As a young child my dream job was owning a sweet shop, simply because I wanted my personal supply of fizzy cola bottles. But as a I grew older and wiser, and after watching far too many episodes of Blue Peter my decision was made. Wanting to become the first ever Asian and disabled TV presenter, and after bagging my very own coveted Blue Peter badge as well as work experience at the BBC, I started to investigate careers in journalism. Before long I was working part-time for a local newspaper (albeit in the sales team) and had also blagged several guest appearances on hospital radio.
Then as I was about to complete my university applications and like so many other Asian youngsters my head started pulling me towards Medicine or Law. In my defence, having spent much of my childhood in hospital I developed a genuine interest in the work done by doctors (indeed I still do….). The endless appointments and multiple operations, however, also confirmed that I can’t stand the sight of blood. So, Law suddenly seemed like a very attractive proposition, especially because my younger brother wanted to train as a solicitor and the idea of getting to the finish line before him also proved a significant motivating factor. Call it healthy sibling rivalry if you will.
Those of you who are already familiar with my professional background will know that my legal career was pretty straightforward. I secured a training contract with magic circle firm Linklaters during my penultimate year at the University of Warwick where I studied Law. I qualified into Linklaters’ corporate team and as I slowly approached three years’ PQE my previous interest in journalism re-emerged (no doubt partly driven by working on one too many hostile takeovers!). Sadly, however, I’d left becoming Blue Peter’s first Asian presenter too late – that accolade went to Konnie Huq who joined the show in 1997 (the same year I started my training contract) and eventually went onto become the show’s longest serving female host.
Konnie may have inadvertently robbed me of my dreams but I didn’t let this put me off. I quit law in June 2002 and enrolled on the London School of Journalism’s summer school and within weeks of completing the intensive six-week course I started at The Lawyer magazine (FYI – I secured the role after a speculative application). The reason my switch from law to journalism was so slick is down to the following factors:
- I had absolute clarity on what direction I wanted my career to go in.
- I embraced the idea of changing careers and felt excited by it (that’s despite constantly worrying that others will think I failed as a lawyer).
- I did my homework and then planned the move with meticulous precision. That included researching relevant courses, speaking to contacts and doing some proper budgeting as I quickly worked out that I’d need to take a substantial pay cut.
- I played to my strengths. Law gifted me with plenty of transferrable skills such as researching, writing and time management but most significantly industry knowledge. Indeed, for any lawyers considering changing careers I’d recommend exploring non-lawyer jobs in the legal sector as part of the process. There are plenty to choose from – just have a look around you.
- I invested time and money to close my skills deficit. Yes, I had plenty of transferrable skills, but I decided that to seal the deal I needed to add more relevant experience to my CV, especially as my BBC work experience was by then out of date. Also, completing a journalism course added more weight to my career change ‘narrative’.
I’m really glad I found the confidence to pursue a career in journalism and still have very fond memories of the day one of my stories made the front page for the first time. I’m also extremely proud of playing a pivotal role in the launch of The Lawyer’s student title Lawyer2B and thankful for the opportunities I was given to meet some awe-inspiring individuals and in turn quickly build my network of senior industry contacts.
I did of course toy with the idea of moving onto a national newspaper like so many of my former colleagues but ultimately decided against if after a contact compared the culture on one news desk to a snake pit. What’s more, I valued my work/life balance too much.
Once ruling out a move to the nationals and feeling like I’d plateaued at The Lawyer I went back to the drawing board. As I’d developed a keen interest in all-things careers, I started looking into graduate recruitment (and some PR) roles within law firms with limited success. However, a couple of rejections didn’t put me off and I continued my search by registering with a further agency.
The directors of the agency were impressed with my CV, but they also cottoned onto the fact that as a legal journalist my contacts list would be perfect for switching to recruitment. And there you have it. I’d changed careers again but this time more by accident than design, which goes to show the importance of building in a degree of flexibility in every job search.
If you’d like to find out what happened next then please sign up for my FREE fireside Zoom chat with CheekyLittleCareers’ associate executive coach Matt Verrell who like me is also a career changer on 9 September at 6.30pm. Advanced booking is a must.