Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."
Most of the clients who come to me for help in changing careers aren't looking for more money or a more impressive title. They want to do work that is meaningful, often something that helps other people. If that kind of career changes is appealing to you, start with your values: Who do you want to help? What do you want to change? Once you've established your mission, the next question is how you can best work in that field. For some people that will mean defining transferable skills and demonstrating how you are ready to work in a new field. For some people, the challenge will be to go back to school or to obtain a certificate. The challenge, as President Roosevelt said, is to find work that is worth our effort.
Where’s the best place to look for a career? Technology. According to an article in Bloomberg, six of the top ten industries that hire career changers involve technology. As the article notes, these companies are not just looking for employees with technical skills. They need employees with a wide range of skill sets. The trick in a career change is to identify and leverage your transferable skills. For example, negotiation is a skill that can be used in sales, purchasing, and management. It will be used differently in each job function, but the skill will transfer from profession to profession. In some cases, a career changer will need to go back to school for a new degree or certificate. More often, if you can align your transferable skills and experience with an employer’s needs, you can make a career transition. With the unemployment rate going down, now is a great time to make a change.
A client is changing careers, and she came up with a great way to improve her networking outreach. She is giving her network partners a profile page that will help them understand her reasons for changing careers and some key points they should use to describe her. I love the idea and helped her edit the sheet.
If you're in a similar place in your career, here's the model. Start with a brief 4-5 sentence paragraph that explains how and why you are changing careers. Then list 5-6 talking points that focus on transferable skills and achievements that demonstrate why you will be able to be successful in your new career. If you don't provide this information to your network partners, they might be trying to help you, but they will think of you in your previous role, not where you want to go next in your career. This sheet shouldn't take long to create. It will work wonders in making your networking more effective.
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.
One of my clients has had an interesting career. While he has been very successful in retail sales, he has always filled a role in IT, which is fitting for a person who majored in computer sciences. He recently earned a major certification and now wants to focus his career in IT.
He asked a question many career changers face: “Do I have to start at the bottom?”
Before I could answer, his girlfriend, who accompanied him to our meeting, snapped: “You don’t have to eat dog food.” I smiled hearing her words.
Many career changers assume that going into a new field means starting at the entry level. This assumption is flawed because it ignores the direct experience, transferable skills, education, or certification that makes the career change possible. My client has skills and experience that will let him be a system administrator or IT Manager. If he applied to positions like Help Desk 1 or Technicians, most employers would say he was overqualified.
People change careers all the time. Some transitions are easier than others. However, in many cases, it is not necessary to go to the bottom of the ladder and start climbing all over again. There is always an employer who is looking to higher talent and pay a low wage. They’ll feed you dog food if you’ll eat it. Now your value and respect yourself. Find a job that meets what you have to offer.
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.
The job market is not as bad as it was four years ago, but it’s still not good. I’ve met several talented people – career changers, new college graduates – who assume that they have to take entry level jobs because the market is so bad. This is a bad career management strategy.
Look at the jobs you think you are qualified for and apply for the jobs that fit your ability and experience. Students often forget that the skills and knowledge they learn in school give them value that often puts them above the first rung on the ladder. Similarly, career changers bring value through transferable skills and flexibility gained in other jobs. Test your value by finding 8-10 posts for jobs you would want to do. Don’t start by looking for entry level. Try to find higher level jobs that you are qualified to fill. That will give you an opportunity to make more money know and move up faster to the kind of positions that you will find challenging and fulfilling.
If you live in an area or have a skill level that limits you to entry level positions, try to find a company where you will have an ability to move up, learn higher level skills, and make more money. Don’t trap yourself in a lower level job before you have to. Always look for ways to climb the career ladder.
I have a client whom I will call Ann. She has worked for more than 20 years as a manager of college book stores and has a special expertise in her field. When Ann met me, we discussed the option of writing two resumes. One focuses on her career in the college bookstore industry. However, her skills also fit as a retail manager, which is her plan B career.
In one version of Ann’s resume, we emphasized her experience and skills working in a college bookstore environment. That version uses words that do not appear in the more general retail version: text book, student, professor, book returns. We also named specific schools where Ann has been a manager. In the retail version, Ann’s resume looks to broad transferable skills that any retail manager would need. We stripped out those duties and skills that were specific to college bookstore positions.
Look at your resume and see if you, like Ann, have more than one path to a job. Make sure that your resume focus on the skills and experience that fit each type of position. It takes a little longer to manage this type of job search, but it also enables job seekers to have more opportunities. In a tough job market, having more options is a good thing.
What if your plan to find a new job doesn’t work? Do you have a back up? If you’ve performed different kinds of work, take advantage of that experience and give yourself more opportunity. I’m currently working with a client who is therapist. He is also pursuing positions that take advantage of his skill as a manager. To give himself even more opportunity, he’s networking to explore positions in counseling and training. This smart job seeker has given himself a Plan B and a Plan C. Examine your career and try to develop plans to take advantage of skills that might let you pursue a different kind of work. In most cases, that means developing a second or third resume and cover to support your different types of job searches. It’s a little more work in preparing to look for work, but it can give you more opportunities and choices in finding a new employer.
One of my clients is facing a layoff. She’s been with the same company for more than thirty years. For many people, such a transition would be devastating. My client has kept a positive attitude. Through networking, she’s gotten an interview in a new industry. The transferable skills she’s used in retail environments will also work in banking. Her challenge will be to convince interviewers that she can make the transition. The first step is to be flexible enough to think you can make the change. The next challenge in the interview is to convince the employer that you can do the job. It’s never easy. However, many workers make such transitions every day. Give yourself more opportunities – stay flexible.
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