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How to change career path – tips and advice from the sector

29 January 2019

Long gone is the time where people stayed put in one job their whole life. These days, changing career paths is the norm. Many of us are craving variety and a new challenge.

Among our network, charity communicators are choosing to go freelance, move to agency side and work from home. We’re also seeing people move into comms careers from other fields, such as fundraising and policy.

Embarking on a new career path can be an exciting yet daunting prospect. So how do you go about making the move? We spoke to a handful of people from the sector to get their views and tips on shifting gears.

Permanent job to self employed 

Communications and brand consultant Justine Lee, who left her permanent job and set up her own company, says not to rush to give your notice in.

Get your thoughts together so you can work out what it is you want to do. Think about your skills and what you want to offer. That way you will be prepared when you walk out the door.

Leaving the comfort of a secure job with a regular income can test even the strongest of nerves; you need to have grit and determination. Justine says she still has times when she wonders whether she is doing the right thing. “I have to remind myself the reason I left my permanent job,” she explains.

Once you’ve made the move, digital marketing consultant Dawn Newton (a freelancer for over four years) recommends “building a network of freelancers who you can work with in a supportive, non-competitive way”.

When you work in a creative field such as comms, it’s good to have a sounding board that you can bounce ideas off and share perspectives with. It’s replicating the colleagues you would have in-house.

To then maintain your work flow and bring in income, it’s vital to tap into your networks and people you know. Dawn says:  “I tend to contact people on LinkedIn and keep it informal. Work can often take a lot longer to convert than you think.”

Charity to agency 

Gemma Hampson, who led on digital and communications for Centrepoint for seven years before moving to Hactar, a digital agency working with charities, says it’s important to be clear about your next step.

“A few interviews for different types of roles helped me to decide that I wanted to focus on digital, transformation, strategy and user-led design,” she explains.

When the opportunity working for an agency came up, especially a socially-good one, it seemed a perfect fit. Now I get to work with lots of different charities, so I have the best of both worlds.

One of the biggest hurdles when changing career paths is dealing with imposter syndrome, adds Gemma. To counter your doubts and fears, she says it’s important to remind yourself that you know your subject area and you can do your job well.

Office-based to home working 

Working at home can help you to achieve a better work life balance and keep you motivated. But it’s not suited to everyone.

You need to think about what it means to be home based before taking on this type of role, says Macmillian’s head of external communications for the geographies, Claire Monks, who started working from home when her office closed down.

“Home based five days a week is a different kettle of fish to being based at home and doing lots of travelling,” explains Claire. “I’m home based but I travel and go to the London office for meetings.”

When working at home, it can be easy to lose motivation. If you decide to make the move to home working, Claire says it’s important to think about where you get your energy from and how you can replenish it.

You also need to think about the boundaries between work and your personal life, adds Claire.

Charity communications professionals work incredibly hard and when sitting at home it’s easy to work even harder.

Switching specialism 

Moving from one field to another, whether that’s a fresh move into communications or moving to a different area of comms, can be tough going.

“You need to make sacrifices,” says Rebecca Curtis-Moss, who used to work in fundraising before taking the plunge into digital communications.

To switch career path, you’ll probably have to take a job at a lower level — with a salary to match — and work your way back up.

When it comes to looking for a new role, Rebecca says to remember that there’s always a middle ground. She explains: “There are plenty of jobs out there that can blend two specialities together, like digital fundraising.”

Nick Morris says he “caught the comms bug” when he started editing a magazine at a small think tank. “Working in a small organisation can be a great way to try out a diverse role and different disciplines.” He now works across both communications and policy in the charity sector.

Nick adds that the best way to get to know another field is by talking to people who already work in it.

“Two of my colleagues at the think tank were former journalists with decades of experience between them.  Under their supervision, I developed the ability to write in a livelier way and to be more confident working across a range of media.”

Image: Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

Kellie Smith

copy writer, editor and proof-reader, freelance

Kellie Smith is a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader, with over seven years of communications and content experience with charities. Before working in the third sector, Kellie worked in journalism and copywriting across a range of trade and consumer titles.