“I wanted to have the time and mental bandwidth to be really present in my life, and with my family.”
What work were you doing previously?
I was working at JPMorgan Chase as an Analyst in Private Wealth. It was an incredibly challenging and rewarding position. It felt good to be a part of a prestigious firm with a long history. Finance was great because it allowed me to really work on developing my own area of expertise, becoming a "specialist" and a trusted resource. The leaders in my division were incredibly generous with their time and became great mentors to me, so I felt that I was a valued member of the team. And I must admit, the potential financial rewards were also very alluring.
What are you doing now?
I am now the Senior Brand Manager for a large confectionery company. I manage innovation and strategy for three brands, as well as PR, Advertising, Digital Strategy and Trade Programs for all of the brands within the company. This role is phenomenal, and gives me a level of fulfillment professionally and personally that I never had in Finance. I love that my job is not just analytical but also creative, and that it gives me an outlet to grow in several directions at once. While the pay is slightly less alluring, the lifestyle is without a doubt, much more balanced. Having the chance to really live my life, and love my career, is a gift!
Why did you change?
I came to a point where I realized that I had this unsatisfied creative side. I found myself wishing I could take on hobbies and join creative classes while I was in Finance, but I never had the time. The hours were just too demanding at work. In addition, as I got older, I was starting to try to imagine what my life would be like as a working mother, wife, etc. someday. I wanted to have the time and mental bandwidth to be really present in my life, and with my family.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
I think it was my third year, and I was working like crazy. Over a week went by and I hadn't found the time to call my mother. When I finally got hold of her after about 10 days, I found out that she had broken her leg a few days earlier. I had missed it because I was too busy at work to call. I knew that I did not want to be faced with making that kind of choice again. Family is just too important to me.
Are you happy with the change?
I could sincerely not be happier! I LOVE what I do. I know that sounds like a cliché, but honestly, the saying is correct. If you love what you do, it doesn't feel like work. I wake up every day excited about what lies ahead of me. I didn't think that was possible, but it truly is.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss the big bonuses, and a little of the glamour of working in Finance. I also miss the respect you automatically receive if you say you work in Finance, people assume you are smart. What I don't miss are the long hours, late nights, insane pressure, competitive people and politics. I don't miss feeling like I had to be "on" all the time, and stay informed about EVERY single thing happening in the world.
How did you go about making the shift?
I took several steps, including going back to business school full time, following that up with a month long summer intensive course at a school for design and product development. I also took three internships that were relevant to the field, two that ran during my MBA program and one in the summer. They were relevant and gave me good experience, but paid nearly nothing. I made sacrifices in my lifestyle to get to a new place in my career. I also spent time networking and building relationships with a few key people who I felt I had a genuine connection with.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
I consulted on the side during school, and downsized my life and lifestyle until I was able to get settled in a solid full-time position. I also was extremely open to taking a pay cut, and taking an entry level position as a way to get in. That is what I eventually wound up doing and it paid off in spades as I was able to prove myself quickly and move up.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
I think the most difficult thing for me was the first entry level job I took in Brand Management after business school. It was frustrating to feel like I had to re-pay my "dues" professionally. The way I decided to take on that challenge was by putting my head down and really working to blow them all out of the water with my hard work and dedication (and positive attitude). The good news is, it worked, and it paid off quickly.
What help did you get?
I received the most powerful help from headhunters and mentors I had developed close relationships with over the years. What I found was that people who knew me really well were willing to put themselves out on a limb and really use their connections to help me.
What have you learnt in the process?
I have learned that relationships with mentors, friends and colleagues can make or break your career. It's so important to find a few people you admire, trust and really connect with and work hard to maintain those relationships.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
Very little actually. I truly believe that I am where I am now because I took the path I did.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
I think it's important to really do research. Be disciplined about career path searching and job searching. Being organized really pays off. Keep lists of companies that you think sound interesting to you. When you meet someone you really admire, don't be afraid to ask them out to lunch, they might turn out to be your next boss or mentor. I think once you have a network of trusted resources, and research that you feel points you in the right direction, go for it! Follow your instincts and find a career you will truly love.
What resources would you recommend to others?
Headhunters are incredibly helpful, and they work for you for free – what more can you ask?! I also found boutique career sites really helpful, more than the big ones. Look for sites that are narrowed to a specific field that you are interested in.
What lessons could you take from Jessica's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.