How many of you want to take your career in a different direction but don’t think you can because you lack experience in that skill or sector?
When I first arrived in the UK, I got a job in the finance sector by chance because I had a friend who worked at a data vendor company in Woking who were looking for a data analyst (or something along those lines – it was a long time ago!). Despite not having any relevant qualifications – my degree is in Psychology and Criminology – I managed to somehow get the job. After about 2 years there, I got a job at Standard & Poor’s in Canary Wharf where I met my husband.
The thing is, whilst I did actually enjoy my job, my heart just wasn’t in finance. I knew I wanted to work in the charity sector – but how? I couldn’t afford to take an unpaid internship (don’t get me started on those…!) so how could I make the move?
Build your experience
I was interested in working in events in the charity sector but had zero experience in events (or the charity sector in the UK, for that matter). So I quickly realised that the only way to gain experience was through volunteering.
One of my housemates, at the time, worked in events and had joined the Anti-Slavery Ball committee so I put myself forward too. It was a huge event, which took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane and took almost a year to organise. I gained really valuable experience through it as well as a reference to add to my CV.
Whilst I was at Standard & Poor’s, I served on the CSR (corporate social responsibility) board. Over the year, we organised fundraising events (such as quiz nights and Dragon boat racing), company-wide volunteer days and more. This again added to building my skills for making the move into the charity sector.
Take a course
The volunteer experience was all well and good but I knew it wouldn’t be enough so I did a diploma in Events Management and PR. For six months I went to night school at Kings College London every Tuesday and Thursday and I had to do both a group assignment and an exam. This gave me a relevant qualification to add to my CV, backed up by real-life experience (through volunteering).
Make a list
What skills do you have that are applicable to the role you really want? What could you bring to the role that will set you apart from other applicants? Who do you know who could give you advice, be a mentor or introduce you to people in that sector or role? Make lists!
When I was making the move, I thought about all my transferable skills. In my finance role, I did a lot of account management which meant talking to clients and sometimes people quite high up – like the CEO of an Asset Management company. This was perfect for the charity sector as you have to have great oral and written communication skills as well as potentially interacting with people in senior positions. In all my finance roles, I had to learn bespoke databases, which served me well in moving to the charity sector. If you can master one database, chances are you can master them all (or at least use them adequately).
Sadly, even with the qualification and the volunteer experience, it still wasn’t easy to get a job in the charity sector. I had countless interviews and once got through three rounds of interviews with a big charity, only to be told they weren’t offering the role to any of the applicants because none of us had enough experience – it was an entry level role!
But I didn’t give up. I continued to apply for roles and eventually I got offered my first role at a charity – Dementia UK and I am forever grateful to the then CEO, Barbara Stephens, for taking a chance on me. I took a big pay cut, moving from the finance sector, but I knew it was right for me.
Funny enough, Barbara took a chance on me not once but twice. A year and a half into the role as a fundraising and events coordinator, it became clear that we needed someone in a communications function. I’d realised that communications was where my heart and skills lay and so I asked if I could move roles. She said yes.
Take a chance
This is advice for both those looking to move sectors or change career direction, as well as those hiring.
For the job seekers – it’s never too late to do something different. Life is too short to continue in a job or in a career that you’re not passionate about. If you want to do something different, you can!
Believe in yourself, believe in your dream and don’t give up. It may take time to make the move but you’ll get there in the end.
For those hiring – not every career is text-book. People transition and change direction all the time. Don’t just look for the people with the obvious degree or the safe career path. Look for those who have the skills – or transferable skills – and give them a chance. What you should really be looking for is someone who WANTS to learn, to thrive, to ask questions. Someone who’s not afraid to take a leap into the unknown and who has the confidence, drive and determination to follow their passion. That’s who you should be hiring! Believe me, you won’t look back.
I’m so glad Barbara took a chance on me all those years ago. Recently we met for lunch and I got to tell her in person how grateful I was that she gave me a chance. It changed my life.
If I’m ever in a position to hire, I’d like to be able to pay it forward.