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Approach a new career with strategy and mindfulness

If the daily grind has you feeling ground up, it’s likely you’ve thought about a career change. On average, people change companies every five years.[1] Unlike past generations, many employees no longer spend their entire career with one employer.

A career change, even when it feels necessary, is also scary. Those reinventing their career path worry about choosing a new career that could turn out to be a poor fit and losing the equity they’ve built in their current role.

The good news is there are lots of ways to test drive a new gig before making a commitment. And, many professional skills transfer from one industry to another. LinkedIn® research identified industries that often hire career changers:[2]

Top 10 industries hiring outside of their industry

Figure 1: Industries hiring from the outside[3]

 

LinkedIn’s research revealed some additional insights:[4]

  • The internet industry hires brand specialists from retail and management consulting.
  • E-learning attracts content developers and partnership managers from the education management industry.
  • Venture capital and private equity need more than ex-bankers; they need talent that can discover new opportunities and manage investments through mentor and board positions.
  • Online media is a home for writers, editors and creative directors from publishing, newspapers and broadcast media.

Amanda Augustine, a career expert at online job-matching service TheLadders, says a career change from a high level goes something like this:[5]

“You must evaluate your experience, education and professional development and skills to determine what’s considered important for your new career, and then you’ll have to re-position or re-brand yourself.”

A career change is, no doubt, a lot of work. But, it’s worth everything you put into it. In this Blue Paper®, you will discover how to explore the deeper motivation behind a career change, how to win advocates for a career change, how to prepare a resume for a career transition and other ways to get your foot in the door. Take a deep breath, and let’s start a career change in earnest. You’ve got this!

 

Reflecting on the need for a career change

Once you’ve decided to say goodbye to your job, it’s tempting to hand in your resignation and start your next chapter. However, before you bail, ask yourself the following questions:[6],[7]

 

Why do I want to make a change?

Identify why you’re dissatisfied in your position. What would make your job better? Would your mojo improve if you took a similar job with a different company? Is there something inherent to your work that makes it a bad fit? You owe it to yourself to search for the least disruptive, most effective solution.

 

What do I want to change to?

Proceed with caution to ensure you’re moving in an exciting new direction and not running away from your current gig. Changing careers for practical reasons alone—growth potential, high salary—probably won’t put you on the right track if you’re unhappy at work. Reflect on what energizes you. Knowing yourself eliminates guesswork from changing careers. Years from now, you don’t want to say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

 

How am I going to make the change?

Make a plan. Identify what you’ll need to learn and how to troubleshoot probable pitfalls. You don’t need all the answers right away; just start, and fill in the blanks as you go.

 

When can I make the change?

A career change doesn’t happen overnight (no matter how much you wish for a speedy transition). It can be easy to lose momentum. Evaluate your finances and determine how much re-creation you’ll need for your dream job. This will help you set a timeline for transformation.

 

Who can help?
Don’t go it alone. Turn to family, friends, professional contacts and perhaps even a career coach for emotional support, mentorship, expertise, accountability partnership and focus. Talk to people who formerly worked in your field about their transition. You likely share similar attributes—which you also can leverage. Ask colleagues and professional contacts for their take on your best skills. Then, ask how you should market those skills and which jobs and organizations might be a good fit for you.

Changing a career—in which you’ve likely invested a lot of time and personal identity—is an emotional decision. Taking care of the feelings that bubble up is as important as making sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Here’s how to address three emotional issues often experienced by career changers:[8]

 

Guilt

You love your colleagues, company, customers and boss, and you don’t want to leave them in the lurch. It’s natural to feel indebted to people and organizations, but don’t sacrifice professional fulfillment. Besides, they deserve a passionate employee, too.

 

Self-image

Gallup research shows that 55 percent of Americans define themselves by their job. In a transition, invent a new way to describe what you do and how you feel about it. For example, a senior management consultant who switched to social impact projects now calls himself an “emeritus partner” to reflect his departure from the firm while still giving a nod to his experience.

