Three years ago, I decided to ‘take a leap’ of faith: I said goodbye to my career in media and advertising and said hello to a new world of executive recruiting. I celebrated my work anniversary by posting a reflection of my accomplishments over the last few years on Linkedin. My post went viral with over 5.5 million views and now 50,000 people want to know how I did it. Instead I’m going to share it with you.
Most of us have experienced a time in our lives where we are paralyzed by fear, literally standing in our own way, bounded by fear of the unknown, fear of instability, fear of losing. But for me, many life-changing experiences taught me to focus not on the fear, but on what has to be done in the moment — taking things step by step.
My first experience with change was at the age of 5 when my parents separated and I bounced back and forth between two houses. As a teenager, I watched my father go from a fifth-degree black belt martial arts instructor to a man battling Multiple Sclerosis, a disabling disease of the central nervous system, who needed a cane to walk down the street. In college, my family lost our house, our car and soon my dad passed. Life forced me to embrace change.
Three years out of college, I was working as a media strategist for one of the largest advertising and marketing agencies in the world, OmnicomGroup. I was responsible for developing media campaigns for huge companies like Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. My days consisted of doing tasks such as identifying target audiences, brainstorming media stunts, negotiating with vendors and submitting and revising (and revising again) proposals to WB executives.
Anyone who’s worked in an advertisement agency knows that the fast-paced, high-volume, deadline after deadline driven workload can make two years easily feel like double. Tired, but also in forever search of growth, I began opening myself up for new opportunities. I considered moving over to the studio side or working for an online publisher, pitching proposals to media strategists like myself.
After quite a few interviews in the industry, I somehow found myself sitting inside Green Hasson Janks, a top ranked regional public accounting firm, interviewing for an executive recruiting role. Not what I expected! A sales position in the accounting and finance sector, which included business development, understanding accounting/finance functions, providing hiring and career consultation, negotiating fees, salaries and compensation packages – this position was completely out of my wheelhouse.
There I was, facing another huge change — but this one was voluntary. I weighed the pros and cons and did all that I could to make sure I fully thought it through. As much as I wanted to predict the future, I couldn’t. I had to trust that everything would work out, just like it always had. At worst, if I took the position and completely tanked, I could always go back to media planning. I had excellent references and strong relationships with quite a few people still in the industry, which I thought of as a safety net.
I leapt. With work ethic and drive, I was determined to make change work in my favor. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have imagined that after my first year of working as an executive recruiter that I would be nominated for Rookie of the Year and inducted into the President’s Club. Nor could I have ever imagined that I would be promoted to director in my second year.
How did I do it? Media planning prepared me for executive recruiting in ways I didn’t expect. I was accustomed to working long hours, which came in handy as I tried to play catch up, learning a new job and industry. For a long time, I was the first one in my office and the last one to leave. I was also used to multitasking and working on multiple projects. I was able to keep calm when I had multiple searches running simultaneously, and I didn’t let much slip through the cracks. I was comfortable with learning new technology platforms, and I quickly learned the recruiting database tracking system for all of our client/candidate information and activity. By my third month of recruiting, I became the go-to person for all things database and technology related. Simply put, I realized many of my skills were transferable.
Most importantly, I was a “sponge.” I wasn’t afraid to ask for help from my peers and my managing director. I asked lots of questions and made sure that I understood not only what I was doing but also why. I involved myself on projects that weren’t mine to gain the experience. I volunteered to sit in on meetings, screen resumes, send emails and so many other tasks. Additionally, I found a mentor in my managing director. It started by keeping him clued into everything I worked on and by providing him with frequent updates, sometimes multiples a day. Later, we became partners on many searches and learned to leverage each other’s strong suits, which yielded higher productivity and more business.
Last but not least, I gave my new career a fair chance. Within my first year of recruiting, my friends and family would ask me, “So, how do you like it?” My response was always the same, “I haven’t quite decided.” I was careful not to decide too quickly. I have been working since I was 15 and out of all the jobs I’ve had, recruiting had the largest learning curve. There were days I felt lost, and it was difficult for me to measure if I was succeeding. While I was hitting my goal metrics, there were a lot of ups and downs beyond my control. I later learned to ride the wave and recover quickly from disappointment. Most importantly, in my toughest moments, I didn’t submit to any defeating thoughts.
For anyone who relates to my story, here’s my Top 11 list, with a bonus:
1. Don’t let the unknown scare you. Try your best to be adaptable and have a positive attitude towards change – voluntary or involuntary.
2. Ask yourself, “What can I happily see myself doing?” Sometimes, we can be so unhappy in our current situation that the grass easily looks greener on the other side. Be selective and take into consideration your interests and your strengths.
3. Make an honest list of the pros & cons of your current and your prospective careers. Think about what you’re going into as you move forward, and what will you leave behind. And don’t take for granted the little things that can be important, like the office environment, office location, company/industry perks, etc.
4. Take a look at all your career options inside and outside your industry.
5. Get a second opinion from someone who truly knows you. Talk out your options, your concerns and your game plan with someone you trust (friend, family, colleague, mentor).
6. Network – reach out to someone who is doing the job you want. Find out what their day is like, what they enjoy most about their job and what challenges they face.
7. Make sure your next move will put you closer to your end goal.
8. Look for people not just for jobs. Who you are working with is just as important as what you are doing for work.
9. Make a plan and consider a timeline. Is there a particular time of year that would be best to make the switch? Is there a way you can slowly transition from your current career to your new one? Map out your career change.
10. Understand that when you change careers, sometimes that means you’re starting over. Be prepared to put in the extra work and effort to understand your new job and industry. Focus on your strengths and the transferrable skills you can use to help get ahead while you’re in the process of building new ones.
11. Allow yourself time to adjust. Some transitions take longer than others. Be patient and try to avoid jumping to any defeating conclusions.
Bonus: Finally and perhaps most importantly: