Many of us go to college thinking we know exactly what we want to do with our lives while others enter schools in hopes to find out what career paths to choose.
For as long as I can remember I have always loved advertising. My mom always said when I was a kid I used to pay attention to the commercials more than TV shows. As a result of this, I entered Howard University declaring advertising as my major. I thought I was going to be making Superbowl commercials and TRUTH anti-smoking PSAs, but after one Intro to Journalism class my sophomore year I found what I really wanted to do. I found my passion.
Many of my editorial assignments involved interviewing local police, doctors, and professors on campus for various stories. I absolutely loved doing research and finding out the details of a person’s career and using all of this information to tell a unique story. I started appreciating the art of interviewing people and I knew that this was something I had to develop a skill for. I got a gig (unpaid of course because I had very little work to show) at a small hip-hop website doing phone interviews with some up-and-coming artists. I didn’t care about the nonexistent pay because I was getting something that was worth more than money (at the time), valuable experience. I had a chance to take the principles and skills that I developed with my professor and apply them directly to my work that would be published online.
Fast forward a couple of months and my desire to interview my favorite artists began to rise. I wanted to start capturing these moments on video instead of transcribing phone interviews. I began interviewing local DC rappers (Wale and Tabi Bonney who were very underground at that time) and both videos got some pretty good pickup across the hip-hop blogosphere. I was glad to be in a position to showcase new talent to the world but I was still a rookie in my interview technique. After a few more underground artist interviews with poor sound quality and horrible editing I wanted to really test the waters and see if I could interview somebody HUGE.
That somebody ended up being the founder of Def Jam Records and the man behind the RUN DMC, Phat Farm and GlobalGrind.com, Russell Simmons.
It was after that interview that I realized I wanted to make a career shift. There was only one problem, I had no formal training! All I knew was that what I was doing was incredibly cool and it would be amazing to make a living out of it (the untemplater way of thinking, right?). I had no idea about how I was going to get there but I knew I wanted this to be my job description: “Travel the world interviewing people and hosting a show that reaches millions”. Just a tad bit different from an account management position at an ad agency.
Where do I start? How do I learn more? Am I doing this right? Should I change my major? These were all of the questions running through my mind before I decided to take a leap of faith. It took months of meeting with mentors, personal decision making, and learning as much about entertainment journalism and editing videos on Final Cut as I possibly could, before officially restructuring the career path I was on.
Jumping into something new is never easy, especially without any knowledge or training. Here are a few tips on making that career transition a smoother one.
Talk to people that are doing what you want to do
There is no better advice on doing something than from someone who is actually doing it. Take these people out to lunch, get some insight on the mistakes that they made, etc. If you are serious about your goals and what you want to accomplish, people will see that. You might even develop a mentor-mentee type of relationship with someone who is where you want to be.
Research, research, and then do more research
There is no doubt that every single industry is changing rapidly nowadays. The good thing is we have this thing called the internet that allows us to stay up to the minute on just about anything. To really jump into a new career path you need to know as much as you can about it. Time to start getting that Google reader filled up with industry related RSS feeds.
Intern and work (for free) in the field you want to be in
This may be the most important thing to do. The easiest way to blast off into that new career path that you didn’t go to school for, or didn’t previously work in, is to just start doing it! I saw Seth Godin speak a few weeks ago and a young lady asked him for advice on starting her own advertising agency. He told her to do it on the weekends (maybe even Sunday only) for small business clients who could use some free help. No matter how big or how small the work, the sooner you can begin something in your new field, the sooner you can start building your portfolio/resume and moving to the next level.
The steps to getting started in new field are all ongoing, and as I like to say, the grind never stops. I am not hosting a TV show just yet but in two years I have interviewed some of the biggest names in music, traveled to France to cover the Cannes Film Festival, and have had my work seen millions of times across the web, all with no formal training.
The truth is, a lot of people didn’t major in whatever field their awesome career is in, these are the same people that believe that anything is possible.
What is it that you are dying to do but have not had the formal training for? If you have made that step in starting something new, leave a comment to shed some light on your journey.