You may be asking…”why is he writing a blog post about himself?” And that’s a great question. I’m not a self-promotional kind of person, but I feel there are a lot of people out there who feel stuck in their current career path. After awhile, you feel hopeless and start to resign to the fact that you’ve made your bed and what’s done is done. You decide to just slog it out until retirement.
That’s a horrible way to live and, unfortunately, the way businesses hire and their unwillingness (in general) to train and educate highly motivated individuals is not only stifling your career, but their businesses and the economy as a whole.
I know this because I used to be a corporate recruiter and have spent time at Fortune 500 companies. For the record, all were great companies to work for, but they all had the same approach when it came to hiring people. Basically it boiled down to looking for the ‘right’ keywords in the resume. Likely they were looking for someone to make a lateral move because recruiters (not all, but a lot) are awful at reading between the lines to see potential. The person has to be doing the exact same thing in their current role that they would be doing at the company trying to recruit them. You’re usually going to find people that are more motivated by money than opportunity, which will also lead them to leaving your company in the future.
I could go on and on about how screwed up the hiring process and recruiting is and that could be a separate rant, err post. But this is about how I changed careers, going from a corporate technical recruiter to the Director of Marketing for a growing company in Denver.
The main theme I hope you takeaway from all of this is that nothing happens overnight. It takes hard work, especially since most companies won’t take a risk on you and be willing to train and educate you.
Let’s go back to 1998. I graduated from Indiana University with a BS in Public Affairs and the focus of my education was Environmental Science- primarily lake and watershed management. Perfect for the Pacific Northwest. However, I didn’t live in the Pacific Northwest after graduating. I lived in Denver. Most of the lakes in the area are the result of reservoirs built to provide drinking water to the city.
My first job I got by going through the phone book – yes, an actual phone book – and calling every environmental company, asking if they were hiring. The internet was a different beast back then. Not fully baked and Yahoo! and Alta Vista were the primary search engines. Google was barely a sparkle in Larry and Sergei’s eyes.
I got to the “L’s” and when I told the person on the other end I had just graduated from Indiana University, he thought he could have some fun with me. You see, I’m a huge sports fan and Indiana’s primary rival is Purdue. It just so happened this company, Labatt-Anderson, had several Purdue grads working there. That opened the door to a conversation, which lead to an interview, which lead to me being hired, which lead to the person on the other end of the phone becoming one of my best friends. Life is strange, but the one things I’ve learned is you have to step out of your comfort zone – often. Life is out there waiting for you and will pass you by if you’re not willing to participate.
So this was your typical entry-level job – at least at the time. Hiring managers didn’t think my generation was worth a shit. Not like the way they fawn all over Millennials now. Still don’t understand why. No offense Millennials, you just had better timing.
I digress. My first role was mostly data entry. This got boring pretty quickly and after about a year and a half of this I was able to put my name in the hat for a promotion to do NEPA compliance at Rocky Flats. Rocky Flats was essentially a relic of the Cold War and a place the US Government manufactured plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs. The Cold War ended and we began shuttering facilities like Rocky Flats all over the country. Some, like Hanford in my current state of Washington, are still being decommissioned.
If you recall, my undergrad focus and passion was around lakes and watersheds. Certainly not hazardous waste. I didn’t take a single haz waste course at IU because it was of not interest to me.
Everyone’s Getting Rich- Except Me
So it’s 2000 and the dot.coms are taking off. Everyone’s getting rich and I was feeling left behind. I knew I needed to switch things up so I decided to make the move out of the public sector and into the private sector. Remember, people didn’t value recent grads and early-in-career folks back then. If you didn’t have 5+ years in the exact role you were being hired into, you were out of luck.
I ended up finding a company- a rather large company – in Reliance Steel and Aluminum that decided to take a risk on me. My dad was in the steel business and I had spent summers during college working in the warehouse at his company. Some of the worst work I’ve ever done. But, that was one of the keys to unlocking this opportunity. It was a sales role in Los Angeles. So off I moved- from Denver to L.A. What a learning experience that was!
It was a great experience and I learned a lot. Also made another lifelong friend in my manager there.
This was great, but sales wasn’t my thing. I also found out that I really liked having four seasons and 75 degrees and sunny got boring. So back to Colorado I went. But also back into a sales role in a similar industry.
Again, great company, great experience, but I couldn’t stand some of my co-workers. One guy in particular was always in a bad mood, always negative, unwilling to find creative ways to solve problems and, at the end of the day, was making my working life miserable. I also realized that I liked business, but this further confirmed that sales wasn’t my fit.
