Shameless Self-Promotion: A Diverse Background Adds to a Team

Making a career change inherently means that my past professional background and experience in the pharmaceutical industry will differ from the backgrounds of most of the people working in design at say an agency or firm.  Maybe these people have formal degrees in the associated disciplines or the industry has in essence turned them into lifers by way of years of experience.  It’s easy to let this fact intimidate me as I continue my work, meet people and speak with prospective employers.  Sure, there will be some people who look at a background that seems radically different than theirs as a hindrance…but I actually look at it as an interesting strength. 

Imagine a team comprised of all amazingly bright people, but completely homogeneous when it comes to professional background and training.  A team such as this is perfectly great and will probably produce great results.  On the other hand, a team comprised of capable people with diverse backgrounds can not only produce great results but can also benefit from different perspectives, ideas and ways of thinking.  It has been proven and studied that innovation and new ideas form quicker in an environment where team members contribute in their own ways and can offer unique points of view.

I argue that my background and training will offer a fresh perspective.  Yes, there is a caveat to all of this -  A diverse background alone is not enough to make someone a great candidate and magically boost a team’s strength.  It is important that the prospective team member prove that he/she is able to transfer skills, have a solid understanding of the business, ability and healthy desire to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.  They must also have a desire and passion for the work at hand.

I don’t look at my professional background as "different" in a negative connotation, it’s a unique strength and I am excited to add my perspective to a team and have the opportunity to learn as much as possible.

Bridging the Gap: Pharma to Design - Leverage Past Experience

I am making a move from the Pharmaceutical industry to the design/digital design world: Wow, how different could two disciplines be?  At first thought, very.  And my first thought is a correct and valid assumption in that I am planning to work in a radically different field.  With this being said, it was smart and strategic for me to consider the aspects of my past work that I enjoyed and excelled at and to leverage this experience.

There are a couple ways I look at leveraging my experience and skills:

  1. I enjoy working on projects with teams and solving problems and I have years of experience doing so.  Why would I waste these efforts, especially if I enjoy these types of roles?  I have worked hard to get the experience and the skills I have now and I do not want to waste that effort and I shouldn’t have to.
  2. It’s strategic: I made a connection (Project Management) between my past work experience and the field I want to work in. I look at this as a good “in,” a way for me to enter the design field, contribute immediately and have the opportunity to learn and expose myself to new knowledge.

  Why would I waste these efforts, especially if I enjoy these types of roles?  I have worked hard to get the experience and the skills I have now and I do not want to waste that effort and I shouldn’t have to.

…But only identifying my strengths will not get me to my next exciting career.  Although valuable, I have taken my experience from the pharmaceutical industry…I need to supplement that experience with specific “hard knowledge” and actual experience in the discipline I plan to work in. 

Map and Match Values

After coming up with a good list of what is important to me, my core values, I wanted to dig deeper and match these values to disciplines and industries.  I thought about the essence of each value on my list and how each could translate to the professional world.  I made sure to keep these ideas fresh in my mind so that I could make connections as I attended events, met people and actively researched.

There are a number of ways to make connections between what is important to you and the type of work that will satisfy this...but my best advice to be CURIOUS.  Always keep your values in mind and explore.  There's no linear, prescribed method - It is you who will have an idea already what you will and will not do, can and cannot do.  Be persistent and explore.

A good friend of mine so happens to be leading a tech startup and invited myself and a group of friends down to the technology portion of SXSW to help promote his business.  Not only did I want to go to help him out and the event would be a ton of fun, I saw the connection that there was a great opportunity to network and learn about an industry which at the time was new to me.  Creativity, innovation, design and technology are some key words on my list of values and all of these things are synonymous with the mission of SXSW.

Going into that experience, I didn't know what to expect.  I’m happy to say that I left the festival having made progress in discovering an area to explore - I met some exciting people who worked for a digital agency and were nice enough to fill me in on their world.  I left SXWS having discovered an area of interest and I was pumped to dive in and learn more.

Connecting the Dots: Treating Career Transformation as a Professional Project – Take Time to Plan

I am at a point in my life where I am able to act on my curiosity and I am fortunate enough to be able to fully dedicate my days working towards my goal.  I want to be certain that I make the right decisions and I’m ensuring that I am as thorough as possible.  I’m all in and I am taking this time very seriously. 

One common theme you will see throughout this blog is the idea of making connections.  Maybe more now than ever, I’ve noticed the importance and benefits of connecting ideas, thoughts and principles between seemingly disparate disciplines or knowledge areas.  Viewing this time from a high level, it seems logical and natural for me to treat my work as I would conduct a project in the professional world. 

I understand that a project has little to no chance of succeeding if it is not properly planned.  Thoroughly planning a project will dramatically increase the odds that it will produce great results.  A common question my friends have asked me in conversation has been: “Have you started applying for jobs yet?” and my answer has steadfastly been “No.”  I am dedicating as much time (within reason) to ensure that I have organized and constructed a plan that I can feel confident acting on. 

The first steps in my planning were to formulate a thought process.  I had to do some classic soul searching.

My Story, In Brief (How Did I Get Here?)

I suppose there could be a number of reasons someone may want to make a career change.  Maybe you want to make more money?  Maybe you decide to move and realize that your industry or line of work isn’t possible in the new location…I’m sure the list could go on.  I decided to make a change for reasons that are intangible…Simply put: I want to enjoy what I do.  For me, this comes down to combining two things:  I want to explore my interests and I want to utilize my strengths.

I graduated college with a B.S. in Plant Biology (yes, plants as in botany plants).  At the time, I enjoyed my choice of study.  After graduation, I immediately landed a job at a leading biotech company that took me from Athens, Georgia to San Francisco.  I enjoyed the work that I did, but the social aspect of my life was not what I wanted it to be.  I wasn’t happy.  I determined that it was far more important for me to have a fulfilling personal life than completely trade that off for a job.  I left my job in California and moved to New York where I was certain I would be socially fulfilled.  Having good friends in New York and having visited many times before, I was certain that this was the city for me.  New York City is a special place – If you want to make it happen, you can get to where you want to be if you work at it.  New York rewards curiosity. 

I landed several jobs in New York, ultimately spending a few years at a major pharmaceutical company.  I was (and am) very content socially but I was very unhappy with my job.  It turned out that as a stroke of good fortune, said company decided to perform a serious of major layoffs and as fortune would have it, I was “impacted.”  Now I have a new job:  Transforming my career.

With all of this being said, I don’t regret my studies and degree - I’m actually proud of them.  As time went on, I just realized that I needed to explore other avenues.  My past experience has set me up nicely to get to where I want to be professionally and to be successful where I land.