This Career Changer Proves It's Never Too Late to Start Back at the Bottom

Vanessa De Luca, Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine, is a career changer through and through.

De Luca was 30 when she decided her current path wasn’t working. Forced to start at the bottom, a former Macy’s store manager and retail and furniture buyer, bravely and confidently took a job as an editorial assistant at Glamour, where she was determined to make an early impression. And, indeed, De Luca did just that.

I had the pleasure of chatting with her recently about how she made her challenging transition, what advice she has for others seeking a major change, and why networking is an essential component of every professional’s career path.

To get the job at Glamour, De Luca put her past experience into a story. Because she explains, “people had a hard time believing I wanted to start from scratch,” she leveraged her retail background as a fresh perspective she’d offer the new gig. Then, not wanting to be “editorial assistant forever,” she got promoted twice in three years, constantly reminding herself of past successes whenever she began to doubt herself.

I asked her specifically about starting over and working with people a lot younger than her, and De Luca stressed the importance of learning.

Another thing De Luca did along the way was stay stimulated. Boredom is inevitable, and you can either allow it to creep in, take over, and drive you crazy, or you can manage it. Every time she found herself starting to feel bored, she “made people aware.” Subsequently, she’d be given more work and greater responsibilities (not to mention promotions!).

It’s this candid communication that De Luca has continually found worthwhile—it’s also something she learned from her mother at an early age. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” De Luca’s mom would say, encouraging her daughter to always put herself in touch with others who may be of assistance in some way. “The more people who know [what you’re looking for]—the right people who know—can help you strategize, think through it.”

Which is, in fact, a perfect segue to De Luca’s golden networking advice: “It’s important to put yourself in places where people will have an opportunity to get to know you and what you stand for.” What you’ll find is that, “there’s always somebody to help you along the way.”

And that’s pretty much how Vanessa De Luca rose to her success as editor-in-chief of a major women’s magazine that’s been around for nearly 50 years and has a circulation well over a million. She (I’d say simply, but the ambition and dedication she dedicated along the way would refute that description) worked her way up, and up—and up—always throwing her hat in the ring when opportunities presented themselves and never allowing herself to get stuck.

Making a decision to change careers—regardless of how old you are—isn’t easy, not on top of your day job. But it can be done. “If your mind is set on it,” De Luca notes, you’ll make it happen. In many ways, just knowing you’re ready for something new means your course is already in motion.

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