Picture a stereotypical 20-year-old talking with her cousin from Washington, D.C. about her lack of future plans. I was a sophomore in college and the clock was ticking for me to choose a degree path to follow. My cousin, who already had an impressive and exciting career in politics, jumped at the opportunity to introduce me to the campaign world. I was easily persuaded.
Fast forward to summer break, and I was on my way to Tampa for my first internship on a statewide political campaign. I followed this path for the next 13 years, gaining an immeasurable amount of experience from different campaigns, organizations, personalities, and work cultures. Change was constant and often unpredictable, and I continuously relied on others for direction while setting aside my own underlying interests and passions. Eager to please, I prioritized a work culture that revolved around change over any natural changes that were necessary for my early personal and professional growth.
On top of this, I had fallen into the all-too-common trap of allowing work to consume my every waking moment. Work was my lifestyle, and it followed me everywhere. As a wife, mother of two beautiful boys, and a woman that thrives on outdoor adventure, I knew that this lifestyle would eventually break me. So at 33 years old, with decades of working years ahead of me, I chose to reprioritize my life and take control of my career.
Now comes my next challenge: convincing recruiters to overcome any biases toward career-changers and think outside the box when considering how outside experience might apply to their industry. To get you started, here are five reasons why someone like me can be the shakeup your company needs.
The main reason why it took so long to acknowledge and voice any unhappiness with my previous career was a fear of disappointing my colleagues. I had grown to rely on them for feedback and justification because that was all I knew how to do. By deciding to make a career change, I discovered the courage that came with facing my new reality that came along with it. My newfound self-reliance gave me the confidence to express my ideas and challenge others to explore possibilities outside of their comfort zones.
Working with political campaigns and organizations exposed me to a wide variety of work cultures. Since I was generally a consultant, or an “outsider,” I had to quickly learn how to fit in so that I could be an asset, not a hindrance. I became objective and flexible, and I learned to quickly pick up new skills and stay open to criticism. A diverse variety of experiences can show how a career-changer has adapted to and overcome new challenges. Having a positive outlook to change can rub off on other employees and improve team inclusiveness and morale.
Cycling through this constant change in work cultures has naturally exposed me to all kinds of personalities. For a political campaign to survive, senior leaders down to interns must learn to put aside their differences so they can collaborate toward the common goal of winning an election. This can be difficult to remember under the constant stress of today’s political culture. Working in operations, I had to quickly diffuse situations and execute solutions. All the while, the political machine that I was helping to operate moved forward at a dizzying pace. This level of decisiveness can only be achieved through experience. Through trial and error, the career-changer has learned when to be an unwavering and resolute voice when managers need it most.
Life’s greatest and most enduring lessons are learned through failure. Acknowledging these experiences and the value they bring through reflection, analysis, and application is what separates the good from the great. They have enabled me with a wealth of tried-and-proven strategies that, once broken down, can be applied anywhere. Time and again, the career-changer has confronted real-world challenges to gradually accumulate a wealth of practical knowledge. Any business must accept a certain amount of risk if it hopes to be successful. Why not hire those who have the most experience with it?
Some employees may lack excitement for their career because they have simply stumbled upon it. I was certainly one of them. Why rock the boat if the seas appear to be calm? I recognized this illusion in my life and made a change. After years of experience and self-discovery, career-changers know what they want when they choose your company. They come to your interview with a newfound drive to realign their careers with their rediscovered passions. When a business can align those passions to meet its goals, anything is possible.
While hiring an “outsider” may seem like an irresponsible decision for some recruiting and HR managers or hiring managers, others will see their value and potential for greatness. Their qualities scale beyond the classroom and college internship, forged through successes and failures that have transformed them into the confident, adaptable and resolute professionals with an experience-driven passion for your industry.