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Career changers are your secret weapon

For 30 years, I was supposed to be a professor. As a senior in college, I briefly considered philosophy and computer science before deciding to get a PhD in linguistics. I knew where I was heading: for a career at a liberal arts college, teaching and researching, in that order.

Until six months before I graduated, when I changed my mind.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead. I wrote linguistics papers and creative non-fiction. I hustled Scrabble for extra cash. I certainly never considered working in software, although I’d been coding since I was three.

Still, I needed a job, so I started applying. My resume failed numerous automated screening programs. Nothing about my background indicated that I’d be an obvious fit for corporate technology.

At the last minute, I got lucky. I will always be grateful to the perceptive person who spotted the exact combination of things in my background and hired me. It is not overblown to say that in giving me a chance, she altered the course of my life.

It is not overblown to say that in giving me a chance, she altered the course of my life.

Perhaps because of my own experience, I’ve always been a sucker for the curious-minded and driven person from a non-traditional background. Almost a third of our team has made some significant professional leap in joining Textio — which may be part of why, 2.5 years into the company, no one has yet left after joining. I know that won’t last forever, but it’s something we’re really proud of. When you take a risk on someone and commit to helping them become what they want to become, they’re often willing to take a risk on you too.

Here are just a few of the professional transitions people have made in joining Textio:

  • Someone who did support at a water pump manufacturer became our first sales hire
  • A PhD in signal processing with a long career in the defense industry founded our customer success program
  • A psychology lab researcher became an engineering intern with us and then a full-time frontend engineer
  • A PR professional got hired at Textio writing Python code
  • A museum exhibit designer told us how to fix our logo and kicked off the Textio marketing team

The stories go on: recruiters who have become sales people, corporate engineers who have leapt into our startup environment, and other academics who, like me, thought forever that they wanted to be professors and then changed their minds.

One of my favorite examples is my co-founder and CTO, Jensen Harris. When I first met him many years ago, I was surprised to learn that he had gone to art high school and majored in music composition in college. After all, I knew him mainly as the product mind behind most of Microsoft’s successful enterprise UI. But when he walked me through the ways in which creating UI feels to him like conducting an orchestra, something clicked.

Change the way you look for people

Despite the positive impact career-changers bring, many are overlooked by traditional screening methods. How do you make an environment that is not only open to career-changers, but actively seeks them out? You change the way you look for people — both principles and tactics:

  • Prioritize people with a history of trying and learning new things. Look for personal reinvention in the people you screen. Have they made career transitions before? Have they gone back to school? Do they have active extracurricular interests or volunteerism? Do these patterns show up over and over again on their resume? The pattern of tackling new things is as important as the specifics they’ve learned along the way (and jobs that include only fixed mindset language fill 11 times more slowly).
  • Hire people for what they can do, not only for what they’ve done. At Textio, every interview includes a take-home component that strongly mirrors the work you will do on the job. According to the role you’re interviewing for, the problem is the same for everyone. Offering take-homes that require learning something new is a great opportunity to see how people approach the challenge.
  • Language matters, so get your communication right. This is a religion for us at Textio. We are intentional in our job posts, emails, phone calls, and other ways of talking to people who consider working here. We start off with a clear and foundational company value about hiring people with a history of active and challenging learning, so we make sure that we communicate that value loudly and often. (Yes, we use our own technology to help us along the way.)

I love coming to work every day with all these career-changers. There is something special about the hunger for personal reinvention that they bring. That hunger reveals both an appetite for risk and the genuine openness that is required to learn in a new environment.

It may derive from my own personal story, but this is by far my favorite thing about the team we have hired. Eager learners who seek out changes in course are open, creative, and they substantially change the work your team can do.

We’re hiring!

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