There’s a reason that that famous line in the FRIENDS theme struck a chord. When you’re in your 20s, especially your early 20s, life feels like it’s playing a joke on you for the most part. Chances are you’re stuck on the bottom rung at a company where your superiors are probably inefficient at their jobs, you’re still bitter about how expensive the basics like health care and car insurance are, and you wonder if you’re going to have to resort to Tinder for true love. It’s rough out there, man. Particularly in today’s job market.
My first “real” job was at a multi-million dollar nonprofit. I was a Foster Care Specialist organizing the care for kids across three different counties in Central Florida and meanwhile, I had to show one of the executive directors that you did not, in fact, have to close your browser to “start the Internet over.” He would open a new window each time he wanted to go back to his Google homepage. This is still one of my favorite first-job stories to tell because I can’t make this stuff up.
Since then, I’ve navigated my way from nonprofit limbo to a job in the editorial world that I take pride in. When I was 23 and still working the nonprofit world, I knew I wanted to change industries but had no idea how to do it. The editorial world felt intimidating and untouchable. As tempting as quitting my job to serve tables while I figured it out or traveled across Europe in hopes that it would make me more interesting was, I didn’t do either of those things. Instead, I began mapping my steps out piece-by-piece with no idea where it would land but optimistic that it would be closer to where I eventually hoped to be. And it worked.
Here are a few ways I found that you can make your next move without putting your next paycheck in jeopardy.
Take an audit of your own career.
Whether you’re in your very first job or you’ve hopped around for six years, take a moment to look back. What have you liked about the responsibilities you’ve had? Do you like roles in leadership? Do you prefer to work behind the scenes? Are you an independent worker or do you prefer to collaborate closely with a team?
In my own experience, I found myself gravitating to the communications aspect of each position I held. I loved creating newsletters for the nonprofit, I enjoyed running their social media and I spent most of my day scouring the depths of the internet when I was supposed to be doing things my job actually required of me. At the time, my writing wasn’t a vessel for my career, it was just something that was of natural ease to me. I never thought about it monetarily.
Ask yourself: What are you most passionate about? What skills come most naturally to you? What interests are you most naturally invested in? Are any of these passions industry-driven? If you can’t think of any interests or talents that come easily to you, ask other people if they identify them in you. They probably see more gifts in you than you realize.
Do your research.
Once I knew I wanted to go into editorial, I began looking up writers and editors who I respected to better understand their day-to-day responsibilities. I familiarized myself with their work, I looked up their profiles on LinkedIn to see what kind of skills they had in their wheelhouse, and sought to gain insight from their own career paths.
Once you identify what roles sound interesting to you, begin sending emails for coffee dates to people in the industry you’re interested in growing your career in. When I was first trying to break in, I would send 10 emails a week and usually end up with one coffee meeting that would get accepted. A rejection or hard “no” means you’re trying. That’s better than what the scores of people who are talking themselves out of that entirely. And trying assumes you’re improving on your effort each time, whether you’re refining your pitch, how you communicate your goals to others or just exercising your courage to try again.
During these coffee meetings, I prepared questions, made sure I made an impression and kept it natural by showing interest in the people I was meeting as individuals to begin building trust. This idea isn’t new and it’s not original. It’s just networking and building social capital without putting these words (which can often be unnecessarily intimidating). Most veterans of their industry want an opportunity to give back and bring meaning to the work they do. Giving a newbie some advice might just be the way they can do it.
After all, many of them remember all too well where they started.
Perhaps your first step just updating your resume or cover letter for the first time in a while. If you’re overwhelmed by the idea, take a deep breath. Start by listing out everything you’ve done in your roles and organizing them into buckets that reflect the skill sets you want to showcase in your next gig.
Ask your friends or family members for some support. Do you know someone with a lot of experience hiring other people? Ask them what they look for in candidates.
Before I made it to the editorial world, I made a pitstop between nonprofit and editorial to recruiting. I went into recruiting at a trendy company that specialized in agencies and media companies. My logic was that whether or not I remained in recruiting, at least I’d meet more people in the media and agency worlds which have a lot of overlap.
Sometimes, a move towards your dream job doesn’t look like it makes sense on the outside but at the end of the day, that pitstops prove invaluable. While I was recruiting, I wasn’t burned out from nonprofit work so I could do my 9-5 effectively without compromising the efforts I wanted to take to advance in another direction.
Maybe you don’t end up at the exact job you want in your next step but is there another job, whether at your company or outside of it, that would add to your skill set and make you more competitive as a candidate? The opportunities to get creative with your next move are out there. If you need more ideas, check out one of my favorite books on the subject by Meg Jay, The Defining Decade. She would agree that quitting your job to bartend on a cruise ship sounds tempting but maybe your are supposed to build something much more lasting than a Mai Tai.