Looking back at the last 18 months, it’s pretty remarkable how much has changed for my family and myself – personally and professionally. Welcomed our daughter to the world, and have worked at three different jobs! Amazing personal additions aside (that’s a story for a later date), I’m writing this post as a reflection piece on what two significant job transitions was like and how it all transpired. Let’s get started.
Understanding Where I Was At
There’s no denying that 2016 was a crazy year in just about every way for a lot of people. In many ways it was also a great year. Personally, my wife and I found out we’re expecting our second child, I started a new job and a career change and we completed a big house renovation.
Yet, of all those wonderful things, it was the career change that provided the most lessons learned, challenges overcome and adversities faced. A bit of background first.
From June 2010 to August 2016, I worked for Columbia College Chicago. Initially as a Database Communications Specialist (developing, maintaining and administering the CRM for undergraduate admissions), among other things. After three years in that role, I accepted a small promotion to CRM Systems Manager, where I fully managed the CRM for all of admissions, and increased coordination management of various systems that communicated with our CRM.
One of the largest projects included a CRM switch to Salesforce and that implementation process which was rife with complications. Ultimately, it was a challenging job in many ways, and in many ways, it was not what I wanted to do.
There were certainly some personnel changes that altered my enjoyment at the institutional level (I saw a lot of friends leave), but ultimately it wasn’t a job or a field I wanted to work in. It never truly interested me, inspired me or made me excited to go to work.
Through all those years, I had continued to dabble on the side in various creative projects that did that job of inspiring me and “scratching my creative itch” as I often described it to people.
My collegiate training is in print journalism. With a BA, writing was my professional training and it was my passion. I continued to write for the ten years after graduation, but it was either freelance, blogging, personal or occasionally collaborative.
I dabbled in professional photography, another area where I had developed some considerable skills, but never truly sought out a professional career other than a short stint in 2010 as a wedding photographer.
Through freelance, I was a Social Media Editor for the YMCA of America for nearly four years, writing social posts on the national Twitter and Facebook networks. It was something I was good at, enjoyed and kept my mind sharp while I coasted down the river of my tech career at Columbia College Chicago.
All of this is necessary to provide the context for my decision to make a job change. In about March of 2016, I really ramped-up my job search. The things that had once kept me complacent and happy enough at CCC, no longer did the trick.
The Search and Rebranding Myself
Once I’d made up my mind that it was time for a change, I began subscribing to various Colorado job sites. Andrew Hudson’s Job List, Built In Colorado, and kept my eye on postings on LinkedIn.
I knew that getting back to my creative roots was the real goal, but I recognized that my career in tech fields for the last six were sincere limitations in finding a position I wanted and proving my qualifications.
Imagine that you’re a hiring manager. You’re hiring for a position that calls for skills that include social media marketing, copywriting, and other related creative talents. Now imagine, you see my resume on your screen and the most recent job is CRM Systems Manager. The most recent creative job on my resume was at The Onion in 2010. Hardly relevant anymore. It’s easy to see how my resume would get glossed over rather quickly.
After applying for a number of jobs that spoke to me on that creative base that I desired, and not getting any interviews, I took a step back to evaluate my process.
My resume looked good professionally, I had ten years of experience in the workforce with a vast set of skills, but after reading some tips from career experts online, I realized what my resume lacked was FOCUS.
I was applying for creative industry jobs with a technology focused resume. It didn’t make any sense. So, I took a few weeks off from applying for jobs and I focused on redesigning my resume to stand out – visually AND proficiently.
I looked at other resumes online. Templates to follow. Resumes people had on their websites. Resumes for similar jobs and skill sets that I wanted. What I found was rather remarkable.
The majority of people out there have a boring resume! Built in Microsoft Word, or any other text program. Name, phone and email aligned left on the top or to the right. Experience and Education in bold letters. Tons of details below each job. All heavy text and all visually uninteresting. You could copy and paste one applicants name for another and you’d never know the difference. All that was true until I stumbled upon a smattering of graphic design resumes.
