Chris Reimer on Making a Mid-Life Career Switch

Choosing to make a major career transition is not an easy feat and few know this better than Chris Reimer.

A former accountant turned social media expert, Chris has a long and winding career journey that’s taken him from crunching numbers to – at one point – crafting Pinterest-worthy pictures of lattes for Kaldi’s Coffee. With more than 50,000 followers on Twitter, Chris has cemented his reputation as an authority in all things digital marketing.

We spoke with Chris about what influenced his decision to make the switch, the obstacles he faced and advice for those looking to do the same.

How long have you lived in St. Louis? What do you do?
“I have lived in St. Louis all my life – 45 years. In my current role at Maryville University, I direct digital strategy, which includes social media, video production and website content.”

You’ve experienced a very non-linear career path, transitioning from accounting to marketing. How did you realize you were ready for such a big career change?
“It started with a business I created called Rizzo Tees. I needed a way to get the word out about the shirts, and I realized I had the options of TV ads, print ads or online. I didn’t have a Twitter account when the Rizzo Tees site went live, so I decided to join and start using it. Once I became active, I used it pretty heavily to market the t-shirts and people started buying them. I gained a good understanding of social media, and people started asking me questions about social media. Soon I was asked to give a presentation on the topic. It was that day that I realized I had found something that was a better fit for me.

After that, I met with other people and realized that I could “do” social media for a living, but it still took me a while to consider the notion that a change could be made.”

What were some challenging obstacles you faced in the transition?
“One of the things I had to consider was that I was starting from the beginning in a completely new industry. The first job I took in social media came with a significant pay cut. Even through it all, my wife said, “I think you should do this.” I’m so thankful for her support because I made the transition and never had to look back.

Another thing I can say is that jobs in marketing are a little less stable than jobs in accounting. Marketing can be a fickle, difficult industry. I think, just in general, that holding a job for a long time in accounting is easier than holding a job for a long time in marketing. When times get tough, sometimes marketing people are the first to go. I’ve already had this experience in this industry, so I’m constantly aware of how fickle the marketing industry can be.”

What advice do you have for someone thinking about making a career change?
“Whether someone’s making a lateral transition or planning to move up, they have to prove to people that they’re the right person for them. Demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about and are familiar with the latest trends in your target industry.  Avail yourself of all the information you can find.

Remember to find time to step away from your desk and meet people. I love Venture Café for meeting people and making connections. When you’re making new connections, have patience and don’t expect an immediate payoff. Reaching out to people with good intentions can make a big difference. You want to meet someone new and help them out – when the time is right, you’ll have the connection you need.

Finally, experience what it’s like to work in your industry of interest. All of those steps – which can hardly feel like work – can help you make a transition. Having folks that you can lean on for advice, a reference, or something more can be very important.”

You now manage new media strategies at Maryville University as their associate director of new media. What’s your favorite thing about your current role?
“I love that, at Maryville, I have relative autonomy. I came into the job as a perceived expert in the area, so it’s allowed me to be free to give my opinion. I feel that I am with like-minded people who relish the role of changing education.

I appreciate Maryville’s mission and what we’re trying to do here. It’s neat to be around people who care about the footprint they’re leaving on the world. We have a culture here of not being afraid of pushing forward and changing higher education.”

You recently wrote a book, “Happywork,” on workplace fulfillment and happiness. What inspired “Happywork?”
“It really started with my mom and the job she had when I was young. My mom never let on that she wasn’t in a good job, she never complained, but my brother and I caught wind that she didn’t like it. So we started questioning her on why she wouldn’t leave.

That was the start of it and that experience stuck with me. Then, I started accumulating my own job experiences, and I noticed a lot of missed opportunities to manage people better. From internal feuds at family businesses to bosses who never learned how to lead, I was exposed to a lot of dark workplaces. I was tired of seeing this happen, and I set out to write a nonfiction book about people who had lost their jobs.

I started the book and focused on what the workplace is really like; I looked at how it needs more kindness and empathy. With encouragement from my publisher, I turned that book into a fictional business parable.

Happywork allowed me to tell some stories I really wanted people to hear.”

So what are the top qualities you look for in a company?
“I like working at a place that understands that I have a family. Maryville is not scared to hear me say that my family comes first.

I also value companies that celebrate big successes and don’t obsess over the little failures. I’ve experienced the flip-side, and it’s incredibly unconstructive.”

What are you working on at the moment?
“As digital as my entire life is, I’m trying to put my phone down. Just put it down, leave it down, and figure out what life can be like without expressing online or checking what others are doing. It’s my job to have my phone, so I have to have one for work, but I’m ultimately trying to discover what can happen if I’m not tethered to it.”


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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.