What You Learn with a Career Change

What You Learn with a Career Change

By Julie Rogers

In my last post, I explained how I entered the association sphere after a career in newspaper journalism. I learned a lot with this career shift and have a few tips that can apply to anyone starting a new job or switching industries.

Sometimes, It Really Is Who You Know

Don’t cultivate a network of thousands of people you barely know for the sole purpose of one day leveraging some of them into the “in” you need to secure your dream job. Treat smart, skilled, and diligent people with the respect they deserve. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because you hope they might eventually introduce you to your future boss or recommend you for the perfect position.

I’m the least skilled networker you’ve ever met but knowing the right person has opened doors for me in my career. In turn, I try to open doors for others by freely offering references for coworkers and direct reports who do solid work. My two best freelance writers right now are former coworkers that I don’t have to micromanage because of the years I’ve spent working alongside them in much tougher circumstances.

Time Is Relative

It took some time to adjust from a fast-paced newsroom where every day we all worked at a frantic pace to one in association management that has more ebbs and flows. I went from “we’ve got 5 minutes to proof and correct these stories or the press will run a blank page” to “we have several days to proof the first layout of this brochure (along with other work of course).” Though I sometimes miss the adrenaline rush of daily immovable deadlines in the newsroom, I’ve adjusted.

However, it’s worth noting that time is truly relative. One person’s idea of a fast turnaround on a project may be a week while another’s might be a day. This can be true of entire industries as well. Please keep this in mind when you communicate with, really, anyone. When possible, give timelines without qualifiers: “It will take 5 days” rather than “We can do it fast, in just 5 days!”

Educate stakeholders who are concerned about timelines—whether they view the schedule as too fast or too slow—by letting them know the processes or practices that necessitate that timeline and what the result will be if the schedule is extended or condensed. Understand that many of the people we work with—from coworkers to volunteers—come from professions with faster or slower paces and may have expectations that need a little managing.

Be on the Lookout for Teachers—and Students

In virtually every job I’ve held, someone has been willing to teach me how to do what they do. Early in my career, I unabashedly and enthusiastically asked coworkers about their jobs, why they made certain decisions, and how they went about certain tasks. Looking back, it’s cringe-worthy, but I was too excited and curious to stop. Almost to a one, my senior colleagues educated me patiently and mostly covered up their exasperation.  (Mike Norbut, 911’s vice president of business development, is likely one of those coworkers I peppered with questions when we worked in the same newsroom 20 years ago. Fortunately, he’s far too nice to call it pestering.)

There are always people like that—professionals who will teach you what they do, how they do it, and why they’re good at it. It may be a skillset you will later use, or it may give you a more holistic understanding of your role and allow you to create new best practices with your new knowledge.

As you hit mid-career and beyond, you’ll find yourself working with early-career employees who appear at your elbow with endless questions. Stow any annoyance; replace it with excitement. Recognize your early-career self in there and treat them how your workplace teachers treated you, or how you wished they’d treated you. These excited workers are the future of your field, and you can help shape that future. Teach them everything you know. They’ll learn so much, and you’ll realize the extent of your own expertise. If that’s not rewarding enough, wait until you can watch your “students” apply that skill and knowledge as they rise up the ranks. Anybody else humming “Circle of Life”?

Don’t Hide in Politeness: Address Issues Directly

Sometimes, in very professional settings, we’re too kind to directly address an issue. We fear we’ll create conflict or hurt someone’s feelings, but not addressing an issue can be harmful.

Being too considerate of one another wasn’t a problem in the newsrooms I worked in before moving to association management. On a night new desk, coworkers loudly lob both truth bombs and expletives. It’s direct, sure, but not very professional unless your profession is “pirate.”

There’s a middle ground between screaming abuse at your coworkers and being “too polite” to give someone the feedback needed to resolve an issue.

If your direct report is spending more hours on a project than you feel is warranted, don’t hint about the extra time and hope they pick up on it. Don’t assume they’re surfing Facebook. Ask them, “How’s the project progressing? Do you have a sense of what’s causing it to take more hours than we anticipated?”

If a colleague does or says something you would rather they did not, don’t quietly stew about it or believe that they deliberately did this out of malice. You can address it both politely and directly: “When we work on the next report, would you be willing to wait until the second draft before sending it to project stakeholders? Sharing the incomplete first draft doesn’t put our best foot forward.”

You don’t work with mind readers. You need to say what you want your colleagues to know and address. “Hints” that you consider obvious may be too subtle for some listeners. Say what needs to be said. You can rarely go wrong when you communicate respectfully and with the best intentions. Well, unless you’re a pirate.

Julie Rogers is a senior content marketing and editorial manager in the Creative Media Services (CMS) department at 911.

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