By Robin Garcia
If you are anything like me, the concept of changing career paths feels truly daunting. Where do you even begin? How can you compete with other job applicants that have more traditional backgrounds?
The good news is that in the current career atmosphere, where few people remain in one position or company for long, it is more common for job applicants to own colorful resumes. It can even be viewed as an advantage by employers. The trick is to market yourself for your target position, instead of focusing on the position you used to or currently have.
In my case, I am academically trained as a marine science researcher. I have my Master’s in marine biology and multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals. I greatly enjoyed research, but soon after moving back home to DC, my interest started to fade. I still greatly value the role of research, yet I became more concerned about the communication of research to two important groups – the general public and policy makers.
Never being one to remain satisfied sitting on the sidelines, I decided to start looking for a new position in science communication. However, working in aquatic animal care wasn’t directly helping me achieve that goal. The idea of a career change was scary, but I got through the process.
Here is what I learned:
Comb Your Resume with Your Future Career in Mind
When I looked at my resume with “communicator” in my head instead of “researcher,” I realized that I already had plenty of experience. I may not have a degree in communications, but I had my publications. I also have multiple years of teaching experience in both traditional and non-traditional settings and volunteer positions that require me to use social media. Not only was I already a communicator, but I was a well-rounded one!
My resume reflection also made me realize that every position I’ve had, no matter how irrelevant I thought it was, had a place in my future. My animal care position had nothing to do with science communication, but I did win an award for excellent customer service. I had documented proof of my ability to work well in a team and deliver results, which is a benefit for any profession.
Use Your Diversity as Your Asset
While my new resume focused more on my communication experience, it’s hard to hide the fact that I spent years conducting research. Instead of ignoring my past, I marketed it as a benefit. Since I am academically trained in marine biology, I understand scientific writing and I know how to tailor it to a lay audience.
Volunteer for More Experience
While I had a solid amount of experience under my belt, I wanted current experience that was relevant to the environmental field and that would expose me to people that could help me find my dream job. This is where DC EcoWomen comes into play for me.
In January, I joined the board as the social media and blog manager. I have met wonderful women that have helped me with my job search, providing everything from words of encouragement to informational interviews. I am now the Vice President of Communication, allowing me to further develop my management skills.
In addition to DC EcoWomen, I am also a facilitator for Women in their Twenties, a social discussion group for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.
If you don’t tell anyone that you’re changing paths, people will likely assume that you’re just fine with the path that you’re on. The more that I vocalized what I wanted, the more that others looked out for me and thought of me when opportunities came up.
This applies to friends old and new (because of course you’re networking!). I’ve even been helped by a contact that had to send me a denial email for a position in her office.
So how does this story end for me? A friend sent me a job posting for a communication position at NOAA. The contractor company liked that I have both communication and research experience, specifically at a NOAA laboratory. Five months later, I am thriving in my new career.
I am constantly learning and looking for new opportunities and I know that should I decide on a new career down the road, I’ll be ready to make the leap.
Robin is a Communication Specialist at NOAA and a DC EcoWomen board member. A DC native, she enjoys exploring her hometown, developing her yoga skills, and getting out on the water as much as possible. She also welcomes the season of pumpkin-flavored everything.