tracking who I met, noting tidbits from our conversations, and I always, always, always followed up.