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Six steps to plan for a second career

Almost 20 years ago I made the decision that I would ‘one day’ pivot to my second career.

I was born a forward planner, which is why media that required significant forward planning like magazines was perfect for me.

But you don’t have to have planned 20 years ahead.

You can start working on your second career now for next month or next year.

I have always treated my career like I would a business because ultimately careers are really small businesses with you as the CEO of your career.

And just like a business, revenues need to continue to grow each year and training and diversifying encourages opportunity.

Every business needs a vision and a plan.

You need to know where you want to go before you can work out how to get there.

What do you want to achieve with your career?

The solution to that question is one that only you can solve.

It can help to break the question down into timelines: where would you like to be in a year’s time, five years’ time, 10 years’ time?

Half the people I mentor have a career plan and half have no idea what they want to do next.

Unless you are an extremely lucky person and find yourself in the right place at the right time being offered a spectacular job that you didn’t know you wanted, you are unlikely to realise your potential without at least the most basic plan.

The thing about life is that there will be unexpected developments that will tempt you from your career path: children, study, travel, an industry in crisis.

But it is possible to come back from any distraction if you remain focused on where you want your career to ultimately land.

Marina Go addresses the national conference. Photo: Meg Keene.

I know it’s possible because I came back and was able to keep progressing my career at least three times: from maternity leave at a time in our history when employers did not want mothers back, after I had taken a year off to study and from an unceremonious redundancy.

One of the key strategies is to maintain your industry networks, even while on maternity leave or while travelling for an extended period of time. The internet is a powerful tool for this.

Check in every now and then and remain in the minds of the few people who may assist in your return to your chosen career path.

It really still is about who you know. work out who you need to know and use your media training to find.

My second favourite strategy is to maintain your skill level when you have been out of the industry for a period of time, or upskill if the industry is moving ahead of you.

That might involve taking a few short courses or simply meeting with people who can inform you of what you need to be across before you head back into it.

And then there’s also the strategy of finding yourself a mentor who can help you workshop your next career step.

It really can help.

Having a clear end goal helped me to figure out the steps I needed to take to progress my first career – my media career, in order to be on the best possible path to achieving my second career.

I had a long-term plan bubbling alongside a series of shorter-term goals.

I signed up for the Australian Institute of Company Directors course in 2003, after the MBA I had just completed got me dreaming about a future second career in corporate governance as a non-executive director.

Discussions with board recruiters over the years confirmed that one of the surest paths to boards, if you are a woman, is via the CEO route.

So before I could become a non-executive director I knew that I would need to run a business.

My career progression to that point had been journalist, editor, publisher.

I had to plan for the step in between before I would be able to transition to a board career.

The stages of second career planning go something like this:

One: Understand your passion

For me, it was going to be vital to do something ‘next’ that could make a difference.

I was passionate about equality and wanted to be in a position where I could make a difference for women.

I determined that if I could sit on the boards of companies and influence the conversation at that level then I would be able to walk the talk.

And that was originally what drove me to plan for a second career as a company director.

Everyone’s passions are different and passion can’t be faked.

Ask yourself: If I wasn’t a journalist or media executive, what would I want to be doing?

The answer may be different from when you were 20 to when you are 40.

For example, I used to say that if I wasn’t a journalist I would be a dancer.

Not a practical second career for me now so I looked at what would make me want to get out of bed and embrace work.

I landed on a sense of purpose as my driver.

Maybe thinking it through in that way would work for you too.

Two: Be honest with yourself

Accept what you are good at and acknowledge where you might need to upskill.

There is no point in setting yourself a second career goal that requires more experience or training if you are not prepared to put in the time.

I am asked often how I managed to break through onto boards when others with my background have not had the same level of success.

My answer is that I worked hard at it for more than a decade to position my experience, education and skills for my second career.

You have to be prepared to do what is necessary to give yourself the best chance of success.

For example, when I was appointed to my first board chair role I immediately enrolled in the Role of the Chairman course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

I wanted to make sure that I was able to perform the role with the right level of competency.

Three: Upskill

Be aware of industry trends and get ahead of the curve by upskilling before you are forced to.

If you have planned ahead and thinking about your second career goal you will have worked out where you need to upskill in order to bridge capability gaps.

On my way to achieving my goal of landing a CEO role, the media industry took a sudden move towards digital media.

I realised that in order to make myself a more attractive prospect for a media CEO role I would have to become skilled in digital media.

So I made the move from print to pure-play digital media within the next five years and that was critical to my appointment as CEO of Private Media a few years later.

Four: Learn from the experience

Every time you make a move learn as much as you can from the people around you.

Speak to people who are already in the role that could be your next step either at that company or another company.

Find out about their experience and skill set.

An instrumental person in my switch from editor to publisher was a man called John Motion.

John was the General manager of ACP magazines when I was editor of Dolly, all those years ago.

I worked closely with John on the Dolly spin-off businesses like Dolly books and Dolly video.

He managed the licensing arrangements and I soaked up as much information from him as I could.

He taught me so much about what matters in business dealings.

As a result of my interest in that part of the business, he came to believe that I had business smarts and years down the line he gave me my first senior executive role as Publisher of Monthly magazines at Pacific Magazines.

Five: Timing

As the saying goes, timing really is everything so be ready to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Also, you want to be in control of the timing of your second career move so stay aware of the market and make each move on your terms.

I have seen a lot of careers stalled because they were not prepared to make a move when there was an opportunity to do so, instead choosing to believe that they would always be valued by their current employer.

I timed my move from executive to non-executive career perfectly.

A move can also mean within your own company.

If there is an opportunity to progress towards your second career think about taking it sooner rather than later.

You might need to back yourself in the process.

Far too many talented women have told me all the reasons why they don’t think they are ready for the next opportunity but there will be just as many reasons why you are ready.

You don’t need to be 100% ready.

You need to trust your capacity for learning on the job and just say yes.

I built an entire career by stepping out of my comfort zone, saying yes and then working it out.

Any second career will likely start that way too.

As a company director with now six years of listed company experience, I learn something new every day.

Six: Advice

Seek guidance on your next step from a mentor or career expert.

Their perspective can be invaluable.

I have a number of trusted advisers that I continue to turn to when I am confronted with an issue or event that I hadn’t previously experienced.

They have been through what I am going through and help me navigate my way to safe ground.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

At the time that I was offered my first CEO role, I was offered two other roles at other media companies.

With my eye on my second career goal, I sought the advice of a wiser, more experienced mentor.

She helped me to think through the options until it became clear that the role that I took offered the best path for later advancement to a non-executive career.

It wasn’t the highest paid and it didn’t offer the highest profile or even the best chance for networking.

But it was the right next step for my goal.

If you are keen on a second career – and I can highly recommend it – think about what you eventually want to do with your life first so that you embrace change for more than just the sake of it.

Marina Go is Chair of Adore Beauty and Netball Australia and a non-executive director on the boards of Energy Australia, 7-Eleven, Autosports Group and Transurban. This is an edited version of her address to the 2022 Women in Media national conference.


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