"You're doing what?" was the astounded reaction I received from colleagues when I decided to leave my decade-long marketing position for a hospital system and take a new job in financial services. To them, I would always be connected with hospitals.
I was doing the unthinkable, and not at the early stage of my career but right in the middle—just when most marketing professionals get very comfortable.
Why did I jump? The signs weren't there. My job was great. The CEO liked my work and I was decently compensated. I had time for teaching classes at night and authoring articles on healthcare marketing.
Maybe I was too comfortable. A career coach told me that we should change industries three times in our lives. I was still on my first and well into my 40s. I knew I needed a change.
How does one make the right change in her marketing career? Looking back, I have some advice to share. I believe it all starts with the first interview, when the essential questions must be asked:
Where does marketing fit?
Does the organization embrace marketing or snub it as "costly and inefficient?" Obviously, you'll fare better and quicker in the organization that leaps on every new marketing idea as the silver bullet that will rocket everyone to major bonuses. "Marketing snubbers," on the other hand, need to be investigated. Does the snub come from a history of knee-jerk and under-funded marketing? Or were there truly some amazing marketers in the organization's past who high-tailed out because senior management continually put the kibosh on smart marketing strategies?
Who's on deck?
Ask to talk with your team. You need to know who you're working with early in the process. If a major re-organization is necessary, consider whether you'll have the time and support during your own first critical months. Also assess where the skills lie—do you have a team of terrific writers but not implementers or great salespeople who need a business writing refresher?
Show me the money
I'm not talking salary (although that's obviously a consideration). I'm talking budget. An under-funded marketing department is a red flag. Check out other departments that also depend on sizable budget dollars—information technology, for example. Generally, an organization that funds the big-picture thinkers in IT is open to funding marketing. But also be wary of big budgets. Sometimes they may look good on paper, but half the funds are reserved for special projects that can't be touched.
And once you've made the decision to change course, here are some tips for smooth sailing:
Don't look back
Once you've made a decision to leave, don't pine for the good-old days of your former position. Yes, it was more comfortable, but if it were truly great you wouldn't have left, right? It's good to keep contact with former colleagues, though. A massive contacts list is the chief arsenal of a top marketer.
Remember your expertise
If you've changed industries, sooner or later you'll find yourself mired in a meeting where all the participants seem to be speaking a completely different language and dialect. Don't retreat. Remember that you've been hired for your marketing expertise—your ability to connect with all types of customers in simple and understandable terms. Analyze the challenge from a marketer's perspective and make recommendations—but only after you can intelligently assess the situation.
Microsoft Word is often mightier than Excel
Before you gain big points for your amazing strategies, you may have to prove yourself as a communicator. Write a few damn good memos so people quickly catch on to your skills. Offer (in a non-threatening and tactful manner) to take on a few more communication assignments. It's a great way to prove your talents and quickly become "in the know."
Give it time
Most marketers like to move fast. That's why at the hospital system I loved ER doctors. They ran on adrenaline and every day in the emergency room was completely different from the last. In a new job, however, you can't reasonably expect every day to be an adrenaline high. You don't know the turf well enough to run full throttle. Six months is an adequate time period to assess whether you're a good fit.
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So, if you're ready to make a big move in your marketing career, all the best. It can be done. And if not, remember that Monster.com is just a click away.
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