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Artwork by Taleen Keldjian

Ask M+P: Career Change

Written By Hannah Risser-Sperry | Jun 2, 2022

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Welcome to Ask M+P, an advice column for creative professionals (and all professionals!)! Our Content Strategist Hannah has thoughts, but so does our larger team. C’mon, it’ll be fun! (have a question? ask us!)

What is the best way to make a career change without going back to school and thus into debt?

So you’re looking to pivot, eh? You’ve come to the right place with this question; not only are our recruiters well-versed in the many ways people are changing up their careers, but many of them have come from a different career to recruiting, as well.

I talked to three recruiters, and they all said the same thing: build your network. That’s going to be the best way to find something new. You know people; take them out for coffee and find out how they got to where they are. Add them on LinkedIn. Tell them you’re looking to make a change – you never know, they might know the perfect next thing for you or have a friend who’s hiring. Don’t bother people or “pick their brain” incessantly, but you’re nice (I can tell!). People want to help you.

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When I got my first job at an ad agency, it wasn’t because I’d studied advertising or marketing; it was because I knew someone who worked there and they told me about an entry level Community Manager position. And let’s be honest: that’s the main reason advertising is an insular old boy’s club, with terrible representation of just about anyone who’s not a cishet white man. But it’s also just a fact of how people get work: they tell someone they’re looking, and that someone knows of a job opening. Whoever you are asking this question, let your friends know you’re on the hunt.

Britney Jo Styer had multiple career pivots: she studied creative advertising, and “always thought I’d go the Art Director or Creative Director route.” Like most of us, she took the first job she could get: a corporate marketing position that helped her move to Austin but didn’t offer much in the way of creative work. So she started freelancing as a graphic designer on side, and eventually had enough clients to leave her job. But as soon as she designed her first website, she realized she wanted to learn how to build the website.

While she didn’t go “back to school,” she did go into more debt by doing a bootcamp. She learned to code and became a Developer at an agency. Eventually, she pivoted again into teaching coding at General Assembly, and then had a fateful coffee with a friend who brought her into our recruiting fold. Now, “I get to use my background, just in a different way.”

“It’s almost like you’re manifesting a change when you start letting people know you’re looking to make a change,” she says. And if you don’t have a lot of experience in what you’re pivoting into? “Go and do work for organizations you like. I’m not a fan of free work but when you’re trying to build a portfolio, there are a lot of organizations that need help.” She looks at it as volunteer work she’d have done anyway.

For Lindsay Melnick, pivoting was a process. “I worked with a career coach for a while. It set me on a path of discovery; there was a lot of introspection, a lot of self evaluation.” While she doesn’t know if it was worth it, it didn’t hurt. She narrowed her job search down to two industries, and found a creative recruiting job through someone in her network: “if you don’t have one, start building one.”

Her word of warning? Pivots may come with pay cuts. Hers couldn’t happen until her son was in school and she was no longer paying for childcare every day.

Janessa Tamez found it important to identify the elements important to you in your next role and be open to the possibilities: “I knew staying in the design community was really important to me and I wanted to be a contributor to it or make an impact in some way.” She was a graphic designer, feeling stagnant in production work but not sure what to specialize in. So she – like so many of us – applied to grad school! The pandemic made that too big a task, but she committed to treating the years she would have been in school as learning years.

An introvert by nature, she convinced herself to go to events and meet people. She wanted to find a mentor, so she joined online challenges and connected with new people on LinkedIn. It was a fateful visit to Austin Design Week that saw her cross our path, and the rest is history.

Most importantly, her creativity has flourished. Graphic design, for all its joys, had started to feel like grunt work, and recruiting allowed her to flex new creative muscles. “Getting into recruiting made me realize that I could still be part of the design community and make an impact without designing.”

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So, reader, I hope those stories inspire you. No one gets to where they are alone, and chances are you won’t, either. If you end up going back to school, we wish you the best of luck. If you want to talk about dream careers with a recruiter, we’re all ears. But no matter what, the experts are telling you to get out there and talk to people. Talk to as many people as you can who have the career path you’re looking for, or who seem happy in their jobs. Chances are, they know how to help you.

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