By Williesha Morris (originally published Aug/Sept 2014)
It’s possible to not only successfully transition into an administrative career from another field, you also can thrive in it. And you don’t have to lose passion for your past.
When Cynthia Hall got a call about her first administrative position, she was in the middle of a funeral and had to hang up. She was an apprentice mortician and was waiting for the processional to arrive. Hall began her career in retail management, then transitioned into the mortuary/funeral home industry. She served as an apprentice mortician for three years before becoming an admin.
After losing her grandmother in the seventh grade and later watching her cousin become a mortician, she decided to pursue the field as her dream career.
“I wanted to help people in this difficult time in their lives,” she says. She was torn about leaving her lifelong dream job behind in order to become an admin. But along with an associate’s degree in mortuary science, she also had an associate’s in business management with a specialty in office systems and loved the courses. And she couldn’t get a full-time job with the mortuary, so when a position popped up to work at Johns Hopkins University’s department of medicine, she jumped at the opportunity. Well, after finishing that funeral first.
She was at the university for several years, but an opportunity to move up in the ranks didn’t work out as well as she had hoped. Another admin position with Boeing under a government contract she had for several years ended in March of this year. But instead of giving up, she moved on and is now a senior executive assistant for a security firm.
She admits it was difficult at first to make the transition to the admin field, because her desire to help others was strong. Now, she volunteers outside the office.
Carol Etges’ move from biology, chemistry and immunohematology (blood bank technology) to administrative assistance was a long process as well, and she is still quite passionate about science. She fondly remembers meeting her husband, who was studying parasitology, at Vanderbilt. They were in the same class.
“Parasites brought us together,” she says with a laugh.
Her years of education and work with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Red Cross came to an end when she had children. She desired to raise her three sons at home, and in the decade or so of doing that, she let her medical technology license lapse. Since this field changes rapidly, she pursued a different path instead of spending years catching up.
She began managing her husband’s veterinary office and started upping her skills. She took classes on HTML to work on the vet’s site while also assisting her husband in the lab. After several years, she moved on to MWH Global. She thinks her HTML and creative writing knowledge helped her get the job, and she was recently promoted to marketing coordinator.
Both Hall and Etges did several key things to make their transitions: They applied their soft skills to their new positions and also found elements of their careers that they absolutely love. Hall loves the people she works with and the diversity of tasks she takes on. Etges enjoys explaining what her company does in a way others can understand and particularly enjoys marketing and event planning.
Crossing Into a New World
The simplest solutions work best, particularly when you are in a new job. One of them, according to career development coach Tara Goodfellow, owner of Athena Educational Consultants, is to ask questions and ask for help.
“One challenge is recognizing that you’re not going to know it all,” she says. In a previous job, you knew exactly what to do, what the ins and outs were, and that has changed. People want to put their best foot forward by not asking questions, when this could put them in danger of hindering job growth. She reminds us that there’s a learning curve and to manage your expectations in a new position.
She also mentions the importance of remembering why you were hired in the first place: you add strength to the team and are the best fit for the position. Good fellow says it’s important to quantify the skills you’ve been able to transfer to your new job and know the value you bring to the company as an admin. Keep a brag file of accomplishments and compliments you receive. It’s a great way to keep track of what you’re doing to build your self-esteem in a new career and is useful should you be reviewed.
Another extreme Goodfellow sees is that of a new admin wanting to impress everyone and make sweeping changes in a new role. The desire to improve every aspect of the job can also be an impediment. She says to slow down and learn everything you can about the old processes and your team’s different work personalities before trying something new. It’s important to do the best you can do and remember you’re not alone.
“Even if it’s an incredibly positive change, you still have to adjust to your new normal,” Goodfellow says.
Williesha Morris is a virtual assistant and a freelance writer that helps other small business owners and freelancers find their writing voice. You can find her at MyFreelanceLife.com and on Twitter @willieshamorris