Switching career can have a profound impact on wellbeing and personal fulfilment – and it’s something that most of us will do several times in response to changing circumstances. Our Senior Comms Consultant, Elaine Cobb, shares insight from her own experience of switching career from engineering to public relations.
Although I loved studying engineering, I found my early career in the water industry unfulfilling. Happily, I was able to explore alternatives through a secondment, picking up experience of change management and communications. Ultimately, this opened up opportunities in marketing and public relations (PR).
Today, working in PR for engineering and science clients, I get to work on the latest technology and turn them into stories that are interesting and appealing to other engineers. In a typical day, I might interview an engineer about their latest project, write a story about it and then find opportunities to share that story widely, for example by placing it in a trade magazine, creating posts for social media or even writing a script for a video.
Because a lot of my projects focus on “thought leadership” it’s my job to take the nitty gritty of technology, and make it accessible and interesting for a wider audience. I’m always working on something new and exciting and I speak to people who are renowned experts in their fields and who are excited to share the latest news about their work.
My knowledge and experience from engineering has given me the edge over other PR professionals. Many of them come from a career in journalism or as a graduate with an arts degree. They don’t naturally pick up on the relevance of facts and figures, such as lead times or power ratings that are so important to engineers. Because I understand that, I can ask the right questions and author stories that work better. Clients love that and keep coming back for more, so it has helped me build my career.
Advice to others who are looking for a career change
When thinking about a career change, a secondment or an internship is a great place to start, provided you already have a good idea what you want to do.
For those who don’t have a career route mapped out, I’d suggest asking people in your network about their careers, the experience and skills they needed to develop, and what they find rewarding and challenging. That should help you to develop a bit more insight about whether their roles would suit you.
Of course, there are some downsides to a career change. You’ll be competing with people who are much earlier in their career, and who have already mastered the jargon and know the rules of the game. The classic example in PR is the press release. It’s important to use a ‘pyramid’ structure when writing it, secure the right sort of approval, find the right sort of image that is suitable for print or digital formats and be careful to target editors properly when you’re issuing it.
It’s therefore worth starting in a junior role and learning the ropes. However, experience of working in the professional world means that engineers will already have soft skills such as negotiation, relationship-building and mentoring. These will help you thrive and to climb up the career ladder.