Career Transitions (aka Ch-ch-ch-changes)…

career changesReader D suggests a thread about changing jobs and types of jobs…

I recently transitioned from a biglaw firm job into an in-house position, and have gotten loads of questions from people wondering how I did it. In my case, it was actually quite random and serendipitious, but I thought it might be cool to encourage readers to share their stories on how they made the transition from one type of work to another. From what little I know of you, it sounds like you made a career transition, and likely have tips/insights to share with readers.

Great topic.  I think that, while the on-campus recruiting at law schools and MBA schools is amazing (and let’s be honest, one of the main things you pay for when you get a higher degree), I think that so many people end up in Big Companies because of that recruiting — and then have little to no idea how to make that next step.  Better opportunities, better lifestyles, and better careers can be had if you make career transitions, though.  (Pictured:  Change, originally uploaded to Flickr by busy.pochi.)

I’ve made a few transitions, I guess, and I have to agree with reader D – serendipity plays a big part! But I do like to think of the old quote that “Chance favors the prepared mind” — you can only take advantage of those opportunities if you’re ready to for them.

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  • Networking helps… for example, when I was transitioning from journalism to media law, I cold-called the only two media lawyers I knew: the general counsel of Gruner + Jahr USA, the company where I was working at the time, and a former colleague’s uncle who worked at People (a fact my former colleague mentioned once in conversation).  I asked both for 15-20 minutes of their time as I was headed off to law school, offering to come to their office — and both took me out for long lunches where they told me their tips on law school, shared their paths to success, offered advice for what they would do if they were beginning again — and both asked me to keep in touch (which I did).  I wound up getting my 1L internship through Nick (the uncle), who recommended a non-profit that *everyone* knew in the media law bar.  (It was then called Libel Defense Resource Center, but is now called Media Law Resource Center, and is my current employer.)  After spending the summer there, I had met lots of other media lawyers (many of them senior folks at major media companies) — and had heard a particular firm’s name come up many times, which was where I worked for 6 years after law school.
  • …but timing is key also. After I started at my firm, I had an “in house or bust” mentality.  If I had been more attuned to the news in the media world, though, I’d have realized that media companies were HURTING, both because of the economy and this new-fangled Internet thing.  There weren’t very many jobs that were being created at major media companies, and the people who had those jobs were so happy in them that they were clinging on for dear life.  If I’d been smarter, I would have assessed the environment and realized I should have gone to a smaller firm and kept the dream of “in house” for a later day.  Luckily, I landed at an amazing non-profit job — writing about media law matters and working with some of the top lawyers in the space, particularly on the digital side.
  • Guts are needed. It takes big, big guts to leave a “known thing” (no matter how bad it is!) and head to an unknown, new thing, particularly if your lifestyle may be very different either because of hours (more or less), or money, or commute.  It’s one thing to pursue the job, but another to actually take it.

I’m actually in the midst of a transition right now — in December, I gave notice at my law job.  Corporette had been growing for a while, and it’s gone from requiring 2-3 daily hours of writing to more like 5-6 hours of writing, networking, e-mailing — and that’s just to maintain the site at its current level, not even to think about other projects (like the book I want to write!).  I struggled for a long time with this question:  was it time to jump, and leave behind the career that I’d been pursuing for 10+ years, and leave a job that was perfect for me?  I hemmed and hawed for a long time, but ultimately decided that I wanted to pursue Corporette.  So, in about a week, I’ll have my last full-time day at my job (and I’ll be part-time through the MLRC/Stanford conference on May 19-20).  Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without, as mentioned above,

  • networking — every time I meet full-time bloggers I’m blown away by how savvy, smart, and entrepreneurial they are.  The ladies I know through Style Coalition, as well as the other bloggers I know, never cease to inspire me.
  • timing — I probably jumped too late, to be honest!  I’ve been maintaining almost two jobs for far too long!  (I’m looking forward to reintroducing myself to this thing called “exercise.”)
  • guts — wooooo were guts needed.  First Amendment lawyer to fashion blogger?  A lot of the people I know through my legal career have been incredibly supportive, though (as well as my amazing husband!), and it helped me summon the courage.