Back to School
So I decided the best thing would be to go back to school and get a MBA. It’s a well-rounded business degree and I was hoping it would shed some light on what clicked with me. And it did. I instantly loved my marketing courses. Interestingly, I also really liked the business law courses – probably because they seemed more like the environmental studies of my undergrad.
Marketing it was and I began to take as many marketing courses as I could. I had also quit my sales job because my manager thought education was a waste of time and I couldn’t align myself with a company that felt that way.
As a result, I needed to get some marketing experience, so I interviewed for a marketing internship with a boutique staffing agency in Denver. Boom! Now I’m in recruiting. Like every other recruiter, I fell into it.
They needed someone to help build a marketing plan for them. Which I started doing – until they got really busy and asked if I could also help them recruit against a couple of open roles they had. I did. And I did really well. Next thing I know, the marketing plan is kicked to the curb and I’m a full-blown recruiter.
Again, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I worked with really great people – all of whom are still friends today. But recruiting was a lot like sales and pretty much the same thing, day in and day out. I realized I like change too much to be a recruiter.
Leveraging My Current Work
However, I did see a light at the end of the tunnel and decided to use recruiting to get my foot in the door at a large company and then the possibilities would be endless. So I thought.
About 3 years into working at this staffing agency, I moved to Seattle, a lifelong desire, and was able to work remotely and stay with the same company. This was my first foray into being a remote employee. Certainly not the last.
I moved to this new city where I only knew one person. I worked from home, which made it very difficult to meet people. After awhile, I decided things needed to change if I had any hope of staying in Seattle. So I went to work for a Seattle startup called Jobster. I was only there for about a year and a half before they started having financial issues but it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I learned more in that year and a half than in any other role I had before. I worked with some incredibly talented people who would go on to do some really great things.
Then 2008 happened. The economy tanked. Jobster essentially shut down and the only role I could get was in sales for a staffing agency- which is probably the all-time worst sales role someone could have- especially when the economy melts down and absolutely no one is hiring. Horrible experience. It was also an awful company.
Fed up I decided to quit and start my own company. A digital marketing company. I was going to take control of my future and stop being kicked around in the pounding surf of the business world.
RainierDigital is Born
In February 2009 RainierDigital was born. I’ll admit, I had no clue what I was doing but if people wanted to hire me, I would do everything I could to learn and make it work. Which I did. Through my friends and professional network, I had some companies reach out for help. My rock bottom rates probably helped, but I couldn’t justify charging people fair market value for my services when I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. This was as much about gaining experience and education as it was about making money. And I knew this was necessary to achieve long-term success. When changing careers, you have to be willing to make sacrifices and have a long-term vision of what success ultimately looks like.
It was great. Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss. I dug in and spent every waking hour learning- reading blogs (Moz’s blog was crucial), watching webinars, soaking up as much as I could about SEO, paid search, and social media.
But I wasn’t making much money. When a former client that I had at Jobster called and asked if I’d be interested in a part-time contract recruiting gig at Comcast, I said hell yes. It was perfect. I could bring in some money doing what I could do in my sleep and still have plenty of time to build my marketing experience and business.
Remember, I thought that working for a large company would open some doors to my career. Although, Comcast wasn’t a fit because I could never live in Philly, where they’re headquartered (or the East Coast for that matter). But, getting corporate experience with a Fortune 100 company was a big plus.
Then Cricket Communications called. They were looking for a full-time contract recruiter for 6-months. Money was getting tight, so I said OK. Let’s do this.
When Microsoft Comes Knocking, You Answer
I loved working at Cricket, probably could have become a full-time employee, but it wasn’t the career fit I was looking for. However, toward the end of my contract, the company I had most wanted to work for – a company I had interviewed with 5-6 times in the past but never had enough corporate experience – called. They were interested in my recruiting experience but also the social media experience I had taught myself. This company was Microsoft. Headquartered in Redmond, WA. I had known people at Microsoft that started as a recruiter and eventually moved into other roles within the business. That’s why Microsoft was at the top of my list. I knew using recruitment to leverage a career change could happen there.
I couldn’t pass it up. I started as a contractor, but I knew from Day 1, this was just a stepping stone into a full-time role. Meanwhile, I’m still doing digital marketing for companies on the side. Now I’m working very long days. Nights and weekends, but keeping one foot in the marketing world was extremely important to me. I was in a ‘side hustle’ before it became called a ‘side hustle’. Which, for the record, I HATE that term.
So, I was locked in at Microsoft. Determined to wow them. I ended up impressing one of the hiring managers I worked for who asked if I would be interested in joining her team as a contract Program Manager. Becoming a Program Manager was what I viewed as the bridge from recruiting to the business. However, I was interviewing for a full-time recruiting role at that time and, at the time, felt that a full-time role, even in recruiting, was a better route to go.
