Town Hall: Navigating a Career Transition

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11792025_10204901156877088_7563656240520715717_oOn Wednesday, July 22, 2015, around 75 young publishing professionals gathered for the second annual YPG Town Hall: How to Navigate a Career Transition, held at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. Panelists included:

  • Annie Stone, Editor, Alloy Entertainment (transitioned from large publishing house to a smaller house, and then from acquisitions editorial into packaging)
  • Melissa Faulner, Assistant Editor, Penguin Random House (transitioned from licensing to editorial)
  • Kelly O’Connor, Assistant Editor, HarperCollins (transitioned from academic to trade)
  • Heather Luciano, Regional Account Manager, Macmillan Science & Education (transitioned from editorial to marketing to sales)
  • Jodie Hockensmith, Associate Director of Publicity, Simon & Schuster (transitioned from adult books to children’s books)
  • Moderator: Stephanie Riordan, Human Resources, HarperCollins (transitioned from special markets sales to human resources)

Armed with stories and advice from their own experience, the five panelists introduced themselves, shared their background, and described their previous career transitions. Members were encouraged to submit their questions ahead of time, and moderator Stephanie kicked off the night with the first question, opening the floor for an evening of dialogue packed with candid, honest advice.

The first question touched on a key factor for anyone looking to transition: How do you gain experience in a department outside of your own? Our panelists quickly agreed that having a good working relationship with your boss is key. Your boss is a strong resource, and you shouldn’t be afraid to utilize them. With your boss’s approval, panelists suggested attending meetings outside of your department, offering to grab lunch with someone in your target area, and taking advantage of in-house mentoring programs. Heather spoke to this point, sharing her story of former boss who was supportive and encouraged her to cover for someone in a different department who was going on maternity leave. Kelley suggested a great way to gain editorial experience: offer to read for other editors. “No one will ever say ‘No, please don’t help me read all of these submissions!'”

Throughout the evening, other panelists echoed the idea of cultivating a strong relationship with your boss, as they only want what’s best for you. Panelists agreed that you should always be open and honest with your manager about what your interests are. Your boss will know people in different departments and could be a great resource in passing on your resume.

Deciding whether or not to involve Human Resources (HR) in your career transition is a tricky decision. Panelists addressed this issue in the next few questions, and agreed that it depends on the situation. HR will come into the equation at different times. If you’re looking to transition to a different house or company, HR does not need to be involved until you are ready to leave. If you want to transition in-house to a new position, sometimes you will need your supervisor’s approval, and HR can help with that. During the hiring process, HR is always looking for candidates to retain within the company, and moving internally is a great way to do that. HR understands that you have career goals, and they want you to reach those goals. Melissa suggested using an annual review as a time to discuss your career goals with HR, find out if there are internal positions open, and see how HR can help you. From there, you can decide how involved HR should be.

The next few questions raised the concern of taking a pay cut or moving to a lower title when transitioning. Our panelists agreed that it is best to hold out for a lateral move, in both title and salary, but there are some instances when a cut can be okay. The key, our panelists stressed, is to leverage your experience during an interview. You should always be thinking broadly about your previous experience, how it can potentially be applied in a new position, and using this to negotiate salary. Pitching yourself in a business-savvy way and presenting yourself as a strong negotiator in your interview is a great way to hold out for a salary match.

If you really want a position, our panelists agreed that it’s okay to take a cut or a step down in title, but advised to aggressively pursue a raise later on. When accepting a salary cut, you should always be thinking about the “next step” in your career—how long you would be at this salary and how long until you would be able to be considered for a promotion. Kelly addressed this concern, sharing her story of how she worked to “really impress” her bosses when she started in a new position, in order to aggressively pursue a raise.

The discussion then shifted to the job search, including questions on how to build your resume and how to secure an interview. Our panelists agreed that while having a strong resume is important, have a strong cover letter is what sets you apart from other applicants. Always write a cover letter, they advised, as communication skills are invaluable in this industry. They again echoed the sentiment of always thinking broadly in terms of your current and past positions, and using that to describe your experience in your cover letter. Where you’ve previously worked is not the only factor when being considered for a position. Your previous experience and how you communicate that experience is also a factor.

While searching for a job, panelists recommended several websites, including bookjobs.com, mediabistro.com, and the Publishers Marketplace job board as great resources for job listings. They also suggested bookmarking the job listing page of every publishing house, and to check it every day. Panelists also referred to LinkedIn as a great resource to see who you know and where they might work. Networking and informational interviews can be a huge help, and making connections is key. Don’t be afraid to take up someone’s offer to help, panelists advised. Melissa shared a story of seeing a job posting, and messaging someone she knew at the company to ask for more information. That turned into a great opportunity, as the person offered to pass on her resume for her! Kelly spoke to this point as well, adding that you should never be afraid to reach out—companies often have incentive programs, and you asking a connection for help could potentially also help them!

Interviewing is always an important step in transitioning, and our panelists addressed the “Why are you transitioning?” question that will inevitably come up in the interviewing process. Kelly gave sound advice: “Never bash your current job!” You should always have your pitch ready—panelists tossed around the phrases “Exploring new options,” “Not quite the right fit,” and “I love reading your books and would love to work on them.” Companies may ask why you aren’t choosing to move internally, and Heather spoke to this by suggesting that you pitch your decision to move as wanting to explore every possibility without limiting yourself to one company. Melissa added to this, and suggested the phrase “Looking for a new challenge.” You should be “super up on your game,” panelists suggested, and head into your interview armed with knowledge. Study their website, know their books, and let your enthusiasm and excitement show!

At this point, the floor was opened for attendees to ask their own questions. Panelists addressed questions related to time frame—how long does it usually take to transition? Our panelists had similar responses, stating that it generally takes up to a year to transition. All went on numerous interviews during that time, both in-house and out. Often times, hiring managers are looking for a strong personality fit, and it takes time to find the right match. Don’t get discouraged, panelists advised. Heather suggested the “rule of sixes”: always have six different applications out there, and if you find out you didn’t get one job, get another application out there. That way, you’ll always have something in the works.

Don’t limit yourself to lateral positions either, they advised. Apply for positions with higher titles, as you never know how it might work out. In terms of a timeline, they all agree that it’s okay to quietly start looking after you’ve been in your current position for at least six months, as it will take time to make a switch. Stephanie agreed with this point, stating that it’s best to err on the side of caution. Once you say something, you can’t take it back, and you wouldn’t want things to be uncomfortable at your current job. If you’d like to move internally, it’s never too early to start talking to people in other departments. Panelists also advised against taking a job that would set you back in your career goals, despite it being at a company where you would like to be. It could set you back an additional year in transitioning to your dream role.

After a great evening filled with advice and suggestions, the panel concluded with members heading out to the Four Faced Liar for an evening of continued networking.

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