I'm not currently happy where I work, but finding it hard to understand how to make the transition to a new field. I'm wondering if there's a way to develop multiple skills in my current job that can translate to another career? I work in marketing, but am interested in writing editorial. So, what do I do? Start making friends with the editorial department and ask if I can contribute in any way? — Jane
Your instincts are exactly right. Trust them. The company you’re working for at the moment may not be where you ultimately want to end up, but if you see a path to learning new skills and exploring new opportunities while you’re there, it makes sense to pursue them. It’s much easier to acquire new skills in a place where you know the ground rules, understand the politics and know where you can push — and where you can’t — than it is to apply for a job at a company that doesn’t know you, for a position you’re not trained to do. Most new employers just won’t take that leap with you.
Generally, people love to talk about themselves — and they’ll do it with very little prompting. If you want to be a writer, seek out the writers in your company whose work you admire. Offer to buy them coffee and ask them how they got to where they are: educational background, starting job, positions they’ve held, companies they’ve worked for, etc. Also ask them to tell you the key insights they’ve learned along the way. If you create a bond and it feels right, tell them you’re interested in exploring writing possibilities. Maybe they’ll suggest classes to take, ways to learn and opportunities to seize.
Then do it. Writing is a craft, and it takes practice to do it well. So practice at every possible opportunity. Start a blog, freelance for your town newspaper, write for your church newsletter, enter fiction contests — anything that allows you to learn and find your own voice and style. The goal is to build your confidence and skill as a writer and build a portfolio of your work.
When you feel comfortable, approach your employer about writing for them and, for a period of time, offer to do it for free — while continuing to do your current job at the highest possible level. Any good employer will be impressed with your extra efforts and that you didn’t let the performance of your current job suffer. Ultimately, if your employer doesn’t see you as a writer in their organization and won’t let you transition permanently, you’ll have a body of work to take with you as you pursue other professional writing positions.
Christine Tardio is a trusted advisor and business coach to a dynamic range of women business leaders. She can be reached at thelookinglass.com.