Career Coach Emily Lamia On Finding a Career After Politics
Career coach Emily Lamia has been helping people grow and develop in their careers for over a decade. She has supported countless people to network more effectively, interview more confidently, and think more strategically about how to get where they want to go. Emily worked on political campaigns, the Democratic National Committee, and was the Executive Director of GAIN before she founded Pivot Journeys in 2016 to provide professionals with the strategies and support that they need to find meaningful work and to empower them to be inspired, engaged, and effective on the job.
1. What led you to start Pivot Journeys?
I’ve always loved helping people grow and develop in their careers. I was always someone others came to when they needed help updating their resume, or negotiating a job offer, so it felt really natural to transition into the coaching and talent development space.
Additionally, after pivoting from politics to general nonprofit management, I realized how many people need support navigating their careers – regardless of industry, background, and career stage. The coaching and programs I’ve offered over the last 5 years have organically evolved to meet people where they are, with different types of support – coaching, workshops, group programs and retreats.
2. You have personal experience making a career change from politics. What was the most difficult challenge you faced during that transition?
I think one of the most challenging parts about transitioning from politics can be finding a role that’s the right level in other industries. If you’ve been on campaigns, you’re used to getting a lot of responsibility at a young age and diving right in. In many other industries, you don’t end up with that level of oversight and management that early on in your career – so it can be tricky to find a role that’s not too senior, but also not too junior.
This was something I experienced. When I transitioned to general nonprofits, I had previously been the Executive Director of Democratic GAIN, and while GAIN was a small organization, I was responsible for so much – overall financial management and budget, board of director engagement, working closely with our Development Director on fundraising, directing the programming, facilitating the trainings, doing the 1:1 coaching with job seekers, writing our communications and much more. I found that I was going to have to take a step down in overall responsibilities because the roles that appealed to me were just way too far out of my reach.
I ended up in a role that was much too junior when I first transitioned out of politics. Though I did move into a more senior role less than 6 months into the job, I initially had to take that step down in responsibilities to get my foot in the door.
3. When someone who works in politics decides they want to shift their career, where should they start?
I think I’d give the same advice to anyone looking to shift their career from any industry, and that would be to use ‘design thinking’ tools and strategies to make the shift.
Borrowing from Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ Designing your Life approach, I often advise people looking to pivot to first start with ideating. What are 3+ types of roles or functions of interest (like marketing, or program management, or teaching), and what are 3+ types of sectors or industries of interest (like healthcare, or sustainable product companies, or foundations)?
Once you’ve got your ideas, start prototyping. Prototypes are small, fast, easy to implement experiments that help you get information and quickly iterate on your ideas to get to a better outcome.
In a job search, prototyping can look like attending online events (like webinars on sustainable production or trends in healthcare), or doing an activity that would be part of your daily work (like creating a course syllabus to see how you’d enjoy that part of teaching). These experiences can help you check in with your gut on your interest levels.
And secondly – maybe most importantly – prototyping is talking to people and networking. People usually think of networking as: ‘hey I’m looking for a job, do you have any advice?’ But prototyping conversations are a bit different. It’s a subtle but powerful shift, which sounds like: ‘I’m looking at a few different options for what comes next. I’m looking at A, B and C. You know a lot about A – can I chat with you more about A to learn a bit more so I can decide if A is where I want to focus my search?’
So, no matter the pivot you’re trying to make, get genuinely curious about your ideas and explore them by prototyping.
4. What is the most common mistake you see when people are approaching a career change, particularly coming from the political space?
Not effectively preparing for their conversations and interviews. I’ve seen it again and again — preparation and practice is the whole ball game.
Networking conversations are so critical to hearing about new opportunities (and impressing potential future hiring managers), so polishing your story and transferable experiences is so important. Most people don’t treat networking conversations as the awesome opportunities that they are to uncover hidden jobs or design your own job.
The same goes with interviewing — you have to work harder to effectively translate what it means to work in politics to other industries.
5. Why is it important for professionals to use career coaching or other career development services as they change careers?
Not everyone needs or wants a career coach – and that’s ok!
If you’re feeling stuck, or need a sounding board, or someone who can see things you might be missing, coaching and other career development support can be really powerful. A coach can also provide structure and accountability for you to make a change.
6. How have you seen career development change over the years?
The emphasis on learning and development and culture-building work – particularly in the corporate world – has increased dramatically.
Even in a pandemic and challenging job market, companies and organizations are seeing the importance of creating and sustaining great cultures and are more willing to set aside resources for it in their budgets. Effective leaders see the direct connection between the quality of their culture, talent and how engaged employees are to their team and organization’s KPIs (key performance indicators).
There are so many things that organizations need to do in order to build and maintain great cultures, but at the very least, people are seeing how important employee engagement and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is. Without it, you’re missing out on productivity, revenue, retention, attracting great talent and so much more!
7. What are strategies that everyone who is considering changing careers should be doing, but may not be thinking about?
I think most people initially jump straight into working on their resume. When I work with people who are thinking about making a bigger change, we often don’t get to the resume work until at least ½ way through our work!
I always start with a strengths-based tool to help people think about their strengths in a way they may never have thought about before. The Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment (it used to be called StrengthsFinder) helps you discover and think through your natural strengths and talents. The unique report tells you your top talents — themes like Futuristic, Discipline, Empathy, Competition – which can provide ideas of other types of roles that could be a great fit. And it helps identify the language, (language is so powerful!), to communicate transferable skills.
8. Do you have a favorite success story of someone in politics who changed careers? (can remain anonymous)
So many stories!
A few years ago, I worked with a woman who had spent nearly her whole career (10+ yrs) at a political consulting firm and was looking to shift out of politics. She landed a great role at a major east coast university in their communications department. A year later she came back to me for support around her graduate school applications. She was accepted and is now getting an MS in Engineering Management and loving it. Talk about a change! It’s been really fun to watch her career trajectory evolve over the last few years.
Inspired by this interview or considering a career change? Check out our robust list of political and advocacy job boards here!