That was the dumbest decision I’ve made in my career and one I still lament and think about. If I could go back and do it all over, I would have joined her team as a contract Program Manager. Instead, I got the full-time recruiting role and was aligned with a manager that was not all that open to stretch assignments and didn’t align with my career goals of moving into a role within the business. This stifled me, became frustrating and began to break my will. This was such a huge goal for me and it was beginning to fade. It was truly soul crushing at the time. But I believe Garth Brooks has a song about “Unanswered Prayers”. I would say that it probably applied in this case. But I just didn’t know it at the time.
One Door Closes, Many More Open
In July of 2014 it was a mutual decision for me to leave Microsoft. It wasn’t working out and I realized that a lot of factors went into working for a large company like Microsoft. The most important, having a manager that aligned with your values and career objectives. Not just protecting their own ass and ‘playing the game’.
Back I went to focusing on RainierDigital full-time. I quickly acquired more clients, but revenue wasn’t able to match the nice salary I had at Microsoft. I was also married now and had more to think about than myself. A former Microsoft manager reached out to me out of the blue. He was at Booking.com and they needed some recruiting help. Someone in a part-time role would be perfect. That was perfect for me as well. So I took it. Another contract role, which was great and a perfect fit for the time.
It’s amazing. In my career, I’ve held two part-time recruiting roles at large companies and I was able to accomplish nearly 40-hours worth of work in 20-hour weeks in both of them. I was doing as much, and sometimes more, in 20 hours than some of my colleagues did in 40 hours. Which changed my outlook on the whole 8-hour work day thing. I think its a dinosaur, a relic from a time when our economy and most roles were based on a measurable output per hour. The economy has changed, roles have changed and the way we work should also change.
Anyway, back to the story. I worked this way for another year and half. Working with a number of marketing clients, spending 20 hours per week recruiting. I made more money that year than at any time in my career. However, I was feeling unfulfilled. When you’re a consultant, you really don’t get to work very deep when it comes to the strategy of the business. I felt like what I was doing was “an inch deep and a mile wide”. I wanted to take my marketing career to the next level and go in-house.
I was still working with one of my original clients that came on board back in 2009, when RainierDigital began. We had formed a great working relationship and I had built up a familiarity with their business and products as a result.
The Career Change Comes Full Circle
In the Fall of 2015 I approached the President of the company about potentially joining them full-time. They were growing at a good clip, but I could tell they could use some help in managing the marketing team and creating some efficiencies. The timing was perfect. The company was ISM. I joined as a Director of Marketing and I’m still there today. It’s amazing how much I’ve grown professionally since joining their team full-time in December of 2015. I had never managed a team before and now I had 6-7 direct reports- not to mention I lived in Seattle and ISM is in Denver. I also came on board at the beginning of a huge project- a website redesign with a Magento back-end implementation.
I jumped right into the fire. It was challenging and I had a lot to learn. I signed up for a management and leadership certificate program through the University of Notre Dame, because I felt like I needed to ramp up and learn quickly. Learning on the job just wasn’t going to get me where I needed to be as quickly as I wanted.
The first year was tough. I think it always is for first-time managers, but since then it has been great. I feel like the team has grown and come a long way from where they were before I joined in a full-time capacity.
So there you have it. This February marked the 10-year anniversary of RainierDigital and I thought it was a good time to tell my story. RainierDigital obviously still exists, but I’m in the process of using it as a vehicle for sharing everything I have learned over the past decade and beyond. It’s time to give back and sharing knowledge is something everyone should do. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I firmly believe that and am trying to live by it every day.
The point of this novel is to hopefully shed light on what it takes to change careers. It’s not easy. It takes dedication. It takes a lot of learning. It takes perseverance to get through bumps in the road and setbacks that will invariably happen. It takes networking and building key relationships. Most importantly, it takes time.
I’ve also found that the more I learn and the deeper my knowledge of marketing becomes, the more I begin to feel the “imposter syndrome”. It’s kind of crazy because I know a hell of a lot more than I did when I first started. But I also know there are other people that know more than I do and there’s always more to learn. Learning, to me, is a lifelong endeavor. I have an insatiable desire to continue learning and growing professionally – but to also share what I learn along the way. To be honest, I enjoy what I’m doing and have no plans to play the normal game and retire at 65. Age is what you make it out to be. There are some hiring managers out there that probably need to be reminded of that. Again, a topic for a whole other discussion. But just know that age discrimination is real and more widespread than you may think.
If any of this resonated with you and you’re looking for a mentor or need someone to bounce ideas off of as you attempt to change careers, reach out to me. The best way is to use the chatbot in the lower right corner of the page to contact me.
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn as well.