“I lost confidence in myself and felt stuck.”
What work were you doing previously?
I was working as a communications director in the arts and culture sector.
I was very high up in my organisation. I had a big team, I was part of the leadership and was doing a lot of admin management and governance, away from the marketing and comms work that I’d started off with and enjoyed.
I'd been working in that sector for 15 years.
What are you doing now?
I’m a growth marketing manager in a tech startup.
I look after all the marketing operation, from strategy to execution.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
I didn't hate my job, I liked it a lot, but I was stuck.
I had been there for ten years and it was time to move.
Why did you change?
During the last three years in that role, I’d tried to find another job in a similar sector, as a way to go up the career ladder, work with different artforms or in bigger organisations.
I was looking to take the next logical job step up. I was doing well in applying and interviews until getting to the final two, but was constantly losing to the other candidate.
In the leadership roles in that sector, the interview process was just exhausting and emotionally draining. I went for these other jobs between five-ten times a year, over the last three years, which was a lot on top of a full time job.
I became really disillusioned. I lost some confidence in myself and felt stuck. I started to think ‘well I stayed in the same job as they kept promoting me, but now I'm stuck here because I haven't got experience beyond what I know.’
In retrospect, when I was going for those jobs in the arts, I didn't realise at the time that I didn't really want to be in a leadership position again. I just thought I should do it as it was the next logical step.
Are you happy with the change?
It's a quick-moving industry. It's really stimulating. I’m learning a whole new way of thinking and doing things.
This job is a foot in the door, and a bit of a gamble. If I like it, I want to progress quickly. If I don’t like it, I want to explore what else it can bring (even going back to the arts but with my added commercial experience). I’m giving myself a year to work it out.
I’m also meeting people with completely different interests and backgrounds to what I was used to in the arts.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I really miss the people.
I love the people in my new job, but something about artists, creatives and people being joined by a passion for the arts creates a short cut to fun. But there’s no reason why I can’t nurture those relationships outside of work.
I don’t miss the enormous amount of red tape and committees, organisation-wide democratic decision-making processes that became the overpowering majority of my work.
I'm glad to be spending 90% of my time on pure marketing which I find creative and energising no matter the industry.
And quite frankly I don’t miss managing people. I love working with others in a collaborative way, but I much prefer the very flat hierarchy of my current role where we are all responsible for our own work and are also more accountable.
How did you go about making the shift?
I started looking at other marketing/comms jobs I could do in different sectors. I was attracted by the startup world for the speed at which they operate.
I had a really long interview process for this job, with five interviews. For them, it really was about the alignment of the person to the organisation, as it’s a very small startup.
So when I eventually got the offer I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, because we took the time to get to know each other.
While the process was really long and different to what I'd been used to in the arts sector, I got really excited just from learning about the new sector and going through the interview process. I had genuine excitement about having the opportunity to even be able to speak to them.
I also went into it thinking ‘well if it's not a match then it's not a match’. I had the mentality that even if I take the job and hate it, I can do it for a year then do something else, or do something else on the side. So to me it was worth giving it a go.
How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?
I used their language around what they were looking for and the kind of skills they wanted.
I explained that I wanted to go back to the 'doing' rather than managing, which is valid and I think they were up for that.
They could see I was aligned with their values, and they're a really value-driven organisation.
The learning curve has been crazy but that's something I didn't realise I was looking for, being in a place that values continuous learning.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I took a pay cut, but not a massive one.
Also I rent my flat on airbnb when I’m not there. As there is a little bit more travel in this job, I have more ‘free’ time to rent it and supplement my income.
And there's a clear progression plan in place, so I know what I'm working towards.
What help did you get?
I called on some people from my Career Change Launch Pad cohort who were more familiar with this sector, which was really helpful.
I also reached out to people within my network to put me in touch with other contacts and I got to speak to a lot of people that way.
I read a lot on subjects I didn’t really know about (e.g. demand generation marketing), and did a free LinkedIn course.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
The unlearning of social pressures and ideas around status at work.
I went for a job that’s much less high up, with less responsibilities, which involves more doing and less managing. Even through my notice period and starting the new job, I had a bit of a feak out of 'oh what am I doing?'.
I still have moments when it feels strange to not have a budget, or people to manage, but I remind myself of how much I’m learning now and how fascinating it is.
I had to reevaluate what my work persona actually was. But I do a lot of volunteering now, and am the chair of the board of an arts charity. These things allow me to keep a foot in the arts world and keep me connected to what I’m passionate about.
What have you learnt in the process?
I’ve learnt that we're never stuck.
It pays to question our own status quo and challenge who we think we are.
I found that letting go of the social pressure of having one career path also unlocks the same concept for other aspects of my life. I’m weirdly happier, freer and feel more empowered to accept and embrace a more wiggly life.
I’m also still open to other careers. There was a few paths I was exploring during the Launch Pad and I tried to get a few projects off the ground but they didn’t really materialise. I have that at the back of my mind now and might still jump on opportunities if they arise.
It’s not the end of this story.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
What I would say is that you’re not as stuck as you think you are.
Even taking a wrong turn is useful information when it comes to making a career change.
I often think of this analogy: imagine you’re in Italy and you really want an ice cream, but you have no map or way of asking people. If you stay where you are you’ll never get that ice cream.
But if you see people walking back from road A with an ice cream, you could try to go there and if there’s nothing, you can always come back. You’ll know it’s not down that road and you can try road B, and then C etc., until you find the ice cream shop of your dream!
Caroline took part in our Career Change Launch Pad. If you're ready to join a group of bright, motivated career changers on a structured programme to help you find more fulfilling work, you can find out more here.
What lessons could you take from Caroline's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.