2017 update: I still stand by the advice below! You may also want to check out our latest posts on changing careers.
Reader D suggests a thread about changing jobs and types of jobs — career transitions in general!…
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.
- 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 career transitions? 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?