Installation shot of Julie Schenkelberg's
The Color of Temperance: Energy Embodied, 2015,
the Mattress Factory Musuem of Contemporary Art, Pittsburgh.
Changing jobs to suit your interests, whether personal or financial, is a fairly simple proposition in your 20s, but what about in mid- or late-career? If, after several years of building experience and connections in one field, you’re itching to try something new, what steps can you take toward making a change?
There are promising signs that the ageism that has pervaded nearly every industry for quite a while may finally be giving way. It’s now a given that, whether because of personal interests or necessity, more people are opting to stay in the workforce for longer, and with perks like full pensions or guaranteed pay raises seemingly consigned to the dustbin of history, today’s workers are much more likely to change jobs as their needs and desires evolve. Last March, The New York Times reported on many late-in-life success stories in a story headlined “Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind.” And an article in the July/August issue of Communication Arts reported on recent efforts to combat and counteract age-related discrimination in advertising, a notoriously youth-worshipful field.
To figure out where to look for new opportunities, first consider your professional experience, where your personal interests lie, and how those two things might overlap. “If you’re considering a change, find something that relates to what you do, but from a different perspective,” says Rod Berg, a career coach and director of recruitment at the executive search firm Janou Pakter, which specializes in the creative industries. This is advice Berg himself has followed. He started out as a graphic designer, working in London and Paris for such clients as Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera, before moving to New York to work in staffing and recruitment. “I liked working with people,” he says. “I understood design. I thought, ‘How do I make this work?’” When applying for recruiting jobs, Berg repackaged his expertise, emphasizing his interpersonal skills. Post-9/11, after the economy shifted and recruitment wasn’t in high demand, he made another switch, capitalizing on his design and staffing background, and served as associate director of career services at the Parsons School of Design. In 2014, he changed careers again, returning to recruitment with his current position at Janou Pakter.
If the experience gap is too wide for you to bridge, or if you’re looking to establish connections in a new field, heading back to school remains a good bet. Julie Schenkelberg (MFA 2011 Fine Arts) worked as a scenic painter in theater for 18 years, helping to create sets for such productions as Chicago, The Sound of Music and Proof. She also painted in her free time, trying to tell her own individual story, she says, “as a person and an artist.” When she decided to pursue an MFA it did not mark the end of her theater work—she continued to freelance—but the deadlines and requirements of the program mandated a focus on her fine-art practice that she might not have otherwise been able to sustain. Her faculty members and fellow students also comprised a supportive and like-minded community and professional network, something that would have been difficult for her to form independently. Schenkelberg credits the program's open studio events in particular with helping her find representation with the Asya Geisberg Gallery, which is owned and run by another MFA Fine Arts alumnus.
Similarly, Ellis Gaskell, a retired brand management professional who established a sideline in theater and head-shot photography after moving to Manhattan from Westport, Connecticut, enrolled in SVA’s MPS Digital Photography program as his interest in the field deepened, and his ambitions for his practice grew. He joined a class in which his fellow students included a fashion model, a former technology consultant, an Army veteran and professional salsa dancer, and an engineer. “I'd never thought of myself as an artist and it still takes some getting used to,” Gaskell says. “The privilege of associating and exchanging ideas with people who have genuine credentials as artists was truly mind-expanding.”
Depending on your circumstances, however, enrolling in a degree program may not be possible—or necessary. In these cases, continuing-education options, online classes and short-term immersive programs can offer the equivalent of crash courses in subjects that experienced creative professionals may still feel deficient in, but that are prerequisites for certain industries, especially those that involve digital technologies. These include user experience design, web development, analytics and digital marketing. “These courses help [professionals] redefine themselves, package themselves and speak the language,” Berg says.
Added to your résumé, this kind of self-directed education also communicates a seriousness of intent about a career change. The expense can be considerable, so the usual distance-learning and professional-development caveats apply—namely, do your due diligence to make sure the host organization is accredited or otherwise recognized by its related industry.
Ultimately, a successful career switch depends on a willingness to explore. Schenkelberg’s growing profile has been built in large part through exhibition opportunities and residencies that take place outside of contemporary art’s marquee events and capital cities. In 2014, her entry in the ArtPrize competition—held each year in Grand Rapids, Michigan—won a $20,000 award for best installation. “Being in the New York art world is important,” she says, “but many stellar opportunities outside the city have helped me develop my career a great deal. I have not been afraid to explore other worlds.” ∞
For SVA Career Development’s online job board, visit collegecentral.com/sva. To check out a schedule of upcoming Career Development events and workshops, visit sva.edu/career. For SVA Continuing Education options, visit sva.edu/ce.