How I Got Hired: An Interview With A Successful Sector Switcher

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Since we’ve started the Ask Victoria column, I’ve had two occasions in which our querent wrote back to say they were hired for a new job! One of them, L’Oreal Thompson Payton, has seen her dream of using her “superpowers” as a writer and communications professional to land a gig at a nonprofit for young girls materialize.

Today, I share with you the conversation I had with L’Oreal about her journey:

So you landed the position of Media Relations Manager at Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana! What do you do in this role?

I oversee the development and implementation of a media strategy to support council goals and cultivate strong relationships with local media to ensure unique and rewarding opportunities for coverage. I also am responsible for developing and releasing the council’s press releases, pitches and media alerts; tracking, analyzing and evaluating the council’s media successes; and identifying brand growth opportunities.

At many nonprofits, even day-to-day responsibilities can look different each workday. In a nutshell, what does your day typically look like?

While every day is different, I typically begin my morning by checking Google Alerts to see what’s in the news about Girl Scouts. It’s so rewarding seeing a story you pitched in the alerts! After responding to emails, I start tackling my to-do lists, which typically consist of generating new story ideas, following up with reporters, attending meetings and developing a media strategy for upcoming projects and events.

While many of our readers are probably familiar with Girl Scouts, what is Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and NW Indiana known for? What is its mission?

Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana is one of the largest Girl Scout council in the country, impacting the lives of more than 61,100 girls and 21,000 adult volunteers.

Girl Scouts as a whole is known as the premiere leadership development organization for girls. Our mission is building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.

We’re about so much more than cookies, camping, and crafts. Whether it’s LEGO robotics or Camp CEO, a weeklong opportunity for high school girls to learn from women in executive positions, we have a variety of programs that offer every girl a chance to do something amazing. 

Let’s talk a little bit about your career as a journalist. How do you feel it prepared you for your role at Girl Scouts?

As a former journalist, I know what makes a good story and, conversely, what does not. My background allows me to sympathize with the reporters I work with … I know what it’s like to receive pitches that are not relevant to my beat or coverage area, so that’s something I strive to avoid in my current position.

In your question to Ask Victoria, you mentioned that you were freelancing. How did you get started and what transferable skills do you think were most beneficial in getting your freelance gigs off the ground?

I started my freelance writing career in August 2011. I’d been a professional journalist for about three years at that point; however, I hadn’t had the opportunity to write about content that really mattered to me or subjects I found interesting. I started freelancing as a way to “fill the void.”

I think the transferable skills that have been most beneficial in my career have been writing and editing. Every industry has the need for effective communicators and I’m fortunate to have those skills in my wheelhouse. I’m also a bona fide “people person,” and while that’s more of a soft skill, it is important to be able to relate to people from various walks of life.

What was your previous nonprofit experience (volunteering counts!)?

My previous nonprofit experience is all volunteering. Shortly after I moved to Chicago in July 2013, I wanted to get involved with a nonprofit that benefits girls. It was then that I first learned about Polished Pebbles, a mentoring program for young Black girls on Chicago’s South Side. I attended my first Polished Pebbles event in January 2014 and immediately fell in love.

Earlier this year, I began volunteering with a local Girl Scout troop to get more hands-on experience with the organization. Being around young girls is so much fun and so invigorating, there’s nothing like it and I absolutely love it! Their energy is contagious. Volunteering with Polished Pebbles and Girl Scouts help solidify my desire to work full-time for a nonprofit that benefits girls.

Tell me a little bit about your passion for helping young girls. How did it start and what would you define as your motivators or inspiration?

A student participating in Camp CEO

A student participating in Camp CEO

Wow, I think it all goes back to middle school. An avid reader, I had subscriptions to all of the teen magazines on the market. But more often than not, I noticed the celebrities on the covers looked the same — blonde hair, blue eyes, big boobs. This was during the Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson era. I thought, “well, if I don’t look like them, something must be wrong with me.” In fact, there were many nights I used to pray to God to “make me white and beautiful.”

And middle school boys didn’t help either. I was constantly bullied for being “ugly” or a “teacher’s pet” (I’d skipped fourth grade). It was then that I decided I would become a journalist and eventually create my own teen magazine that celebrated young girls of ALL shapes, races and ethnicities. I wanted to empower young girls so that no one would ever feel the way I did. That’s been the catalyst for my entire professional career, but it wasn’t until I was older did I realize I could have the same effect of helping young girls by working for a nonprofit.

