“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the most underrated difficult question that we burden kids with. From the ripe old age of 18, we are forced to declare a major in college and set out on a path toward that end goal. I was pre-med in college and ended up graduating with a degree in Neurobiology and Physiology. I am now a brand marketing & communications executive in the fashion industry. I changed gears in my junior year of college with just enough time to start interning in a new direction, which at the time was in the magazine industry. I was lucky or at least brave enough to acknowledge that tiny voice in my head telling me that being a doctor was wrong for me. It was not the track that I was meant to be on and I was going to start a new life in the land where The Devil Wears Prada.
It’s not as easy for those of you who have these epiphanies later in life. What if you’re years into your chosen career and then decide you are unsatisfied and have other dreams? You’re too old to intern, and unfortunately, rent and food don’t pay for themselves. You can’t go backward from your current level to an assistant to make that transition. So do you just suck up your life sentence and carry on? It seems so unfair to have to do so, but for so many, changing careers sounds like an impossible mission. Let’s be honest, your resume will look insane and why would anyone give you a chance with no experience?
I decided to reach out to my network of successful women and uncover the secrets of changing careers. I asked them to share how they jumped to that second career. I was amazed at their responses because some of them were actually on their third and fourth careers! For those of you who think it’s impossible to navigate from one career to another listen to these wise women who have done it!
1. How did you know that making this bold move was right?
I’ve transitioned careers four times, between 4 industries (academia// digital coding/development// science journalism// finance). I find that beyond the tactics of how you tackle the knowledge transfer and social capital transfer — which are very useful skills to gain (and explain!) — moving careers, is becoming more and more a normal way of life. It is about a mindset as opposed to “decision to change–steps to take–completion and settling in” — and this mindset can be extremely fortuitous in one’s entire career scope. I think most of the time you think it is right, but you rarely know until you are far into the new career (six months minimum) — you start with an attraction, a hunch, a feeling — and then it is only once you are in the day-to-day that you can get close to knowing if is right or not. –CHRISTIE NICHOLSON, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Citibank, Adjunct Professor, NYU
When I sold my last company, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to do next. After three start-ups I realized that it wasn’t the starting up that I loved so much, it was the scaling. And I thought if I could spend my time working with entrepreneurs to scale their businesses the same way I scaled mine, well, that would be heaven for me. When making any sort of bold move you have to really focus in on what you LOVE doing…because if you truly love it, chances are you’re pretty good at it too. –KRISTIN LUCK, Growth Strategist/Advisor
I went from being a litigation lawyer to now the head of marketing at a direct to consumer brand. Even as a lawyer, I knew that I wanted to build things – companies, brands, business. It took a while to realize my path was through developing go to market strategies, but I remember the moment I realized that my favorite part of any day was building a business, not actually practicing law. I’ve been an entrepreneur, lawyer, writer/media person, took fashion & technologies to market, and now at a direct to consumer food company. The thread in each place was the same: I like building out new ideas and getting consumers to buy in. –BENISH SHAH, VP, Marketing at Raised Real
I’m starting a skincare line now, which is a huge departure from my career in high-tech. I woke up one day and just knew that what I was doing wasn’t making me happy. I thought back to what does make me happy: physical products, nurturing others, creating community, educating people and it was obvious that I should do this, now. So I started Lōm.- KRISTINA LIBBY, Founder of Lōm
