Boston PR executive Judy Rakowsky worked in journalism for 30 years—a lifetime in modern professional terms. Eventually, though, she longed to work at a more strategic level. Now she represents corporate, nonprofit, and crisis communications clients in the world of public relations. How did she make the career change leap from newspapers to find a job she loved? Here are some tips for midlife career change:
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1. Be true to yourself. “I was changing hats, but not my core,” Rakowsky says. She knew she’d leverage the same ethical principles she’d used as a journalist in service of her public relations clients. Make sure your beliefs translate to your new role.
2. Get on a committee, but start small. Rakowsky didn’t just join professional networking organizations. She found discrete projects or subcommittees within the larger group. That way, she could apply her skills without feeling overwhelmed while making connections with people who were valuable to her midlife career change. If you’re a writer, offer to write the committee’s newsletter. If you’re a finance whiz, offer to handle the committee’s budget. Find a niche for yourself within a larger whole, she urges.
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3. Be legitimately interested in people. Networking is not a sales pitch. As a journalist, making conversation and asking questions came naturally to Rakowsky—but it’s valuable in every industry. “Tell people that you want to hear about them. Be empathetic when hearing people’s stories. Don’t talk about yourself when networking,” she advises. People love to talk about their own experiences, and a savvy networker knows how to draw colleagues out to find similarities—and then leverage these similarities to discuss professional opportunities, such as career change.
4. Ask for insights from people who went before you, but be respectful of their time. Rakowsky sought out people who made similar leaps and asked for advice—within reason. “You get one shot. People are willing to have one phone call or one cup of coffee.” So plan well-thought-out questions in advance, and make it count.
5. Tune out the naysayers. “You have enough challenges when you’re switching jobs. It’s easy to get stuck, psychologically. Surround yourself with people who support you instead of question you,” she says. Sometimes, differences of opinion are valuable—but if you’re committed to making the transition, you need energy, not undermining.
6. Unearth like-minded, tailored organizations as a stepping stone to a new gig. “Find a unity of purpose, whatever the purpose might be,” Rakowsky advises. Maybe it’s women in science, maybe it’s marketers who love pets, or maybe it’s accountants who want to save the rainforests. (Rakowsky is a member of The Boston Club, a network of women executives committed to the advancement of female leaders.) Networking with people who share your vision and your values makes it that much easier to change careers and find a job you’ll truly love.