Some of you are probably in the same boat that I’m in: transitioning from one career focus to another. Let me welcome you to the S.S. Career Change; here’s a life jacket.
My professional writing experience so far is limited to few public relations internships I had in undergrad. The bulk of my career has been in customer service: I’m making the move from a decade of public library work to technical writing with this program. So, something I’ve been slowly working through is how do I make the things I’ve been doing for the last ten years work for me going forward? What skills and experiences make sense to highlight and build on? While the typical self-evaluations we do at work can be a bit trying, this kind of personal assessment can help identify where you excel and what gaps you need to fill as you move through the program and toward a new career.
Who Are You?
When I started taking stock of things, one of my first stops was to re-take the Myers-Briggs personality test. The benefit of this? Not only are you beginning to really think about how you work and why, you can use the personality keywords from the results to start building your ‘professional brand.’ My results landed me soundly as an ISFJ, which means I can feel confident using words like organized, practical, conscientious, and meticulous in my elevator pitch.
Whether you’re logical INTJ or a spontaneous ESFP, the results can give you a better understanding of how you handle work situations, for better or worse (I know that as a sensitive and detailed person, I can get in my own way a bit).
What Do You Do?
Another resource that I’ve found helpful is looking at what skill sets a potential employer is going to want. The PA Department of Labor’s Career Coach website give a fairly broad jumping off point to consider:
Writing seems to be a given in our profession; we have that covered. But are there ways you can bring out your critical thinking or judgment/decision-making experiences? With my current job, I have to constantly figure out how to best serve a customer while following library policies. My judgment call can allow someone computer access to search for a job, but it can also mean the library loses money on a missing book. Negotiation and reasoning are both abilities that we need to possess, regardless of occupation. How about active learning? I’ve started learning some code basics on my own after a classmate suggested CodeAcademy. Employers are always looking for people willing to take the initiative in learning new skills.
Another great source is the Occupation Information Network. They offer a more concise breakdown of the tasks, skills, and abilities that we need to be successful professional writers. There is also a skills inventory to explore – this list will get you thinking about the social, management, and technical areas that are also important to professional writing positions. Don’t forget to explore current job openings for ideas, too!
How Do You Sell It?
That, of course, brings us to putting it all together in new and improved cover letters and resumes. Use these documents to sell the unique things that you bring to the table! Your cover letter is especially valuable in this respect since you can build a bit of a narrative about why you’re making a career change and what strengths will translate to a new setting. This could be a good opportunity to experiment with a functional resume, too – you want to continue emphasizing specific skills and experiences, not necessarily past positions.
Here’s what I’ve learned and have begun to incorporate into my job searching:My customer service experience shows that I can be used to build relationships and navigate difficult situations – I can be a team player between departments or work well with clients.
- My customer service experience shows that I can be used to build relationships and navigate difficult situations – I can be a team player between departments or work well with clients.
- My committee work shows that I have corporate writing experience – I can create documents from progress reports to instructional procedures to strategic plans.
- My experience with answering reference questions shows that I have finely honed research skills – I can find good answers quickly, using databases and reliable web sources.
One of the best things about our slightly rambling career paths is that, despite having similar skills as someone else already in the industry, those dissimilar experiences will offer potential employers a new perspective. By starting to think about these unique attributes now, the process may be a little easier as you go and it will help you get everything you need from this program.