Once you find your dream career, how do you get a foot in the door?
That became a three-year career change process for me. And it had three parts – getting an advanced degree, building a portfolio of comms work and creating a new network. (Yes, I’m a planner. Probably to an unnecessary degree in this case, but it ultimately worked for me.)
An advanced degree. First I went back to my alma mater and enrolled in the Public Relations certificate program through UCLA Extension.
Then I thought about grad school. Once I discovered corp comms, though, I abandoned plans for an MBA.
Ironically, an undergrad degree in economics worked against me early on. Hiring managers wanted communications, journalism or English.
Only recently has econ turned into an advantage. Now we have to be well versed in business strategy and operations.
I next set my sights on journalism and applied to the University of Southern California.
But I didn’t get in.
Undaunted, I applied to the USC Annenberg School for Communication.
While I was at Annenberg, the journalism and communication schools merged. So I ultimately became a graduate of the school that turned me down.
The lesson? Rejection is part of chasing your biggest dreams. And sometimes life can surprise you in interesting ways.
A portfolio of work. My masters work helped me build a portfolio of communications, because I could tailor projects to my areas of interest.
I also joined a professional association in my field at the time, the National Contract Management Association. As the chapter’s comms chair, I edited the newsletter, wrote news releases and served as the group’s spokesperson.
Today there are great ways to showcase a portfolio on the web and through social media – a quantum leap from the big book of publications and press clippings I used to lug with me to job interviews.
A new network. The best way to make a lateral career move came from building a network in my new field.
First I joined a professional association. IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators, took me as a member before I had a job in the field.
A local chapter invited me to join their board. It was the perfect opportunity. I invited senior communicators to speak at our meetings. It gave me access to people in way I could build relationships.
When I was asked to be chapter president, it was a fortunate coincidence that I finally landed my first job in the field. Later I become a district director, international executive board member and world conference general session speaker on social media.
My network was valuable in two ways. First, I did informational interviews. Following the Richard Bolles path from part one of this series, I met with people in the field and asked them about their work.
I asked how they got into the field. What they did every day. What they liked and didn’t like. What they looked for in new hires. How the field was changing.
Second, my network became a source of job referrals. I decided a good way to make a lateral move was within the 10,000-person aerospace unit where I already worked. That way I could leverage my knowledge of the company and the industry while moving into a new functional area.
However, the company was so big that to its communications team I was an outsider. But a professional association gave me an in. I met people on the comms team and learned about job openings, often before they were posted.
That led to a series of interviews. And a series of rejections. It became a familiar refrain. The hiring manager liked me, but another candidate was a better fit.
Job opportunity #5 was for a graphic design position. By that point the department was almost as eager to hire me as I was to join. But the position didn’t use my strongest skills, so I declined to pursue it.
I told myself something better would come along. And it did.
A few weeks later, the same hiring manager called me with job opportunity #6. One of his writers had just resigned. Would be I be interested in the job?
A body of awards. Early in my career I tried to establish credibility quickly, to make up for lost time. Awards carried career currency then.
A “with distinction” notation when I passed my master’s comprehensive exam. The outstanding young PR professional award from the Los Angeles chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
A TRW Women of Achievement Award (that’s me, second from the right, in the opening photo). Communicator of the Year from IABC/LA. Several IABC writing awards.
Seems almost silly now, how eager I was to prove myself.
Today our value is measured in new ways. And that’s the subject of my next post.