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Pieces of advice for your unconventional career path

January 29, 2024

Remember when selecting your college major was meant to cement your professional direction for the next 50 years?

It still makes sense to so many students and post-grads every year—but why? We as humans are apt to change in every area of our lives, so it makes sense that our chosen career paths may skew from the linear. But every year, graduating students, young professionals, or those starving for a vocational change are reticent from shifting course, believing that the road less traveled may not lead to a practical destination.

Well, good news: The Martin Group is filled with wildly talented staffers who’ve changed majors, shuffled careers, and found it all functional—and absolutely necessary—to their current employment. We didn’t all major in marketing, link up with an agency, then live happily ever after. We’ve worked in a plethora of positions across disconnected industries, all to arrive in our present positions with a wealth of diversified knowledge to lend to our clients.

Has it all been incredibly confusing? Sometimes. But for those of us with dizzying and disorienting resumés, we now have experiences with which to advise those hesitant to zig, zag, and zip toward a professional existence they may not be able to conceptualize with their current background.

Here are five suggestions, and the backstories that lend weight to each. 

Why not you?

It’s one thing to say a professional journey doesn’t have to be linear. It’s another to have a twisting, turning trek guided by belief in oneself—and live to tell the tale.

Jennifer Hunold boasts such a story, as her path to The Martin Group was anything but conventional. After a BFA in Painting and Drawing (University of Iowa) and an MFA in Studio Art (University at Albany), she transitioned from career aspirations in higher ed to temporary stops in everything from medical transport and data entry to customer service and business development. But along the way, something happened; she realized her unconventional path was lined with myriad experiences that, unbeknownst to her, had prepped her for a career in the shapeshifting world of marketing.

Now general manager of The Martin Group’s Albany office and more than a decade into a career she never saw coming, she can reflect on the confusion some may feel when things don’t go as planned—but has seen what can happen when one embraces unforeseen opportunities. These instances can lead to great things, and she encourages all to be confident, unafraid of risks, and open to what the most disjointed professional trajectories can deliver.    

“It’s easy to see our failings and why we aren’t good enough [to handle changes] in life,” says Hunold. “But what have you already done that you thought you couldn’t? Think about that, then give your new thing a shot.”

Ask questions

When she was a graduating high school senior, Shannon Brown had the answer for her eventual career: she’d be an orthodontist—albeit one who was not great at science.

Did her dental dreams come to fruition? No. She left her pre-med track at Canisius University, then transferred to Buffalo State University to become a registered dietitian—which didn’t pan out, either. Luckily, she took plenty of communications classes in-between lessons about nutrition and portion control. These teachings eventually merged with a genuine interest in social media and led her to freelance work with e-commerce and real estate clients from New York to North Carolina.

In early 2023, she joined The Martin Group as a senior social media manager in charge of managing social media comms and the agency’s growing influencer program for national and Buffalo-area clients. Not exactly a straight line from incisors to influencers, but it didn’t have to be. For Brown, finding answers along the way helped her arrive at her current destination, and she encourages all to find their way in the same inquisitive manner.   

“Ask as many questions as you can, even if they seem stupid,” says Brown. “I learned very quickly—but maybe not quickly enough—that asking questions is key to success, especially when you’re still building up your experience.”

Invest in relationships

An unconventional professional journey doesn’t always take the shape of a patchwork quilt or a series of fits and starts. Sometimes, it can be a consistent narrative—until new characters arrive and flip the script.

Melissa Ortiz earned a BFA in Graphic Design from SUNY Oswego. Instead of pursuing a career in that field after graduation, she instead settled into service positions with her high school and college employer, Wegmans. Years into her employment, she was led to a special assignment from the company’s creative department, which allowed her to utilize her graphic design education and work on projects with one of the company’s partnering agencies, The Martin Group.

From that point, Ortiz was able to form relationships with on-site personnel. When the time was right, these connections enabled her to jump from Wegmans to The Martin Group, where she’s since ascended to her current position as art director, working with the Rochester-based Wegmans packaging team. None of this would’ve happened if Ortiz didn’t extend herself to others and earn their trust in her abilities.

“Believe others when they believe in you and what you can bring to the table,” says Ortiz. “Share your goals, share your story, and listen to others’ stories as well. You never know when someone can help your story—or when you could possibly help theirs.”

Always be learning

Do plenty of young musicians have lavish dreams of rock n’ roll stardom? Yes.

Do those same musicians eventually transition to working for a marquee-market sports talk radio station, pivot to a career in higher ed, then zig again into the realm of public relations? Not so much—unless you’re Chris Colton.

The former Fender-wielding vocalist of The Great Unwashed was once laser-focused on either a career as a touring musician or one meandering at some level of the music business. More than a decade later, things had gone in a wildly different direction. Open to where opportunities led him, Colton had racked up jobs managing the website for New York’s massively influential WFAN; overseeing editorial and social content for the station’s growing digital enterprise; producing audiobooks for people with visual impairment; and heading up communications and marketing for Albany Law School.

The transitions between these endeavors may seem dizzying—and they were. But for Colton, all provided educational opportunities and skills development critical to informing the work he now does as The Martin Group’s public relations director. Being open to these types of lessons is critical for anyone who’s not only interested in what they can do, but what they could do, too.   

“Education can’t stop at graduation,” says Colton. “Be curious about the skills you don’t know. Commit time and energy into creative endeavors, areas of interest, or even weaknesses. Only good things can come from being a lifelong learner.” 

Avoid comparisons—to anyone

Every professional journey is not the same. This post has established that, but every entry has featured some version of a long road and the many turns it can take.

However, for some, it’s not how long the journey has taken; it’s the obstacles encountered, no matter the elapsed time. That’s the story of every college student and young professional who came of age amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s central to the bio of Madeline Rickett.

The Canisius University alum elected to finish her degree early and graduate in December 2019—only to soon enter a world where time stopped. Luckily, she had two things to fall back on: one, she was a manager of Starbucks inside a Buffalo-area Target, so she had a necessary position while other companies were not hiring or cutting back; and two, in the summer before the pandemic hit, she’d interned for M&T Bank’s corporate communications department and worked regularly with The Martin Group’s public relations team.

Her situation certainly wasn’t ideal and wasn’t what she envisioned when she earned early graduation. But instead of lamenting her fate, she earned valuable managerial experience with a Fortune 500 company, then used her internship to eventually become a public relations coordinator (and recently promoted to PR specialist) with The Martin Group. Looking back at the experience, Rickett believes everything happened the way it should’ve, and stresses that new college grads shouldn’t fret about fulfilling an assumed narrative.

It’s all unknown—so just enjoy the journey.

“Everyone has a different path and it’s okay not to have your life together—whatever that’s supposed to mean,” says Rickett. “Growing up is realizing no one actually knows what they’re doing and that everyone is still just trying to figure it all out.”

Want to learn more about the hobbies, tastes, and various journeys within The Martin Group? Meet the whole team here.

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