Hiring for Perspective: The Risks and Rewards of Changing Careers

From teacher to analyst to UX designer, my journey to product design was challenging, risky, and ultimately more rewarding than I could've imagined.

Elle Patterson

The world of technology looked very different when I graduated college, a day that somehow feels like both yesterday and a lifetime ago. Smartphones had just entered the mass consumer market, though few people I knew could afford one or even saw the need over their flip phones.

My friends who took jobs in tech were universally computer science majors. They were lovely and brilliant people who were long-accustomed to being labeled as “engi-nerds" by their peers. I had never heard of a “UX Designer” and it definitely wasn’t a field you could study (at least at my college). 

Needless to say, a tech job was not on my radar. 

But I found myself facing a wholly unanticipated new challenge upon graduation. The financial markets collapsed during my senior year, leaving more than 60 percent of my classmates without job offers. I was one of the lucky ones: I had landed a coveted position as an elementary teacher with Teach for America. 

By no means was this the job I expected to have in my first year out of college, especially as a Hotel Administration major, and it was not a field I knew I would stay in long-term. But the perspective and tenacity that I gained through this experience will serve me for the rest of my life.

I could never have guessed the path my life took in the ensuing decade after leaving the classroom. I made two lateral career moves: first as a real estate analyst within the hotel industry, a job that was closely aligned with my major, and then as a strategic account manager, working to improve Internet access to rural public schools throughout the country. 

While both were excellent jobs that helped grow my skill set in numerous ways, I knew they were ultimately not aligned with my long-term goals. I knew I wanted to be creative, use my critical thinking skills, work in a high-growth field, and build something useful. 

UX Design, by this time a well-regarded and highly sought-after field, checked all those boxes. So I enrolled in an intensive boot camp to learn the basics of UX. While it was an all-consuming experience, it only confirmed my decision that UX was the perfect fit for me.

This is not to say that such a massive career change came without considerable risk. What if no one took a chance on me - a 30-something with a gap on my resume and very little related experience? Could I bear the bruised ego that might come with starting from the “bottom?”

To tell the truth, my fears were not only realized, but the risks proved to be even greater than I could have anticipated. Only a few months after completing my boot camp, Covid struck. 

Workers across the globe lost their jobs as their employers made considerable cuts to stay afloat. My timing could hardly have been worse. Not only was I competing for jobs with the standard pool of applicants and recent grads, but I was also competing with highly-qualified and experienced professionals now reentering the job market. 

I took whatever jobs I could get to keep my skills sharp while applying to full-time positions. Until I came across an intriguing post for a job with an IoT company that encouraged recent graduates and career changers to apply. I couldn’t believe it. Did they really want people with backgrounds as unconventional as mine? 

 It turned out, this wasn’t a typo. As I learned during the interview process and later as a full-time employee, Leverege does value those who have worked in diverse sets of industries, juggled different responsibilities, and dared to make a major life change.

Many of my coworkers turned out to have similar stories to mine. There was the musician-turned-startup founder, the academic-turned-developer, the developer-turned-designer, and the lawyer-turned-operations manager, to name a few. All are brilliant, passionate folks who bore considerable risk to change careers and start fresh. And as a result, bring a palpable enthusiasm and fresh, innovative perspective to their roles.

To any career-changers reading this, I hope I can impart a few words of encouragement. Even if the road is rockier than you expect (trust me, I’ve been there), you CAN do this. 

While it is true that breaking into a new role or industry will take considerable time and effort, remember that you’re not starting from scratch. The background, skills, and enthusiasm that you bring from your past roles will make you a more well-rounded, valuable employee. 

Seek out companies that truly value diversity and see your unique background and perspective as a benefit. As the tech industry moves at a faster and faster pace and workers need to continuously learn new skills and even “reinvent” themselves to keep up, more and more companies have embraced this mindset. I can speak from personal experience that Leverege is one such company and it just happens to be hiring!

Elle Patterson

Product Designer II

Elle uses her background in the education, business, and non-profit sectors to create products and experiences that are intuitive, ethically-minded, and valuable for all stakeholders. Offline, she is an avid traveler, athlete, and cook, as well as an aspiring musician dreaming of bluegrass greatness.

View Profile

Explore More Stories