2015 has been a year of professional change for me. In April I left my job as a social media marketing specialist at Rosetta Stone for an education technology startup by the name of Pedago. This involved not only transitioning to a different company, but also a very different position and work environment. What I’ve learned, though, over the past few years is that constant, sometimes dramatic change is commonplace in the corporate world. Major ventures are launched and then quickly abandoned, coworkers and managers come and go, companies rise and fall. Despite having a fairly conservative personality, this continuous flux is something I’ve learned to appreciate. It means you’re less likely to become pigeonholed into a single role or industry and can move on from a project or job if things don’t work out for whatever reason. And it means many opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills, tackle new challenges, and meet new people.
So what exactly has changed? Instead of a globally recognized, publicly traded company that was founded over 20 years ago, I now work for a relatively new startup still funded by investors. I went from running run social media marketing, such as Facebook and Twitter ads, to being a content specialist. In this capacity, I create and edit learning materials for Pedago’s first product, a new and unique online education platform called Smartly. Lastly, unlike Rosetta Stone, with hundreds of employees, a clear hierarchical structure, and well-established work processes, Pedago is a small company with little structure, few procedures, and an organizational culture that is still taking shape.
Of course, not everything at Pedago is new and different. The day-to-day work is similar to what I did in previous writing and editing positions, and I’m familiar with the field of education technology from both academia and Rosetta Stone. What’s more, some of my current coworkers are people I worked with at Rosetta Stone: Pedago was founded by former Rosetta Stone employees and its chairman previously served as the CEO of Rosetta Stone.
In fact, it was this connection between Rosetta Stone and Pedago that ultimately led to my transition. Although I wasn’t searching for another job, in late 2014 my former manager, who had left Rosetta Stone for Pedago a few months earlier, contacted me. They were looking for employees to develop content for their online education platform, and she thought I would be a good fit for the job. She suggested I come in to their office to talk to the founders. At first I was hesitant, since my understanding was that they only had a part-time contractor position available, plus I wasn’t looking to leave my job. But she persisted and eventually I agreed to meet with the founders. I went mostly out of curiosity about the startup and their plans for the near future, as well as the specific position they were hiring for. To my surprise, it turned out that they were in fact looking for a full-time content specialist, and they were eager to have me join. Ultimately, they gave me an offer, and after some deliberation I decided to accept.
I think the story of how I got my current job has two key lessons for PhDs looking for jobs outside academia. First is the value of professional networks and connections. By leaving a good impression on my manager at Rosetta Stone, who considered me a competent, hard-working, and reliable employee, I opened the door to additional employment opportunities. This experience is far from an anomaly: most jobs, perhaps as much as 80%, are found through networking. When managers or coworkers leave your company, it’s important to stay in touch. And when you interact with colleagues at outside companies—such as customers or vendors—it’s wise to cultivate professional relationships. Professional associations, Meetup groups, and websites like LinkedIn can help maintain a strong network.
The second lesson I learned from my most recent job transition is to keep an open mind regarding possible employment opportunities and where your career path might take you. I met with the folks at Pedago even though I thought they had only part-time positions (which turned out to be false). I joined a fledgling startup company, which obviously presents a risk, but so do many jobs in the corporate sector. It’s a good idea, I think, to take on a challenge you hadn’t previously considered, at least once in a while; try something you’re afraid might be out of reach. Apply for that job you’re not sure you have enough experience for, or volunteer for a project that will take you out of your comfort zone. These are things you could rarely, if ever, get away with in the fairly rigid, insular halls of academia.
I’d like to thank Michelle once again for providing me this space to tell others about my experiences and share my advice, and the readers for finding what I have to say interesting enough to make it this far. Since posting my original “Week in the Life” series I’ve heard from a number of people who enjoyed reading my stories and thoughts. I think we have much to offer each other as a community in a professional world that is often foreign and puzzling to us, and I hope to have contributed my small part to this community.
Start from the beginning – Read Aviad Eilam’s “Week in the Life”