Ok — enough about me.  Readers, what are your best tips for transitioning jobs?  Those of you who have landed at cushy jobs, tell us how you got them!!  Those of you who made leaps and regretted them, we want to hear from you too — what lessons can you pass on?

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  1. Whoa. Congratulations! Huge step!

  2. Bravo Kat! You rawk!

  3. Congrats, Kat!!!!!! We are all looking forward to much more Corporette!! :)

    I have only transitioned from biglaw to small law, but in the future I am looking forward to starting a trust-company-like law firm, and have a joint venture or whatever with my husband’s investment mgmt company….but when to do that? We would need health insurance, etc.

  4. A Huge Fan :

    Kat, this post is so inspiring!! Go you!! I think I check your site about 15 times a day. :) I’m excited to know that you’re going to spend more time developing this site.

    • Glad I am not the only one checking frequently

      • SF Bay Associate :

        All. Day. Long ;) There’s not many woman around here, so it’s nice to have virtual female colleagues!

  5. Congratulations!

    I am a fairly new reader and come at this discussion from an accounting perspective. I used to be in Big 4, which is hard and includes long hours, but in some sense it’s “safe.” You know what to expect and what you will be working on and what is expected of you. When I made the jump to corporate tax planning, it was very scary. I am now looking to make another move in the next 3-6 months. I don’t have much to add to your list above (which I think is very well-done, by the way), but I will stress that networking is essential. Not necessarily in-your-face stuff always, but keeping contacts and not burning bridges if you can help it. My next interview is with a company that is a client of my last firm and I was recommended personally by a partner. I wouldn’t have that contact, the recommendation or probably even know about the job if I hadn’t have kept in touch with my past employers and partners.

  6. windupbird :

    Congrats Kat! This is so exciting. Can’t wait to see all your plans for the site!

  7. Valleygirl :

    I’m LAanon (but like valleygirl better i guess) – and still in the process of job hunting (due to the yuck HR hostile work situation at my current job – the latest high of which was being told to go by my boss make coffee for a 10 person funders meeting that I was running so he could “catch up with the guys”) – but here are a few tips, etc.

    Re networking – I’m in the research/NPO field and have landed three jobs (including a really cushy part time one teaching a graduate class one night a week at a local uni) and a few consulting gigs through the alumni association and professors at my grad school. My grad school isn’t huge but the alumni are very loyal – so I’ve been active in terms of staying connected via linked in groups, conferences, alumni get togethers. My husband was actually able to get an interview through one of my fellow alums too.

    Re things to watch out for – all the positions I’ve interviewed for in the past where the person I’d be working with (either they’re my boss or peer) has said they’re very scatterbrained or disorganized has resulted in them being hard to work with. Those types of phrases are some of my top red flags to watch out for…

    An issue I’m running into that I’d love advice on is how to explain to potential jobs why you’re leaving the current one… I’m in a grant funded position so I usually say something along the lines of my funding is running out, this is such a great position I had to jump on it… I try to follow the only good press rule – but it’s really difficult for me to want to say “I’d like to work here because I’m in a very toxic/hostile environment at my current job and it seems like you respect women here :-D”

  8. That’s so awesome! Congratulations Kat!!!!

  9. Congratulations and kudos on taking the big step! Looking forward to more Corporette during the day and your book for a quick fix during the evenings!

  10. Go Kat, GO! Amazing what you’ve done. Hugs xxox

  11. surrounded by lawyers :

    For anyone who attended or is currently in a PhD program but wants a career outside of academics, I strongly represent this site:

    Joining is free and the discussions and panels are immensely helpful. A lot of it is about exactly these kinds of transitions–how to find the opportunities, how to make the best of the ones you get.

    • surrounded by lawyers :

      Gah! strongly RECOMMEND that site, I meant.

      And I should have begun by adding my congrats to Kat. I’m excited to see what comes next!

    • I’m trying to make this switch now. Thanks for the link.

  12. Ballerina girl :

    Congratulations! I always assumed this was your full time gig–I can’t imagine how you do it all on top of a regular job!

  13. Sydney Bristow :

    Congratulations Kat! That is a huge step, but I certainly appreciate everything you do here!

