This week on Ask Victoria: Transitioning from an administrative role when you want more responsibility. Tell us what you think of Victoria’s response in the comments or on Twitter @_askvictoria. Send us your career questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been working in Washington, DC since 2010 in a multitude of administrative and operations roles at nonprofits and I need a change! I’ve really want to get into marketing/communications but I am unsure how to make the transition. My resume is ALL administrative experience so when I apply for communication roles I get ignored. Since, I am a mid-level professional and have real bills, I can’t afford (or stomach) taking an unpaid marketing/communications internship. Can you give me some tips on how I can transfer from administrative support personnel to communications superstar?
I work in Administration so I end up helping out on a lot on Development/ Communication projects. What I find the most impressive about people who work in communications, is their ability to synthesize complex policy debates into bite size morsels that are accessible to everyone. My mind was blown when I watched a colleague of mine create an infographic, in that moment I realized that I wanted in on the action. I also want to walk away from Administration because I don’t feel like my work is as valued as programs, communications and development.
I know that Administration/Operations departments are the bones of every nonprofit organization and that if the people who work in HR, Facilities and Administration decided to stay home for a week NGO’s could not function. Unfortunately, upper management and the rest of the staff at most nonprofits don’t realize this and I am sick of constantly trying to prove my value.
Several years ago, I was working with a friend on her resume and she expressed the very same frustration—she was not being considered for roles other than those with the title “administrative assistant.” Meanwhile, the bulk of her experience told quite a different story: She managed interns, coordinated both the creative and logistical aspects of event planning and execution, and developed and maintained relationships with key high-end clients.How did we revamp her resume? We really got to the “meat” of her work, particularly the responsibilities that fueled her and got her excited about her job. We also switched the focus on her resume to her accomplishments outside the “typical” realm of admin work—her transferable skills and experience related to the job she wanted, not the job she had.
Next, we took a look at the format. Why, for example, was she putting her job titles in bold when it was drawing attention to the very things she felt was holding her back? (That would be the accursed “Admin Assistant Stigma,” eeeeekkk!!)
If your job titles are in bold, stop doing that. Plain text is fine. Think about adding some other descriptor next to your “real” job title to help illustrate what you really do. For example:
- Administrative Assistant- Communications Department
- Administrative Assistant- Newsletter Coordinator
- Administrative Assistant/ Assistant to Communications and Operations Departments
See if any “add-on” titles like these will work for you. You don’t have to omit your “real” job title if that feels untruthful to you, but add to it so that your resume better tells your story.
That’s some practical advice, but…I’m not going to let you off the hook without doing a little more digging! I know you can practice bumping up your confidence and gaining recognition as the communications superstar you really want to be! In fact, you may already have a lot more related experience than you realize. So let me ask: How confident do you feel in seeing yourself as a communications professional? How natural does it feel to “wear” that title, or is it going to take some getting used to? There’s no shame if your answer is “yes.” Understand that your transition will be a lot easier once you start viewing your abilities in the same light you want want your potential employer to view them.
A good way to start enhancing your confidence is by taking a good look at what you do in your role. You mention that you help out with several development and communications projects. Is your involvement (and accomplishments) included on your resume? Is it part of your dialogue when you interview? If not, start writing a list of all your interactions and the results you’ve had. Get yourself used to talking about these things.
Also, decide if “help out” is the right term, or if in reality, you’ve been taking the lead on some arm of these projects. Whenever that’s the case, flesh that out on your resume.
Now sit back and do some constructive daydreaming: If you were a hiring manager, what would you think about the accomplishments you see on the page? Where would you place yourself- as an administrative assistant or a communications professional? Ask a friend to read your resume and tell you what they see.Recognize your value and construct ways to articulate it by reviewing an actual job description for a role in a communications department. If you have access to one from your organization, use that, or simply find a few online. Go back to your list of communications-related responsibilities and accomplishments. Highlight all those that match the job descriptions. Focus on the responsibilities, not the job titles.
When you are face-to-face with upper management and feel your ability to transition to communications is being undermined again, pull out your list of responsibilities and accomplishments alongside job description. Show that if you just cover the job title “administrative assistant” the descriptions look quite similar! Start seeing yourself as a communications professional. Recognize the difference your work makes to the communications department.
Speaking of working with the team, take it as a time to start scoping out opportunities for learning and growth. Who might be able to mentor you, even informally? Think back to that moment when you were first impressed by the work that people in communications do. Go to the colleague who made the infographic and tell them about the impression they made. Ask what they would advise you to do to make your transition. The next time you are working on a project and they recognize your work’s value, reiterate your interest in a permanent role on the comms team. Be assertive about having the skills and the know-how to get the job done. When a position opens up, ask for it. Remember that whatever your job title is, your accomplishments and work ethic say more.
Lastly, I wanted to make sure my last suggestion was actually realistic, so I asked around my networks for stories of successful administrative transitions. I got one! In fact, someone from the organization was promoted from an admin role to a position on the communications team because people recognized how great she was and wanted her to have a more valuable role. So, it can be done!
Please keep me posted, Miss Communications Superstar!
To your success!