Brandeis International Business School

044: Changing Careers 4 Times Before 40

Robbie Samuels is a keynote speaker and relationship-based business strategist. He's been recognized as a networking expert by, Harvard Business Review, Ascend and Lifehacker. He's the author of the bestselling business book, "Croissants vs. Bagels: Strategic, Effective, and Inclusive Networking at Conferences."

Robbie is also the host of the "On the Shmooze" podcast, which features his networking strategies and interviews talented professionals sharing their untold stories of leadership and networking. Robbie believes that 80% of the people you need to know to be successful, you have already met, and that your impact on the world is directly related to your willingness to engage your community.

From the Dorm Room

Robbie went to college at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York, where he grew up, as an undergrad in Sociology and Political Science. He also went there for his Master's in Social Work. While he was in his undergrad, he went to the career office trying to figure out what he wanted to do as a career. He already had a lot of experience organizing events, but he didn’t know that that was a job. He discovered the career path of community organizing, which sounded like a great fit, and found out that a Master's in Social Work was a good next step.

The career office is an incredible resource for when you are struggling with the question, “What do I want to do?” It’s such a common dilemma that nearly all college students face, but we often forget to use the tools we have at our fingertips.

As for his eventual speaking career, in hindsight it was a perfect fit. In college, he had joined a speakers bureau, he was doing one-on-one trainings and he created a safer sex workshop. He enjoyed speaking in front of people, and he loved inspiring people. People sought him out for coaching and advice, but that didn’t really click as a career until he was nearly 40.

It wasn’t a direct path that led him to his current career. He didn't leave college knowing exactly what he was meant to do, but it made sense to him in the end. He had to rediscover that love for and gift of public speaking.

As an expert in networking now, Robbie has plenty of advice for students on how they can get the most out of their experience and meeting people. Every time you meet someone, you’re almost always going to be faced with the question, “What do you do?” Most students just answer that question by saying they are a student, but that doesn't lead to further conversation. If you can think about what your passions are, and what you are enthusiastic about, and why you are pursuing the degree you are, these all add a level of intrigue that creates conversation.

To the Boardroom

Robbie took the skill set that he picked up from his Masters and got a job as an office manager. He realized he loved running events, and got several different gigs doing that. In 2005, he landed his dream job organizing 25 fundraising events a year. He did that for 10 years, raising about a million dollars a year for an LGBT legal organization in Boston. He never thought he would leave.

On the side, Robbie started a social justice meetup group and started speaking. At some point, the speaking became the bigger part of his life than his day job. With his wife's blessing, he left his job at the end of 2014, and has been solely focused on speaking, coaching, writing, and podcasting since 2015.

There was a lot of fear and hesitation involved in leaving what was once Robbie’s dream job, but something his father told him helped him make that change. He said that I would have four careers between 20 and 40. As he turned 40, Robbie knew this was the time for his fourth career.

There came a moment in his day job where Robbie’s entire team had started to leave. Out of a nine-person office, he has been there for 10 years, and everyone else had been there less than a year. This also made the decision to leave a little easier. He approached his wife about it, and she was incredibly supportive about it. So with that, he made the leap to full-time freelance work.

It’s important in your career and life that you don’t let yourself feel stuck. Keep experimenting, explore your interests and try new things. It’s very rare that we know the job we’re meant to do right out of college, and even when you find your dream job, you never know when things will change.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

Whether you’re a student, an employee or an entrepreneur, one of the most essential skills to learn and master is marketing. Robbie wrote the book, "Croissants vs. Bagels," about networking at conferences and events.

When you walk into a networking event, you’ll see people standing around in these tight clusters. It doesn’t seem very inviting and it’s impossible to break into these huddles and connect. That’s what Robbie calls a bagel. If one person in that group opens up their body language to make space for others and invite them in, that’s a croissant.

When you walk into these spaces, look for those natural openings. If you're in a circle, shift your body language to match your intentions, which should be to meet people. You go to conferences for the people more than the content, so make sure you reflect that. Be a croissant, not a bagel.


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