The prospect of making some form of career change is both exhilarating — and daunting. If you’ve decided to change careers — and you know exactly the new career you want to pursue — it’s important not to be stymied by the enormity of the challenges associated with the career-change process. So, how do you get the ball rolling?
Drawing from my experience as an executive recruiter, director of an MBA career centre and as career coach, here are some powerful strategies you can employ to make that career change a reality.
Take Ownership of your Background
A strategic career change starts with understanding, and taking ownership, of where you’ve been, your professional background and life experience. Why? Your background holds your experience, your learning, your awareness about what makes you tick and what you have to offer. This is the starting point to an effective career transition.
Know What You Can Leverage
From that analysis, create an inventory of the skills and experiences you can leverage in your career switch. Examples include:
Transferable Skills: In most cases, skills you’ve honed in one professional chapter will be relevant in the next. Project management, team leadership, sales, customer service, analytical capabilities, problem solving, hiring, training and other abilities too numerous to list here are all common transferable skills.
Company Type: Leverage your knowledge about the kinds of companies you’ve worked for. Nonprofit organizations have certain similarities. So do family-owned or owner-operated businesses and, to a certain degree, public companies.
Experience: If you’ve ever lived through a start-up, shutdown, merger, product launch or corporate crisis, those experiences can serve as leverage when you talk to companies dealing with similar issues.
Job Environment: If you’ve ever worked in a pressure-cooker environment, you’ll be no stranger to a similar environment in another industry. The same will be true if you’ve ever dealt with unions, worked for an entrepreneur or worked without supervision.
Networks: Leverage your current relationships to find entry points into your new field. All it takes is a different type of conversation to get started. Start by asking contacts what they know and who they know that is related to the field you want to get into. Explain why it is important to you, and see where the conversation leads. Be sure to follow-up on their leads and in no time, you will be making progress.
Back up your desire to enter this new field with strong reasons. If you know why you want to make the change and what you stand to gain from it, you’ll increase your odds of success considerably. Also, be sure you can articulate to potential employers why you want to move into their field and what’s in it for them. Employers don’t want to feel like you’re running away from something.
Validate the Target & Pivot
Just because you want it doesn’t mean its a valid idea. Often, career change ideas are really shiny objects (work at Google / Tesla) rather than bona fide targets. As you learn more about your offering and your target domain, you will determine whether you are on the right track, whether you need to go to a plan B, or whether there is a role for you in-between these options, part of or related to your target domain.
Find the Logical Entry Point
Often, a certain role or company will serve as a natural transition into your new field. If you use your leverage points to identify where you best fit, you can bolster your chances of getting hired.
Developing a strong understanding of yourself is imperative to managing your career change. However, avoid analysis paralysis. You cannot think your way to a career change. Eventually, you need to act.
Connect with People in Your Target Field
When you’re changing careers, your resume will be less useful as a marketing tool. For that reason, building your network becomes even more critical. Connect with people in your target field to validate your interest and learn about opportunities.
Make an Impression
On interviews, be the stand-out candidate by talking up all of the actions you’ve taken that prove your commitment to the field. Reveal your industry knowledge and mention industry events you’ve attended or industry associations where you volunteer. Go even further by presenting a white paper on an industry issue you’ve researched or a business plan that demonstrates the value you could bring to the organization.
Your goal is for potential employers to see you as someone who is already in their industry and in it to stay, regardless of whether they hire you. Don’t leave the impression that if they don’t hire you, you will do something else.
One tangible way to start your career change is through freelance or part-time work. Such work not only builds your resume, but it also gives you the opportunity to test the waters in your chosen field and fine-tune your plan.
Concrete steps such as these create momentum for your career change, demonstrate your commitment to potential employers and validate your plan.
Are you contemplating a career change?
Every day, I lead clients through an expanded version of the process described in this article. Through conversations, an online learning platform, tools, coaching, analysis, ideation and support, clients make exciting transitions into new fields, bigger roles, and better environments. Please get in touch to learn more.