Guest post: Finding a new life after -30-

Laura Marshall is a Park Fellow in the master’s program at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this post, Marshall offers her “top 10 takeaways” from a workshop at the j-school called “Life After -30-: How to Recast Your Journalism Career and Reinvent Yourself.”

Surviving life after “-30-” requires a willingness to change and to put the pieces of your own puzzle together in different ways, according to the panelists at an event for journalists and former journalists. The group met at Carroll Hall on Sept. 23 to help former and soon-to-be-former journalists determine how to shift from a career in news to a parallel track in another field.

The panelists came from a background in print or broadcast journalism, and they have moved from newsroom careers to lives in public relations, academia and other pursuits.

What are their Top Ten tips for navigating the choppy waters of a move from news into something else? A willingness to network, sell yourself and see your own skills through different eyes.

1. Make it a point to become an expert. Leslie Wilkinson said that as she worked for the Los Angeles Times as a page designer, she learned that the newspaper was laying off some of its most experienced reporters and her own position might be next. She took the opportunity while still at the Times to learn about social media so as to “become an expert” on technology and the newer forms of communication. That, and pursuing an MBA, helped her move into online media as managing editor at NASCAR.com at Turner Communications.

2. Use your reporter’s skills to get a foot in the door. Julie Henry, a broadcaster turned public information officer for state government, found her ability to talk with total strangers about something she needed to learn translated well into being able to make cold calls to potential job contacts when she was looking for work.

3. Reinventing yourself is key. So said Emily Harris, who was a copy editor when she found out her now-former employer was planning to lay off dozens of people. She’d heard about part-time college teaching positions and used her experience teaching seminars and workshops to pitch herself for the position.

4. Fill the gaps in your knowledge between what you know and what you need to know to make a change. Chuck Small had always thought he might like to teach, but as a 20-something college graduate, he didn’t think he was old or experienced enough to teach people just a few years younger. He went into print journalism, but when the cost-cutters started looking his way, he decided it was time to follow his original dream. Small went back to school to earn the master’s degree he needed to become a guidance counselor.

5. Get someone outside your circle of friends to critique your resume. Bill Krueger was the Capitol bureau chief for The News & Observer for 28 years when layoffs hit him in 2009. He knew his resume was dated, but didn’t know what it needed until a career coach helped him rewrite it. He’s now an editor at the alumni magazine at N.C. State University.

6. Interview potential employers; don’t just let them interview you. The informational interview is valuable to get your foot in the door and to find out whether you’d be a good fit, said several of the panelists. Even if there isn’t a particular job opening to apply for, cold-call someone who can tell you about a particular employer and meet with them to learn more.

7. Create an online presence to sell yourself. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other website that suits your potential audience to keep your name and face in front of people who can help you. To a cartoonist looking for work, the panelists recommended mentioning new drawings on Twitter and linking them back to an online profile.

8. Do your own personal inventory and decide what you have to offer. Linda Conklin, a career coach, cited her own experience of moving 12 times and having to constantly “reinvent” herself as a way to gain what she called “unexpected wisdom.” List the things you know, not the jobs you have, when you determine how to sell yourself for a new job.

9. Share your news with friends and acquaintances if you get laid off. Krueger spent the days immediately following his own layoff connecting with friends of friends through LinkedIn and by talking about his situation whenever he had the opportunity. Those conversations led to potential job leads and connections that helped him in his search.

10. Volunteer work can help you meet the right people. Henry recommended spending some of your time working for free in places where you can make contacts and spread the word that you’re available.

Being flexible and giving yourself time to accept what’s happened and move on were important themes shared by the panelists. All have parlayed successful careers in journalism into parallel positions in fields that use the skills they developed in the newsroom in new ways.

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