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So What Do You Do, Pamela Mitchell, Founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute?

'Use your job as a launching pad to where you want to be'

By Amanda Ernst - July 28, 2010
There's something very attractive about career reinvention, especially in this anemic job market. But how to start?

Pamela Mitchell, career coach, author, and founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute, is uniquely able to walk clients through that transition -- because it's something she's experienced twice herself. And, when she went through it, there weren't any companies like hers around to help.

"What I found was that most career coaches, career services and books were built upon the assumption that you wanted to climb the ladder in your career," she said. "There was nothing that talked about what happens when you want to switch industries and how to make that happen. So I had to figure it out by myself, the hard way."

Drawing on that knowledge and a desire to help others, Mitchell launched The Reinvention Institute. Her company, which employs career coaches who have worked in corporate America themselves, focuses on providing clients with the tools to break into an entirely different field, basically rounding out their skill set in a different way. And for media professionals, Mitchell says the next frontier for career success may just lie in... gaming?

Name: Pamela Mitchell
Position: Founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute. Author of 10 Laws of Career Reinvention: Essential Survival Skills for Any Economy (Dutton)
Resume: First handled international partnerships for Wall Street information provider Knight Ridder, but went through first career transition to move into the entertainment industry. Worked for Discovery Channel and before leaving to launch The Reinvention Institute.
Birthdate: July 22
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Education: Undergraduate degree from Harvard College, master's degree from Thunderbird School of International Management.
Marital status: Married
First section of the Sunday Times: "Styles."
Favorite TV show: "I watch a lot of home and garden television, any design show. I'm not a big TV watcher, but on Saturday nights and weekends when I want to relax, I turn on HGTV and see what kind of home design shows are on."
Guilty pleasure: Bridezillas
Last book read: Influencer: The Power To Change Anything
Twitter handle: @reinvent

Having gone through career reinvention yourself, what is it like for you to see people going through a transition?
For me, it's not an abstract discussion because all the emotions that they go through, I myself have gone through and had to work myself through. I did all the legwork and the research to find the tools to help me through it. When I decided to do this, I also went back to school and got a certification as a coach. I decided I would marry all my business experience and personal experience with reinvention, and I would go get my certification so I knew how to work with people as a coach to take them through it. I think all three together give me a really unique perspective.

The other thing, too, that makes me unique in this is that I've worked in corporate America and I've worked in line positions; I don't come out of human resources. So I know from firsthand experience in terms of hiring what it takes because I've hired, and in terms of the politics of what you have to deal with in order to be successful in those environments. When I'm working with clients and teaching people, this gives me a very valuable edge because all the things that they tell me, I understand.

What are some common issues you're seeing lately?
People are dealing right now with a lot of fear and sadness because of formerly safe industries, like media, newspapers, automotive, are going through such rapid changes that they feel very unsettled. They don't really know where to turn and they're mourning it because they didn't really want this reinvention but they're being forced into it. Then, the key is: What do they want to do next? There's a desire that comes up pretty frequently to find a safe industry. What's the next hot industry that I'll be safe in? But if we learn anything from what's happening now, it's that there are no safe industries.

"The first thing with old media is to understand that the old way isn't coming back and to deal with your emotions around it so that you can let that go and move on."

What advice are you giving your clients to deal with that?
We advise people to start by looking at what kind of lifestyle they want to lead. Not just financial needs but time-wise, how do we like our day to flow, what kind of work environment do we want -- all of those things. Then once they've come up with this profile, then they have something tangible to begin evaluating which industry fit those profiles. Also, although we're kind of on an upswing in terms of hiring, it's not really pulling through yet, so people have to really extend their timeline for reinvention. What used to take six months to a year could now take 18 months or longer.

Taking that much time for reinvention can be difficult financially. What kind of advice do you give people in terms of staying afloat financially while going through this reinvention process?
You have to have what I call the Plan B job. You can't reinvent yourself if you're worried about how you're going to make the rent. And there are people who come in who are out of work but really want to reinvent themselves and want to hold out. And I tell them to go get a job. Get some cash flow coming in, even if you have to temp. The thing about the Plan B job is that you want it to be not too demanding. It's got to be easy for you. It can either be what you've done in the past, just doing it on a contract basis so that you have some cash coming in, or something that's easy for you so you have the time to move toward your reinvention. Don't take a Plan B job that is so consuming that you get stuck.

What advice are you giving to clients of yours from traditional media who want to get into the new media space?
The first thing with old media is to understand that the old way isn't coming back and to deal with your emotions around it so that you can let that go and move on. Then the second step is, if you don't have your new media skills, you should have them already. You're overdue. But I really encourage you to go beyond that, to get an iPad and think about how are people experiencing information these days and what kind of skills can you bring to that. Where else do people need to be told stories? It's not just in a newspaper.

"There are opportunities out there once you take your mind out of 'what other media outlets can I go to?'"

One of the things I suggested to someone was to go look at the gaming industry. It's now a multi-billion dollar industry with storytelling. There are opportunities out there once you take your mind out of 'what other media outlets can I go to?' and start looking at the skill of storytelling, the skill of reporting, the skill of editing, where are these things still needed? And then using those skills to move you forward as opposed to saying, I'm a reporter and I need to look for another publication or another network.'

What ways do you recommend someone find job openings?
By the time something's on a job board, you're already competing with how many people. I recommend really looking at the product. What trends are there and how can you contribute to those trends? You should be reading your paper and saying, hm, I'm reading about Starbucks moving into music licensing through their stores, or AOL wanting to hire journalists because they want to create content. That's a trend. We think that content is what going to have people come here. And thinking, not just AOL is going to be hiring because they're believing in content, but where else? All those companies that want to create rich iPad apps. You've got to take your blinders off and think that now there is this other platform; there are more people who need content in a different way. Once you're out there, you can see, who do you know in those organizations? Have a conversation, and you can create jobs or projects that maybe don't exist. So all of a sudden you've opened your pool for opportunity beyond just the job boards.

What do you think is the most important part of applying for a job -- cover letter, resume, networking, etc.?
It's all important but the thing that will probably kill you more than you might imagine is not having your materials -- your resume, your cover letter, your "Hollywood pitch" -- not having those targeted and shaped towards your target market. That's what I feel is most important, especially when it comes to a reinvention. Many people look at an opportunity and say, I have the perfect skills for that, and they send it off and then they hear nothing. Why? Because they haven't taken the time to shape their background so that it is targeted to that particular industry, so that those people understand what they have to offer. This is the most critical piece.

What's one mistake that you made in your own career and how did you rebound from that?
Of course, I made a ton of mistakes. The biggest mistake that I made was quitting my job before I had another job. In retrospect, I look back and I think I had to do it because I was so miserable, but a couple of things: one I was two months away from qualifying for a pension. Dumb, very dumb financially. Two, maybe if there had been a company like mine, I probably wouldn't have quit because I would have had a resource to turn to. But when you don't know what you want and you quit a job, now you're dealing with not knowing what you want and financial pressure, that's a really difficult spot. And it's not something I recommend for people, at all. People will come to me who are really unhappy and want to leave their job, and I tell them, don't leave your job. Use your job as a launching pad to where you want to be. First and foremost, it funds your reinvention, it gives you a paycheck. Now let's look at other ways that it can help move you forward.

Pamela Mitchell signs copies of her latest book and talks about transitioning to a new career in media at the Mediabistro Career Circus on August 4 in New York.

Amanda Ernst is deputy editor at Crushable.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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