Climbing The Ladder

How I Threw Away My Career At 28 (& Started Something Way Better)

By | Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In March of 2017, I got a phone call that changed my life. I was due to start a new job as the events manager at an exclusive Hollywood social club that Monday. The phone call was from a very apologetic head of HR, informing me that the person who had hired me had been abruptly let go amid a bunch of misconduct, and they needed to “postpone” my start date until it could all be sorted out. I hung up the phone and felt…instant relief. I suddenly realized that not only did I not really want this job, I really didn’t want any job in event production. This career I had been dutifully building for myself for the past six years was going great, except for one thing: I hated it.

I called the HR director back and told her thanks, but I couldn’t wait to start a new job. Then I set about carving a new path. A year and a half later, I’m working full time in a new industry, in a role I love, doing creative work with people I really respect. It was a lot of trial and error, and a lot of crazy stress, but ultimately so worth it. Here’s how I made a 180-degree turn in my career (and how you can, too).

Define Your Role

The first thing you have to do, obviously, is pick a new direction. This was really difficult for me, until I realized something crucial: I didn’t really care what it was! I knew I could be equally happy in a number of different jobs as long as the same core criteria were met. For me, those were stability, room for advancement, and not being dependent on other people to succeed at my job day to day (the thing that stressed me to death about event planning). Spend some time deciding what’s most important to you in your work life, and then cross-reference jobs that fit those criteria with your skill sets.

Spin Your Experience

If you think about it, you’re probably utilizing all kinds of skill sets at your current job that can be translated to other industries. When rewriting my events resume for copywriting work, I emphasized all the tiniest bits of writing I had to do in that role and downplayed other, non-relevant elements of my job. Don’t lie about your experience (that’ll come back to bite you), but present it in a way that works to your advantage. And remember that every time your resume goes out it should be custom-tailored to the job you’re applying for. That can be as simple as lifting keywords from the job post and sprinkling them in, or choosing to highlight certain experience over others. And if all else fails, tout your irrelevant background as a good thing. You have a refreshing perspective!

Get to Know Your Competition

This one was not my proudest moment, but I’m going to share it anyway. When I decided I wanted to become a copywriter, I created a very vague Craigslist post that basically summed up the kind of work I hoped to find. When I woke up the next morning, I had 50 resumes and websites from successful copywriters in my inbox. I looked at all of them, took notes on what worked and what didn’t, and then I created a resume and a website for myself. I felt bad for wasting a few minutes of people’s time, but I learned a ton about how to structure a resume and lay out a portfolio. If you want to take a more karma-friendly approach, the LinkedIn search bar is your friend.

Declare Your Intention

Your network can’t help you find a new job if they don’t know you’re looking. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my search was not asking for help sooner. Make sure to turn on the “open to recruiters” setting on LinkedIn. Send out an email to your professional (and personal) contacts letting them know you’re on the hunt, and yes, acknowledge that this is a departure from what you used to do. Ask for advice, introductions, and, of course, any job openings they might hear of.

Find a Certification Program

If your new job requires specific skills that you don’t have yet, that’s no reason to postpone applying for jobs. Find an online or extension program that teaches those skills, enroll in it, and then smack that on your resume with your expected completion date. Just seeing that you’re dedicated to learning the skills you’ll need down the line is a good sign for employers looking to hire now.

Freelance and Say “Yes” to Everything

When you’re just starting down a new path, any experience in your new field is good experience. I volunteered writing emails and social media posts for a non-profit just so I could tout it on my website. Build your resume in every area you can, and ask for testimonials from the clients you work for.

Get a Transition Job

If you truly can’t spin your work experience into anything relevant to the new job you want, look for a “foot in the door” job at a company you might want to work for down the line. Think: customer service, administrative assistant, reservationist, etc. You may have to swallow your pride (and cut your pay) for a bit, but make it crystal clear that you intend to crush this job and move up, and you’ll be well-positioned for the future.

Prove Yourself

Simply put, once you’ve got a foot in the door, it’s time to work your ass off. Be upfront about your lack of “traditional” experience, and make sure your superiors know you’re eager to learn. The best career advice I ever got was, “You’d be amazed how far you can get by just showing up on time and listening to instructions.” If your work ethic, efficiency, and attitude are top notch, people will forget that you used to be in another field almost immediately.

Laura Munoz is a copywriter and freelance journalist living and working in Los Angeles.

Image via Unsplash

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