 

Old habits

What worked in your previous profession may not serve you well in your next chapter. Break with traditions to signal that a new era has begun. Change up your wardrobe. Try a new morning routine. Business as usual now is different. Play the part even if it feels awkward at first.

So, how do you manage emotional and mental friction while changing careers? Start with these two steps:[9],[10]

 

  • Weigh your options. Be brutally honest with yourself in terms of your finances, quality of work life, deeper meaning in your work, opportunities for personal growth, flexibility for family and personal pursuits, overall personal interests, your age, your health, etc. Create a balanced scorecard of these factors and let it guide your decisions.
  • Dip your toes in. Do your future self a favor and ease into the transition. Test drive what it would be like to make the change—volunteer, job shadow, do informational interviews. In short, know what you’re getting into, to the best of your ability.

 

Take it easy on yourself and don’t leap into a career change. The mental shift will be hard enough![11] The truth is that almost no one matches perfectly all the requirements of a job description.[12] Take this fact to heart and know that you may be in a better position for a career change than you think!

 

Winning career change advocates

People will ask questions about a career change: Are you qualified? What about the risk? What are you thinking?[13] You’ll need to answer these questions to earn career transition advocates.

Advocates will help you find unpublished positions and help you better understand industry hiring practices.[14] In many cases, a job application may not be enough to get you into the job of your dreams.

The secret to winning advocates is writing a compelling narrative. Here’s how: [15]

 

Drag up the past

Connect what you used to do with what you want to do. For example, a military veteran transitioning into corporate leadership shared that she was in charge of $30 million Apache helicopters and a team of 30 who maintained them. This early management experience helped her become a Fortune 500® executive.

 

Identify themes

Demonstrate how you can use your skills in a new way. For example, a public radio broadcaster with decades of experience took a new role leading online operations at his station. He dedicated his career to creating powerful news experiences—and working online is simply an extension of this passion.

 

Add value, your way

A career change can look like narcissism or smell like a midlife crisis. But, emphasizing how your perspective and talents can help others will win over doubters. For example, a poet and college professor shifted into management consulting. She leveraged her love of language and narrative-building skills to ask insightful questions and discover connections for clients—including Boeing® and Nike®.

Once you nail your career-change story, you’re ready to connect with a mentor. Many mentors are on the lookout for new talent and work across organizations to know when jobs open.[16] From a relationship with a mentor, you can:[17]

  • Discover how to best present yourself.
  • Gain insight on which employers to target.
  • Improve your resume with expert advice.

 

Try this strategy for finding a mentor:[18],[19]

  • Put yourself out there. Join a professional or industry association and attend events. Start a relationship with a recruiting firm or approach a law firm that caters to your new industry.
  • Know names. The names of important speakers, sponsors, consultants and vendors show up in conference programs, on websites and at events. These are good mentor candidates.
  • Zero in on a “helper.” Ask around to discover who’s known for helping mentees in career transition. This sort of senior-experience type usually has a reputation for mentorship.

Be willing to take suggestions from mentors. If you waste their time, they will write you off and move on to someone who will take their advice. Mentors work for their great reputations. So, even if you don’t think you’ll end up working for Company X, a referral from your mentor to Company X is impressive and works in your favor.[20]

Mentees are responsible for keeping the relationship going. After you take a mentor’s advice, report back for follow-up questions. Update them on your job search, and don’t underestimate the importance of a thank you note or coffee break.[21] You know the world is small. A mentor can make it even smaller—which is good news for your career change!

 

Your resume: Packaging transferable skills for a career change

You’ve mastered telling your story, which has earned you advocates and a mentor. Now, you must learn how to share it on paper. In a resume, career changers must match their relevant skills to the position they want. It’s a tough row to hoe, though, because you’re often going up against candidates with a more traditional work history.[22]

Whip your resume into shape for a career change with these tips:[23],[24],[25]

 

Rewrite it, from soup to nuts

Making a few changes here and there doesn’t cut it. Analyze how you’ve impacted all areas of a business—operations, management, communication, etc.—and include those accomplishments to show a wide range of experience. You’re repackaging your career history through the lens of the job you want.

