As the VP of People at OrderGroove, the number one question I get when people hear about my background is, “How does a stage manager become an HR Leader?” It’s a great question, especially because the field of Human Resources wasn't on my radar when I was a college student. After I graduated, I worked for a few years in the arts until I realized it wasn’t the industry for me. However, once I did come to the decision to make a change, it was a long process to understand what was important to me and how to apply the skills I had to a new field.
As you start out on your journey to find a career that matches your skills and ambitions there are few key areas to focus on: identify the elements that you do and don’t enjoy in each job you’ve had, discover what is important to you, figure out how to apply the skills you have gained, and feel confident that you can always make a change, no matter where you started. And remember, you are always growing. Even with my own shift to HR over 15 years ago, I’ve continued to explore different areas of my field and expand my career into areas I never thought possible. Here’s how you can leverage your past skills into a career.
Refocus on your goals
Whether you spent four years (or more) gaining an education, or you fell into your first few jobs, you started your working life with some sort of goal. Personally, I liked creating an experience that was special and memorable for people. Stage management was my way of being part of a world I loved, bringing the story to life and transporting the audience to a unique place for a few hours. Every job you have teaches you something about yourself and what is important to you. To start thinking about what new career might be more fulfilling, ask yourself the following questions: What inspired you early in your career? What did you love about that first job or in your college major?
Understand what you do and don’t like about your job
Of course no job is perfect, and there are always parts you wish were different. As I started working in theatre professionally, I quickly realized the hours and the unpredictability of the theatre world made me too anxious, and I needed more stability, especially since I had a partner in my life. Thinking I still wanted to be in the arts community, I made the change to the business side of entertainment. While the day-to-day was more “stable” and I enjoyed working with the casting directors and actors, I learned that the cutthroat Hollywood culture was not for me. Just as it’s important to know what you like, it’s just as important to identify what you don’t like.
Ask yourself: If you could change anything in your current career, what would it be? What is the piece of your job that you really struggle with and wish you could cut?
Envision your future accomplishments
Now it’s time to start looking forward. Part of your journey is not just to change jobs, but to find a career that you are passionate about. When I realized it was time to leave the entertainment industry, I spoke to people who worked “corporate” jobs. When I told people I loved creating a special experience for people and helping actors find their next jobs, often they would say, “That sounds like HR.” I started reading more about that field and all it encompassed. I found myself getting really excited.
In order to find the new career that will get you excited, ask yourself: If I could wake up every morning and do this, what would it be? In the future, when you look back on your life, what do you want to have accomplished? What experiences in your life have been most impactful?
Focus on your transferable skills
One thing I hear a lot is, “Even if I know what I want to do, I’m not qualified to get that job.” I disagree. No matter your background, you have acquired many skills that are applicable to your new career. As a stage manager, I had learned to be extremely organized, manage conflict, influence others, and balance competing priorities. When I moved to LA and interviewed at a talent agency, I was able to explain how these skills could be applied in an assistant position.
Reflect and write down: What skills have you learned that you can apply to a different field? How will you translate that in an interview?
Share your goals
I know it’s not always easy to get someone to give you a chance in a new career, but it’s still possible to make a change. While I was figuring out how I was going to get my first HR job, I worked as a temp for a small company doing some filing and helping with the year end audit. I told them my goal to move into HR, they needed someone to help with some HR-related administrative tasks, and the rest is history! To make your transition easier, reach out.
Research: Who do you know that has either made a change in their career you could reach out to talk about this new idea? Is there a networking group you can join to start meeting people in this field?
Overall, I want to emphasize how important it is to find what makes you happy and figure out a way to do it. Most of us work way too many hours a week, so we better enjoy and feel fulfilled by what we are doing with our time. You don’t have to be tied down to what you thought you wanted to do in your past. Trust me, if a stage manager can become an HR leader, anything is possible!
Photography by Mel Walbridge