In today’s article, we’re going to look at two examples of how people changed their careers. The first one, Henrietta (not even close to her real name), was able to make a change without going back to school, while the other, Fredericka (also not a real name) decided to go to law school. Both of these women had successful careers in other industries before they decided to make a switch, and both were thrown into making a switch by external factors.
Henrietta started her career in finance, where she was a successful analyst. She liked the people she worked with, but she had very, very long hours and, as a result, a stunted social life. Her firm, like many others, downsized; when they did, Henrietta had a few months warning before she needed to find a new job. What did she do?
Henrietta took stock of her life to that point and made three major decisions: first, she did not like working in finance enough to continue with that career; second, she wanted to work in an exciting industry; and third, she wanted a change of scenery. Henrietta applied for several jobs, all in the healthcare industry: she wanted, nobly, to help our country’s health insurance industry work properly. She had previous experience with healthcare, which was a big plus in helping her get interviews in that industry, and she landed a mid-level government job in her chosen industry. This job was challenging, but nothing like the challenges Henrietta faced in finance and, as a result, she excelled. After a few years working for the government, she transitioned to a lobbying firm, where she feels she is more able to affect change at a high level. And because she worked for the government initially, her change of scenery – from New York to Washington – happened automatically.
Here is a rundown of what Henrietta did well when she decided to change careers:
1. She chose a new career in which she already some exposure, so she could be more certain that she was making the correct move;
2. She took a lower-level job than she might have otherwise gotten in finance so that she could break in on the ground floor; and
3. She built her relationships within her new industry to the point where she could transfer jobs easily (in fact, her lobbying job found her).
Now we’ll look at a similar example, Fredericka, who decided, after a very successful career in finance, that she wanted to go back to law school. This decision was prompted by her husband’s move to another city. In addition, it had been a longtime dream of hers to be Perry Mason, and she had limited opportunities to continue her career in finance in her new city.
After Fredericka graduated from law school, she took a job as an assistant district attorney, where she spent several years honing her legal skills. Then she decided to combine her business acumen with her legal training, and she proceeded to work with several companies, sometimes as an investor, sometimes as President, and sometimes as counsel. Soon, she began to face a serious career problem: she did not have the requisite ‘big-firm’ law experience to get the jobs she wanted as a general counsel, and she did not have the corporate background to get the jobs she wanted in business. As a result, she has been forced into the world of start-ups and restructurings, both of which, while interesting, were far riskier careers than she would have liked to pursue. Now, Fredericka is an obvious talent (and my apologies to her for condensing her entire career into a short paragraph – if you would like me to focus exclusively on her in an upcoming article, please write me). What went wrong?
1. Fredericka changed careers late in life and, as a result, never had the desire to work with a major law firm. This has cost her of late, as she cannot get any position in the legal world for which big-firm law experience is a must. Unfortunately, virtually every position in the legal world wants someone with this type of experience, so while she was following her dream as an ADA, she inadvertently shot herself in the foot.
2. Similarly, Fredericka’s business career, while interesting, lacked focus. Today, she has a hard time convincing prospective employers that she is interested in joining their organization for the long term, as her recent history has been a few years in each job before she takes something completely different. No corporation wants to hire someone – especially at a high level – when they have not proven that they will stick with a career for five-to-ten years, no matter how interesting their career has been to date.
Importantly, Fredericka is very happy with her career thus far. She likes that she has been challenged every day, and, when pressed, she will admit that her early career choices have hurt her in the long run, but she would not trade her experiences for big-box corporate experience. In the end, Fredericka came up with a novel solution: she decided that, if no one was going to hire her, she would start her own company. Today, that company is a successful fashion firm. On the flip side, Henrietta, with no legal background, is a successful lobbyist, perhaps the most law-intensive career out there (aside from being a lawyer, of course). What is the lesson here? Sometimes (and ONLY sometimes), going back to school is not the best way to advance your new career – mapping out a plan for the future is.