2. What did you do to prepare to change careers? How did you fight imposter syndrome?
A ton of time is spent researching, reading and interviewing others. When under extreme feelings of imposter syndrome I remember crying. But after those episodes (the last one was with my startup) I don’t feel it at all anymore. Now, in my fourth career, I find coming from other disciplines/industries is a point of pride, a badge of honor. The cross-pollination between industries provides a ripe field for creative and new ideas, plus you have garnered a huge social network, and that is very valuable. –CHRISTIE NICHOLSON
I was fortunate to have a really solid track record as an entrepreneur (three successful starts and exits) but I did have to work to reposition myself as a growth strategist and advisor. When I first segued into advising the first reaction people had was that I was just killing time until I started a new company or rode out my non-compete. So combatting the perception that this new business was a short-term gig was key. Imposter syndrome can brutalize the best of us. The night before I launched my growth strategy/advising practice I remember lying in bed thinking “what if the site goes live and the press goes out and all I hear is the sound of crickets??” But of course “crickets” didn’t happen. By the end of the first week, I was booked solid for the next eight months. Every time I feel a wave of self-doubt coming on I remind myself that I am uniquely qualified for what I’m doing- and I have the track record and client testimonials to prove it.-KRISTIN LUCK
I don’t do imposter syndrome. I know that sounds crazy, but I believe if you want to do something, anything, only you can qualify yourself to do it. So when I do something new, I throw myself into it. I don’t stop to wonder if I’m the right person or the best person for the job. I make myself the best person for it. –BENISH SHAH
Kara Goldin of Hint Water said something great recently. She said that she was successful because she didn’t know anything about the industry. That’s something I took to heart. Because I know only a little, I am forced to learn, and the learning means that I come to the table with no preconceived ideas. Because of that, I am free to completely innovate. So, I read a lot of books and ask a lot of questions. –KRISTINA LIBBY
3. How did you explain the transition on your resume?
This is where the mindset comes in — what I have found looking back since my early 20s (I am 47) — there is a thread that runs through all the seemingly disparate careers — and that commonality is what I focus on when having to explain the circuitous route. But here is the thing, I only recognized that thread recently. (Before I was embarrassed by my winding route.) –CHRISTIE NICHOLSON
I focused on transferable skills and I networked, worked for free to get the experience I needed, and I showed my wins in taking ideas and companies to market. Many people cringed when the saw “lawyer” on my resume, and I assumed they couldn’t meet my salary requirements, so it was an automatic no. The reality is, I did take a pay cut in my first marketing position. Buy with the experience I had garnered, I went in as a Director level and that was a win. –BENISH SHAH
First, I convinced myself then I decided to do it. Everyone else believes you when you they see you bringing your idea to life. I didn’t have to convince them; I’m showing them. –KRISTINA LIBBY
4. How did you get that first interview and nail it?
This is also about the mindset – I was always open minded and have a pretty wide network — that social and professional network combined with my love of talking with others, has opened up the opportunities that have led in these completely new directions. –CHRISTIE NICHOLSON
Through my network. As an entrepreneur, I learned early on that there were two currencies in my world: (1) my network and (2) my ideas. I nurture and protect both of those. To be clear, your network can be big, but the network that helps you get an interview early on is always one of your close friends. So build your friendships close. Do the same for them. Frankly, I didn’t nail my first interview. But I did nail the second one, but it was because I didn’t know it was an interview. I thought I was meeting a friend of a friend for career advice and he ended up asking me to lead a new product to market for them. –BENISH SHAH
5. If you are an entrepreneur, how did you convince others to believe in your vision?
I founded a startup in SF and built out the company over three years. In terms of bringing people on board, or raising money, or selling to customers/clients, I always freely shared and expressed my passion, but more importantly I followed up with the statistical and factual evidence for why the vision was worth pursuing. –CHRISTIE NICHOLSON
As soon as I decided that I was pivoting into growth strategy, I started refocusing all of my social posting, speaking topics, etc. around the role I was moving into, not the role I’d played as a research tech entrepreneur. I guess you could describe this as talking the talk, and then walking the walk. Repositioning ALL my marketing activities to focus on my new role was an important step in getting prospective clients to view me in a new way. I also spent a lot of time building out a website that very clearly articulated my new business and included testimonials from clients that validated my methods. Don’t be shy about using clients to validate your vision – they are amazing brand evangelists! –KRISTIN LUCK
I go in and out of being an entrepreneur. I love taking good ideas to market, regardless of who the idea came from. Every aspect of what I do requires convincing others to believe in my vision. For me the key is taking people on the journey with you, getting them to buy into your idea as if it was their own. It’s natural human behavior; you fight harder for what is your own. I work to make everyone feels like it is a collective vision, rather than a singular one. –BENISH SHAH
Aliza Licht is an executive vice president of brand marketing & communications in the fashion industry and the author of the best-selling book, LEAVE YOUR MARK.