I was called recently by a client I’ll call Mary. Mary first worked with me over ten years ago when she first graduated from college with a degree in Marketing. Her first jobs focused on creative functions. Mary was talented and quickly became a manager. However, she also learned the ins and outs of how companies sell online. Two years ago Mary was promoted to Director of E commerce for a company that sells exclusively over the internet. Almost without knowing it, Mary changed careers.
Last week I talked with Mary about updating her resume. She knows her industry very well and decided to have three different version of the resume. In one, she will make a lateral move and pursue a position as Director of E commerce. To give herself more opportunities, Mary will also pursue positions as a Website Director, a position which would give her full responsibility for the website, not just E commerce. Finally, Mary also could use her technical skills as Director of Optimization, a position that focus on improving how customers move on a website, especially in getting them to purchase products instead of leaving them in the digital shopping cart.
Mary’s story is a good example of someone who is managing her career, not just looking for a job. She understands how technology has changed. By learning how the technology works, she has given herself more opportunities. Is there a similar opportunity in your industry? Have you learned new skills or mastered a new technology that opens new career paths?
Most clients who are considering career change start with two bad ideas. First, they assume they will have to go back to school. Second, they believe they will have to step down the career ladder back to entry level. Neither of these assumptions is necessarily true. If you can prove to a hiring manager that you can do the job, the experience and knowledge you have developed during your career will usually be enough to make a career change.
What would-be career changers too often ignore are transferable skills, which are skills that can be used on multiple jobs. Let me give you two examples from my recent projects.
Retail Manager to Human Resources: A client had extensive experience in retail management. Rather than talk about that industry, we focused on the skills he used that were related to HR: Onboarding, training, interviewing, and hiring. He completed certification in HR law and recruiting for diversity. This background, along with a good work history, enabled him to make the career transition he was seeking.
Event Management to Purchasing: Another client wants to move from an eight year career in planning and managing corporate events to purchasing. In her case, we focused on skills that included sourcing, negotiation, vendor relations, and logistics. In several cases, this client can give examples of how she reduced costs through her ability to negotiate price and terms. These skills will let her make the jump to a new career.
If you are considering changing careers, think about how you have developed and used transferable skills. It is very possible that you can pursue a career change right now. Show how you are able to do the new job, and be confident in your ability.
I’m working with a client who is making a big career change. After 25 years as a financial analyst, trader, and manager, he has completed a second bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management with a focus on culinary arts. He wants to work in a position where he will be hands on in cooking or a related field. Therefore, very little of what he did in his previous career will matter to his new employer. Instead, we will show that my client has a solid work history and play up some transferable skills related to management and communication. Otherwise, we are focusing on food and the food industry. Keep your resume focused on what matters to your next employer, not the last one.
I was recently working with two experienced professionals who were making a career change based on completing a master’s degree. In both cases, my clients felt that they were limited by a lack of experience. I frequently hear a similar complaint from new college grads. In one sense this concern is legitimate. Employers often prefer to hire people who have worked in a given industry or job function. However, that type of candidate is not always available, which is how doors open for career changers and new graduates.
If a job seeker doesn’t have experience, what can she offer employers? She has two important qualities to sell: knowledge and hands-on skills. Almost every kind of academic program teaches skills that employers need. Rather than fill a resume with classes or irrelevant extracurricular activities, present the skills that the employer is looking for. If you know how to do something, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have experience at a workplace. Highlight work done in projects or class activities. Another key point that grads often ignore is the knowledge that they bring to an employer. New grads often bring the latest knowledge and ideas. That’s a valuable asset, and one that should be promoted in resumes and job interviews. As Daniel Pink writes in his fine career guide, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need: “Think strengths, not weaknesses.”