 

Speak the language

A resume must demonstrate knowledge of industry terminology and understanding of which skills are most prized. Using the correct industry keywords will get you past electronic resume filters. Study job postings for important job descriptors and skills, and add these keywords to your application documents, especially when it comes to core competencies.

 

Capture attention

Off the bat, state a title that’s germane to the job you want and two to three areas of expertise that apply to your transition goal. Take, for example, a human resources professional with recruiting and database skills who wants to get into sales. She could use “Sales Professional” as her title and highlight social recruiting, applicant tracking systems and SaaS (software as a service) as skills. These top-level skills show she’s good at keeping tabs on people—a quality necessary for sales prospecting. Gatekeepers skim resumes; make sure the first thing they read quickly demonstrates your legitimacy. Address your qualifications for a job posting in the summary paragraph. Share what you’ve achieved in a new context.

 

Shout out transferable skills

Add a short descriptor behind job titles. For example, if you’re a software engineer who wants to get into project management, write as a job title “Project Engineer (with project management emphasis).” Always be honest, though, about your experience. Skills such as problem-solving, strategic thinking, strong written or oral communication, people management, innovation and negotiation transfer to many industries. Highlighting different industries in which you’ve worked shows a history of success that can be repeated.

 

Pack a punch

Include accomplishments that make a big statement; go for quality, not quantity. Tell your story with numbers when possible—size of budget managed, number of events organized, number of people supervised, revenue earned, rankings achieved, etc. In short: Focus on results. If you worked with top guns in your previous job, don’t save it for the interview—drop those names in your resume! For example, include that you “Closed $2 million in new sales in 12 months with industry leaders XYZ.” This shows that people in high places can vouch for you.

 

Don’t make it all about work

Show personal interests that round out your experience. Extracurricular activities demonstrate you’re willing to learn and live outside your comfort zone. Include experience like association memberships, volunteering, internships or part-time consulting.

 

Mix up the format

Consider a combined functional—and chronological—style resume. For example, page one could highlight transferable skills (functional), and page two could highlight job history (chronological).

You’re definitely more than your resume. A captivating application will draw in hiring managers who want to learn more about why you’re making a change—and what you can do for them.

 

Tips for career change success: Beyond the resume

Try these next-level tips to keep you laser-focused, get your foot in the door and ensure your next stop is a good fit:[26],[27]

 

Pick one—and only one—target

Research is time consuming. As you transition careers, homework for just one industry is more than enough to keep you hopping. In a similar vein, make one change at a time. For example, if you’re in sales in industry A and want to move to industry B, look for a sales job in industry B. Too much change at once will overwhelm you.

 

Stalk your dream job

Follow companies of interest on social media. Interact with them online via Facebook®, Google+®, LinkedIn, Twitter® or the company blog. Share company posts and news. Demonstrate that you’re interested in the organization. Land an informational interview to learn about life on the inside of your preferred company. Ask questions to get a taste of company culture and to discover valuable skills.

 

Leverage LinkedIn

Let’s say you’ve homed in on a choice job. When you spot the hiring manager on LinkedIn, ask an existing connection to make an introduction. Referrals are invaluable, especially when you make a strong case and your connection can pitch the intro as valuable to the hiring manager. Invite other people in the company to connect with you, too—especially people who work in your department of choice. When possible, join industry groups and offer valuable insight to other group members.

 

Engage a headhunter

As you build relationships within an organization, ask contacts who they use for recruiting. Then, approach the recruitment firm. Think of it as a give-to-get strategy.

To keep up your mojo as you search for your next opportunity, stay passionate and patient. Tell everyone why this new-to-you industry piques your interest. Show how your experience has set you up for success. Woo with a powerful elevator pitch! You’ll psych up others—and yourself. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Remember that the average job search takes eight months.[28] The greater the gap between your job aspirations and most recent experience, the more challenging your career change will be. You may need to compromise on pay and title to get on the right path to your dream job. But, at least you’ll be on the right path. Good luck!

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