Making a Career Shift? Adapt, Learn, Grow and Continue To Hone Skills

Alex PerezBlog

I had a lot of self-doubts when I chose to leave my job in Washington at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, move to Nashville and change careers. Every negative scenario regarding this decision ran through my mind. After all, transition can be scary.

I had spent over three years working in a fast-paced, exciting city that pushed me to be my best in all aspects of my career. Did I really want to start over in a new city and in a completely new industry? I had never worked in PR; what if I have no idea what I’m doing? What if my new co-workers don’t like me?

All these fears and more would creep into my mind throughout the entire process of giving my notice, packing up our apartment, and driving a U-Haul with my wife 12 hours in a downpour and bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Four months later, it feels like I’ve already absorbed a lifetime’s worth of new knowledge. The anxieties were all very real, but so is all of the excitement and possibility that comes with challenging myself. Here are a few observations:

  • Skills are transferable and adaptable: Shifting focus is not about dumping your past experience; it’s about taking it and molding it to fit what is asked of you. Having to produce detailed, dozen-page bill reports that help shape public policy on the intricacies of Native American land claims made me look at my writing and editing skills with a critical eye, along with how I managed my time. In an industry where projects can be months-long and time-sensitive issues pop up, it’s important to be comfortable with how YOU work.
  • Here’s something I’ve found to be particularly effective: Whenever you’re having a brainstorming session, try to think about the issue/idea from the perspective of your old job. Your perspective could be the viewpoint your team was missing.
  • A crisis is a crisis, no matter which side you are on: Having direct experience preparing hearings and reports on Hurricane Maria’s devastating effect on Puerto Rico as well as the protests and debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline prepared me for dealing with a crisis – stay calm and focus on measured, well-researched responses.
  • The fastest way to get comfortable is to jump in with both feet: The best way to combat those new job anxieties is to dive in. Prepare your workspace so you feel comfortable. Ask questions in meetings. Take some time on your lunch break to walk around and outside your office to get a feel for the area. Poke your head in your co-workers’ offices to just say hi and chat about projects or simply make small talk. All of these things can help feel like part of the team instead of the “new guy.”
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself: There are growing pains, but use each situation as a learning experience and a way to grow as a professional. (I had to ask what an RFP – request for proposal – was in one of my first meetings. Seriously.)  If the culture of your new company is strong and invested in bringing in a staff with diverse skill sets and experiences (as MP&F is), the expectation will be for you to contribute your unique perspective, not echo the status quo.

Simply put, changing industries can feel like drinking out of a fire hose and be overwhelming if you let it. That is why the culture of your new office is just as important as any advice included above. MP&F prides itself on bringing in a diverse staff to respond to the diverse needs of its clients. Having co-workers and senior staff who invest in your skills and support your work can help you quickly feel like part of the team.

Alex is an assistant account executive at MP&F Strategic Communications.