  14. Congratulations Kat, you are so amazing! What a great topic, and a great way to announce your own transition. I, too, can’t wait to see where you take Corporette from here.

    This topic is one that is near and dear to my heart. I have helped others through transitions plus I have gone through my own and they can be heady experiences. I too have a book that is percolating in my head that I will start work on in 2012, so it is great to watch you on your journey.

    I can’t wait to buy your book! Enjoy your transition.

  15. I think on personal reflection, the issue of guts what the hardest for me to overcome while making a transition.

    I am currently a university employed surgeon in a major metropolitan area. My husband is a private practice cardiologist. We have batted around the idea of moving to a smaller (ski-focused) town for several years. We’ve interviewed, researched etc, but never pulled the trigger. As someone who is very risk averse, I totally acknowledge that my reticence was a major factor. I sat at my desk thinking “we both have good jobs. Our combined income, while much lower than the average salary in our fields (due to location and economic facors) is more than the vast majority of Americans make. Why rock the boat?” That line of thinking didn’t encompass the fact that my husband was reasonably unhappy at his job, or that there was the potential for something even better out there.

    Then in November my husband’s job was eliminated. Just like that, we needed to make a plan B. Since the area we live in was saturated with specialists in my husband’s field, there were only very mediocre opportunities for him in our town.

    So we looked afield. I started working with recruiters, looking at web sites, etc. My risk aversion was no longer an issue — and suddenly, with a little bit of luck, an amazing opportunity landed in our laps. We are going to an area of the country we love, making a lot more money, and our work will be not any more stressful.

    In reflecting, I should have been keeping my eyes open for a better opportunity more actively, even before my husband’s job went south. I should have remembered all the times I made a big change in my life, dealt with the anxiety and it turned out fabulously.

    And Kat, congrats! You are wise to take the leap. I think many of us here would tell you that what you have done on this blog is special and unique. Rarely can a group of career minded women get together (ostensibly for fashion) and have such a collegial, supportive chit chat. All the best!

    • skippy pea :

      That is scary to imagine that a cardiologist not immune to job elimination.

    • Would love to know more about making a decision on where to live based upon your recreation — skiing — which is seasonal at best. When I was first out of college, I headed for mountains — climbing and hiking, not so much skiing — but since then I feel I have had more prosaic concerns, buoyed by the idea that my current lifestyle would not give me the time to enjoy the mountains anyway.

      • So my husband is an avid snow sportsman, and prior to meeting me lived in an area of the country where he could do it on a near daily basis. Now that his life is more complex (wife, kid, dog, etc) it feels as though living in proximity to the outdoors and skiing is the way to make it happen more frequently. He has been researching for a long time. Questions we researched:

        1) What towns interest us?
        2) Do people in the town do work that we do?
        3) What compromises will we make if we move there?

        We researched a long time, cold calling hospitals in our case, emailing practices, just to see what was out there. We had to kiss a certain amount of frogs to find the right fit. As to whether it’s realistic to move someplace for recreation, our attitude is that if you make it easy and surround yourself with opportunities, you are much more likely to take advantage of it.

        As far as cardiology — medicine is no longer a recession proof industry. Reimbursement for certain kind of cardiology tests has been slashed by 25-33%. Add to that that many medical groups were engaged in risky and irresponsible financial behaviour that contributed to the economic meltdown, and suddenly if you are redundant and without politic patronage in a large organization, you can be out. It’s been painful in some ways, but we are so excited about our opportunity. And as much as the economy has harmed medicine, there are plenty of jobs still available. Things aren’t quite so dire for us as they are in other industries.

  16. skippy pea :

    Wow. Big congratulations Kat. I love this site and visit it multiple times daily.
    I can only imagine how much better it will be with your full attention.

  17. So here’s a question.. how do you keep in touch with contacts/professors/employers that have been helpful? I’ve always done thank you emails followed up by written thank you cards, but I’m wondering to what degree, and how, you sustain those contacts, without being overly familiar. Do you just wait until you “need” them? I’m thinking, if there’s some professional news about them (an award, some prestigious presentation), you can email to congratulate them. But other than that, I’m not sure. Any suggestions?