My New Resume
Elements of unique spacing, layouts, header designs, etc. I took these to heart and worked on redesigns. In previous resumes, I had (in tiny text) detailed my skills relevant to each job. It wasn’t by any means truly a highlight of my resume, just an add-on. Something to easily gloss over.
For my new resume, I changed it up. Skills went in a column on the left, alphabetical, with nice, clean and flat icons. I didn’t detail which job they related to or how long I had that skill. If it was of interest to the employer, I left it in their discretion to ask.
I formatted the resume much the same as previous otherwise. Employment history, education, volunteer work. However, I setup the template in Illustrator to be easily configurable.
I tailored each resume towards the job I was applying for. Creatively based? Move my creative freelance jobs to the top. Technical? Move my CRM work to the top and so on.
Finally, the last, and most important and unique trait was in my header. Underneath my name, I placed a custom URL. michaelrm.com/employername for example. I created a page on my website that was dedicated to each employer I applied to.
I’d add the company logo, paste my cover letter in and link to relevant work and portfolio examples on my website to support my cover letter.
This little extra personalization for the employer worked wonders. I had multiple interviews over the course of a few months, right off the bat. Additionally, I was able to track the stats of these pages on my website. I could see if anyone visited the custom URL (which wasn’t listed in my menu, so it was only accessible if you had the URL). I could see if they clicked around on my website after that. This helped me prepare for the interviews. If they didn’t look at my website, I knew I had to share more about myself in a broad sense. If they had, I shared more detailed specifics of my work history.
My job search lasted about six months. I went to five interviews during that time, and at the end had two offers on the table. I eventually took the riskier, but far more satisfying and fulfilling job of becoming an independent contractor/ freelancer. It’s the best professional decision, I’ve ever made.
Freelance and back to a full-time job
For nearly nine months, I worked exclusively as a freelancer. I picked up client work with Campfire Digital, Lucy Sky, Arbor Anglers and continued work with The YMCA. I loved it. I learned an incredible amount about being self-employed. Best practices for billing clients, file organization, paying quarterly taxes, searching for new clients, etc. Seriously – I loved every minute of it.
And then, in about March 2017, I started thinking really hard about what my family’s life was about to transform into when our daughter would be born in April. In full honesty, I got scared of the financial pressure. Freelance was liberating and inspiring and fun! But, there were no guarantees. A client could (and did) end things quickly when their budget ran dry for marketing. I saw the complexities that would arise for my family if I lost my biggest client. It was a very serious fear. So, I thought I’d see what jobs might be out there.
It wasn’t long before I came across the job at the City and County of Denver that I now hold. I applied (using the same resume techniques I mentioned earlier) and interviewed a single time before being offered the job. With the new job came a chance to work in the public sector, making a measurable impact on my city and community. Also, the job came with a steady and reliable paycheck, benefits and vacation.
Trying to decide between a professional career that I LOVED doing, and one that was the financially responsible choice was extremely difficult. I knew the goals of the new job with the city, and I knew it offered some incredible opportunities, but it did come with a return to more data and CRM heavy work. Ultimately, being responsible and supporting my family won.
I don’t consider it a sacrifice to give up a day job I was extremely passionate about. I haven’t turned my back on freelance. The whole time span of these decisions was around 18-months to now. A lot of time for reflection and growth. I don’t regret a single decision I made, and I’m grateful for the opportunities I had and have. The big takeaway for me, was learning to understand how I talked about myself to prospective employers and clients and rebranding that image.
It took a lot of work and it’s a job that never stops. And that’s something I’m thrilled about.
OCTOBER 2017 UPDATE:
A big announcement – I was appointed, and accepted, the job of Director of Community Outreach for the Denver Auditor O’Brien! It’s an incredible opportunity to take the skills and love of creative work that I am passionate about and apply it to public service. An absolute perfect combination. If you’d have asked me 18-months ago where I’d be professionally, I don’t think I could have predicted this. A lot of hard work and some luck and I’m on the road to a fantastic new challenge. See you out there, Denver!