Martin Luther King is a great model for anyone who wants to change careers. King was a minister and could have stayed in his church. He would have done good work and helped many people. However, he had a higher calling. The minister became a champion for civil rights, and he changed history.
King's own words are invaluable for anyone looking to change careers or make any major change in life: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
I changed careers when I turned 40. That was 14 years ago. There were plenty of starts and stops, interviews that felt like a waste of time. Finally I found a place to start my new career. Several of my clients have had similar experiences. As Dr. King said, "faith" is the key. If we believe in ourselves, we'll see the "whole staircase" and find our new path.
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?
I’m currently working with a client who began his career as a Chef. Frank (not his real name) loved working in the kitchen and making his guests happy. About five years ago, he stretched his skill set by becoming an Executive Chef. Rather than running the kitchen, he took on the role of managing business operations. In this role, Frank’s first concerns were budgets and profitability. Rather than cooking, he now coaches chefs and unit managers to make them more conscious of business goals. Frank now makes more money and feels more challenged by his work. He remains dedicated to providing his guests with the best quality of food, but now he does so as an operations leader, not the person behind the stove.
A few years ago, one of my clients was a successful mechanical engineer. Joe (not his real name) was assigned to projects across the U.S. based on his ability to redesign products and systems. Joe’s manager came to him one day and asked if he was interested in becoming a Product Manager. Like Frank, Joe had to learn new skills quickly. He began to meet with customers to learn what they needed in new products. He now had to consider what components and raw materials would cost. Joe began to create budgets and forecasts. He continued to use the technical skills he learned as an engineer, but he added a new understanding of business, including purchasing and marketing.
We often think of career changes as big moves, the police officer who becomes a sales person. In many cases, career change is an evolution. By picking up new duties and being open to new challenges, it is possible to find a new career with less stress. Look for ways to do more at your current job. Volunteer for special projects. A new career could be just around the corner.
Most people think about career change in terms of finding work that will be meaningful. They want to follow their passion. That’s a great goal, but any career transition needs to start with this question: How much money do I need to earn? Would-be career changers often ignore this question, and they are shocked to learn that their dream career will not pay enough to let them cover their living costs.
Before beginning a career change, you need to research average pay for the field you are seeking to enter. Develop a realistic budget to see if you can cut your costs. After taking these steps, you can decide if a new career path is realistic or just a dream.
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.