    • And I forgot to add – Congratulations Kat! What an exciting step :)

    • I’ve found an email now and then to wish them a happy birthday/Christmas/New Year’s/whatever, to ask them how they’re doing, and to ask after their family, is usually welcome and appreciated. You don’t have to be personal friends to send someone well-wishes at those times of year, and it helps maintain a connection.

    • I’m starting the process of reconnecting with people I knew in previous lives, and it is a little intimidating. For me, LinkedIn and e-mail have been very helpful; if you find someone on LinkedIn and you haven’t talked with them in a while, it’s really easy to invite them to join your network with a message saying, “Just setting up my LinkedIn account and bumped into your profile – we should do lunch sometime soon!” (I suppose this goes for Facebook too, but I’m sooo leery of Facebook’s privacy ish.)

      E-mail is also good; I have days where I send e-mails to a specified number of people and won’t let myself stop until I’m hit my quota. I’m sure it’s a little random to get an e-mail like that, but I haven’t had anyone be offended by it. For me, it also limits the possibility of a quick phone call lasting an hour and a half as I catch up with people.

      I also know several people who set up ticklers in their Outlook (or Don’t Forget the Milk) to call so-and-so on this date, just to catch up. One friend even has a reminder to call his mother every week…so cute. I haven’t gone this far, but I’m thinking of starting it with a few people, and expanding the list a little each month.

      • Oh, I missed the part where said “employers/professors.” My advice might be a bit too familiar, but I don’t think it’s out of line to connect with them on Facebook or LinkedIn, or even e-mail them when something good happens to you that is indirectly a product of their assistance. I sent an e-mail to a professor of Chinese politics when I first visited China, just to thank him for his insights and how he had built up my desire to visit. When I passed the bar exam, I e-mailed one of my college professors who had written a law school recommendation to thank him.

        Also though, think about how big a network you want to keep. I think it would be overwhelming and counterproductive to stay in touch with every professor I’ve ever had. Likewise, I’ve had far too many employers to stay in touch with every person I’ve ever worked with. I stay in touch with the ones I knew relatively well, or the ones who helped me the most. If it feels awkward to stay in touch with them, maybe that’s because you weren’t really that close to them in the first place.

    • I think that keeping in touch on a semi-annual/annual basis is not overly familiar, though I also don’t think it’s completely out of line to get in touch when you need them. Especially when it comes to great professors (and even high school teachers), there are several that I keep in touch with. I do have a PhD, so in some ways keeping in touch even with undergrad profs makes sense professionally for them as well, but I’m no longer working as a researcher so in many ways our keeping in touch is mostly about maintaining the relationship (and lifelong mentoring for me). In my experience, senior people who championed me early in my career continue to be interested in my success…and as “Sei” said, generally updates are welcomed.

      Oh, and def congratulate them if you learn about exciting news. I’m sure they will be flattered that you keep up on them, and they will also appreciate your noticing their career!

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I’m in touch with a few professors and previous employers who have been helpful. We are connected on LinkedIn, but I occasionally send them emails with articles I cam across that might be interesting, when I hear about a professional achievement of theirs, or when something major happens in my life (i.e. moving across the country, graduating, passing the bar, etc).

  18. I found this website today, and I have done little else but read all the posts. I love the way it is written and the practical, nonjudgmental advice and guidance on all topics.

    Congratulations on the change, and I’m already looking forward to your book!

  19. Super duper big congrats to Kat for this exciting news! I was just wondering how you were juggling it all. So excited for all us corporettes who will now get you full time!!

    As for job transitions, my hubs just switched from biglaw to smalllaw. He did a lot of research and concluded that a smalllaw environment might cure some of the things he hated about biglaw. But at the end of the day, you don’t know and you won’t know until you switch and really give the new opportunity a fair shake. He has had a few moments of panic and what was helpful was remembering that, in the end, this is just a job. It is not your whole identity. You may also be a mom, wife, daughter, community member, friend, Nordstrom patron, volunteer, etc. Switching careers or jobs is a big move, but it is not going to make or break your entire life. It may feel like it at times, but try to keep some perspective and it might ease some of the jitters and anxiety that taking a big leap can provoke.

  20. Congrats Kat. I love this blog. Good luck to you!