Starting Over While Grieving, a Q&A with Sam & how she's navigating her career journey in a new city
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Samantha Hoar’s advertising career brought her from England all the way to New York. From small boutique agencies to industry giants, national newspapers and even a stint at the United Nations, her writing and creative ability have taken her to some interesting places. The work also burnt her out. After a tough few years, including a rapid succession of close bereavements, Sam regrouped, moving to the Puget Sound for a fresh start. While Sam’s professional network was useful in the past, she needed to shore up her PNW contacts. And with a new baby to care for, she had a new set of responsibilities as she considered her road back to the workplace.
You wanted to investigate expanding your role beyond copy into a content strategist capacity; what led you to that decision? Did you invest in any formal training?
I’d been moving in the direction of content and content strategy for a while. As a copywriter and creative director it was a small part of my job that I had enjoyed, so I wanted to test the waters and see if I should pursue it. I also thought it would be a good way to get up to speed in a related area.
But in truth, I’m torn about next steps and its the fault of The Swing Shift! I love writing about science, and while my work has been predominantly in that realm, over the duration of Career Catalyst I’ve realized I’d like to take my skills and explore further afield. I have a masters in science communication from Imperial College, London, specializing in radio and I’m itching to combine my experience in advertising with my audio production skills and try something new. I’m especially interested in Voice User Interface Design; it’s at the intersection of many areas of my experience from psychology, human behavior and audio design to writing and technology.
As for training, I am committed to continued learning, I believe it’s essential whatever your job; it keeps your brain ticking over and the creative juices flowing. I’m like the shark who can’t stop swimming, if you stop its all over!
I’ve been fortunate that most companies I’ve worked with have supported my professional development. Over the years I’ve completed a digital marketing certificate with the General Assembly, attended amazing conferences (👏 for the 3% Movement) taken classes at top universities with Coursera and even kayaked the Prince William Sound in Alaska on a leadership skills course with NOLS. Then, of course, there is the The Swing Shift Career Catalyst, which has been a game changer for me.
You’ve mentioned you’re especially attuned to organizational fit after some past experiences proved to be cultural misfires for you. What did you look for as you assessed opportunities?
For me, it’s all about the shared values. I’ve worked with some wonderful, talented people over the years, but time after time I’ve seen them sidelined because they didn’t fit in; whether it was gender, age, changing life circumstances or simply not enjoying what was considered to be the culture. I want to work in an environment where people are truly valued, diversity and collaboration are top of mind, engagement and curiosity are encouraged, kindness and consideration of quality of life is real. There are so many inspiring people out there, life is too short to waste time in a job where you’re not valued.
How did you address your break as you looked at jobs; did you go into any detail, or did you finesse your story?
For me, it's been less about having a gap than learning how my skills transfer to the West coast. In NY, I freelanced on and off, including a really successful project at the Washington Post BrandStudio (Pressboard called it “brand journalism at its best”). For advertising jobs, especially creative roles, people want to see your work, be confident in your creative ability and know you’ll get the job done well.
Seattle feels very different. I arrived in the depths of winter and in the throes of brutal morning sickness. I was grieving (which is a job in itself) and trying to find my feet. It was at this point I took a step back and decided it was the right opportunity to focus on switching things up, what did I really want to do? And then I hit the wall that several of my fellow classmates have also experienced, “you’re great but…”.
In part, it was because I hadn’t figured out how to translate my NY experience, I wasn’t clear on what direction I wanted to go in and I was struggling to reframe my challenges into something positive. Turns out, all I needed to do was be brief, to the point and move on to my unique skills and how I wanted to use them. It was a ridiculously simple solution!
You’re currently consulting as a remote employee focused on content for a SaaS startup. How’s that going? Are you able to use your new and past skills?
It’s a baptism of fire but so far so good! My career began at an extremely successful, privately owned agency and I was always inspired by their nimbleness, so a start up seemed like an interesting next step. It’s a steep learning curve for sure, but I can feel things starting to fall into place. I’m using all my existing skills from advertising; writing and research through to concepting and more. I’m using my biology degree and I’m developing some brand new skills while I’m at it.
I’m certainly getting a kick out of it. Plus, the people are amazing. Their values are a game changer for me; they’re smart, supportive and deeply invested in their business but not to the detriment of their quality of life. Whether it turns into a full time role, or I go on to something else, it is an incredible opportunity and learning experience.
As part of the Spring 2019 Career Catalyst, what was your biggest takeaway? Did anything surprise you as you went through the program?
The whole Career Catalyst has been a revelation. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I walked in optimistic but with reservations. Two minutes into the first session I realized Nancy and Sarah were all business and absolutely knew their s**t. I did a secret air punch. But it was more than that, the two of them have been so thoughtful and deliberate about every detail, from the people they’ve introduced us to, to the content. It is spot on.
My top highlights/takeaways:
My classmates: An amazing group of talented, smart, and deeply engaged, ambitious women. Every week, I was astonished at the range of accomplishments; PhD’s, MBAs, lawyers, aid workers, teachers, multigenerational carers, travelers, business consultants, career consultants, parents, project managers, games pioneers and more. The talent was ridiculous. But even more than that, I felt supported, part of a team and really uplifted by the whole experience.
Keita Williams of Success Bully, was on point for me. Timing, connecting with what really matters, she showed us how valuable our time is and how easily squandered. And I realized, I had spent too long hammering away at a computer trying to get a job and not doing enough fun stuff. Using the Pomodoro technique I hope to make time for work, quality family time and play!
Lydia Frank at Payscale was also illuminating. I was simultaneously fascinated, infuriated and inspired by the employment and pay statistics she shared. It’s definitely armed me well for future negotiations
Bridget Quigg’s improvisation workshop was a hoot but also very powerful in understanding how to manage behavior (your own and others), uplift colleagues as well as play to your strengths.
Lastly, the need to be open and unapologetic about my needs and desires was a big lesson. Nancy and Sarah along with their guests were brilliant about hammering that point home. If a company is going to discriminate against you for having a baby, why’d you want to work for them anyway?
The Career Catalyst has been a revelation and deeply inspiring. I’m really excited about what’s next, not just for me, but all my course mates too. Thank you Nancy and Sarah, it’s been absolutely brilliant.