In my previous role as a digital content editor, I felt like I was closer to my goal of becoming a teen magazine editor, but when I saw how stressed out the Editor-in-Chiefs were, I questioned whether that was really for me. After about a year in the role, I had dinner plans on a Saturday night and was all dressed up…and I was on my laptop working on breaking news. I asked myself, “is this what I really want?” I was burnt out and I felt like I was getting further away from my goal of helping young girls. That’s when I started thinking “What could I do to reach the same goal without stressing myself out?”

How did your passion help you land this position?

When I set my mind to something, that’s it … there’s no stopping me! Even though I wasn’t offered the initial position I’d interviewed for with the Girl Scouts last year, I kept in touch with the hiring manager and another young woman on their marketing team. When the media relations manager position became available, I jumped at the opportunity.

I think my previous experience as a journalist and my stint as a communications strategist for the local school district provided the necessary skillset, but it was my desire to help young girls and contribute to the organization’s overall mission that sealed the deal.

A lot of job seekers who are interested in making the switch to the nonprofit sector anticipate being faced with challenges. Which (perceived or actual) challenges did you experience while making the transition to a nonprofit career, and how did you overcome them?

Perhaps the most challenging aspect was my lack of professional nonprofit experience; however, I used the skills I learned as a journalist to my advantage. When the thought to work for a nonprofit first entered my head, I wasn’t sure where to start. I didn’t know if I needed to go back to school or if there was a way to market my transferable skills. Networking with people in nonprofits and resources, such as Idealist, were beyond helpful.

What questions did employers have about your journalism experience?

There was definitely some curiosity about my resume being all journalism experience. Employers wanted to know why I wanted to switch careers. That’s where I really displayed my passion for the cause. I was able to show it was a cause I have volunteered my time and talent to. When talking to people who are considering a career change, especially to a nonprofit, I would ask them if they would volunteer or donate their money to the organization. That tells you if it’s something you truly believe in and support.

In a previous conversation, you mentioned that you did a fair amount of informational interviewing. How did it help your career search?

Tremendously! During my search, I had coffee dates and informational interviews with about five or so people from various organizations. I’m so grateful that they took the time to meet with me, share their experiences and provide advice. It was a great way to “test the waters” and see if working at a nonprofit was something I could really see myself doing.

I learned that it’s hard work at nonprofits! It’s awesome to land your dream job but it doesn’t mean every day is a walk in the park. Sometimes it’s about making it happen with the resources you have- and sometimes those resources are a paperclip and chewing gum.

What are your recommendations for keeping in touch with a professional contact?

Always ask if it’d be okay to connect via LinkedIn. It’s a small world and it’s been said it’s not what you know, but who you know and who those people know. I kept tabs on what was going on with Girl Scouts and touched base via email every once in a while, like oh, I just saw such and such in the news or the new website looks great! I focus on developing a genuine connection so that I’d be top of mind when the right opportunity came along. Be personable, but professional.

Before we close, a few questions about Idealist! How long have you been an Idealist user? In what ways have you used the site before?

I’ve personally been an Idealist user for about a year or so. Once I saw there was a career website dedicated to nonprofits, I immediately subscribed to the newsletter and created a job alert for positions within Chicago.

I used Idealist for everything from finding open positions to blogs with advice that pertained to me. Some of the best advice I received from Idealist was about marketing my transferable skills, as well as a template I still use it to this day for various types of emails. There’s a wealth of knowledge for employees of all kinds on Idealist!

Note: If you’re not an Idealist Careers subscriber, get on the list now! Don’t forget to set up your job alert on Idealist.

What have you learned about yourself along the way?

I’m a lot more resilient than I give myself credit for. And this process has reinforced for me the importance to trust my gut. Too often we give too much weight to other people’s ideas and philosophies and, to be honest, it almost cost me this job (I’d initially declined the offer after attempts to negotiate a higher salary). But I just couldn’t shake it. I’d seen the story about the council in Washington that rejected a $100,000 donation because it came with the caveat that they couldn’t support transgender girls and the story about the Girl Scouts who had the opportunity to camp out on the White House lawn and decided I wanted to be part of that!

So I reached out to my contact in marketing, who advised me to call the hiring manager because the position hadn’t been filled and the rest, as they say, is history. I told her “I know people don’t often get second chances in life, but I can assure you that you will not regret this.” Everything happens for a reason and I’m so happy that I can now call my passion my day job.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, L’Oreal! Much success to you and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of your work at Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

Idealist Careers readers, please join me in congratulating L’Oreal on her career transition and landing her dream job. Hope you have found inspiration and guidance in her story!

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About Author

I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.

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