June 1, 2017
Considering a Career Change? Tips & Feedback on How to Take the Plunge

How many among us are working in the field that they studied while at university? Or took our first jobs for the paycheck and to get our foot in the door of a company, only to learn we hadn’t found our true calling? The working part of our lives typically last multiple decades, so isn’t it better to spend that time doing work you find valuable and meaningful?  Maybe you have started in one field and are now finding more interest in another?

If you are considering a shift in career, it can be done. Is it easy? No. Can you do it? Of course. How should you approach it? Read on.

If I decided I wanted to make a career switch from my current role to becoming a pediatrician right now, I’d be operating from a place of serious weakness. I have zero training, I’d need to attend years of school and training, and the chances anyone would hire me this late in the game are slim even if I managed to accomplish all that.  However, if my key driver is to work with children through the medical community, perhaps I could achieve that through volunteering my time at a hospital or finding a job that better suits those goals in an environment far different than my current one. The point is, switching careers is challenging; ensure you have a firm grip on the motivations before you move ahead and explore simpler changes that might get you closer to your new career vision.

PRO TIP:  If you find yourself driven to explore a new career path because you are running away from your current one, hit the pause button.  When we run away from things, there is no guarantee that what you select next is going to be a better fit.  Instead, you want to find yourself running to that new area.  If the draw is exciting, and you can’t stop thinking about what you can do to switch your career so you get to live out your work days doing “That!” then you are likely on the right course.  Keep reading!

I have had numerous conversations with people throughout the years who share, “I’m not really meant for sales. I think I want to go to marketing.” And I challenge them: Why marketing?  Have you spoken to anyone who plays a similar role to the one you think you’d like to play?  Have you done research to find out where your skills overlap and what you are missing?  And so on. The point is, just because you want to switch to something new, doesn’t mean that you are immediately employable. It’s vital to invest time in talking to people in the job or field to which you’d like to move so you can ensure you have a realistic picture of what it’s like. Maybe you like numbers, and you fancy moving from a financial analyst role to a financial advisor. Perhaps it looks appealing because of the potentially high salary or some other draw. By speaking to others in that job, they may share a realistic point of view that causes you to pause. Discovering the majority of that desired job is selling, and that it takes years to build a book of business to warrant that salary might turn you off.  If it doesn’t, keep going! 

PRO TIP: Don’t know anyone in your chosen area, or uncomfortable having these discussions with people in your own company?  Ask people.  Maybe your roommate has a good friend who does what you are interested in, or reach out to your school’s alumni association for connections to that world.  Even simpler?  Technology can be a big help.  Find job descriptions for the sort of role you think you’d like to play, and then use LinkedIn to find people you might be connected to in some way to learn more.  Networking is made easier through technology; just get out there and start making some connections!

I’m a big fan of looking in the mirror and challenging your thinking to assess a realistic perspective.  Even the most motivated and driven among us shouldn’t assume that just because they’ve had success in one role, they will be equally well-suited for another. Put yourself in a new hiring manager’s shoes.  If you have two candidates to choose from, and one has played a similar role before while the other is aspirational, which would you chose?  Obviously, as someone career switching, you’d already be at a disadvantage.  We can’t just make up for experience we don’t have. We can, however, find the links between what we have done, and what the new role would require of us.  Perhaps it’s customer service at the core of the old and new, or maybe it’s deep analytical knowledge.  Whatever it is, outline your strengths, and find ways to map them to the new role/field.  

PRO TIP:  Once you’ve gathered intel from your research and networking, and determined how your current skills map to your desired role, update your resume to highlight relevant core key skills applicable to your new desired role.  And then practice your talk track.  Namely, spend time practicing how you’d answer interview questions honestly, while selling yourself on how what you’ve done has application to what you want to be doing.  The more comfortable you get sharing - and selling - your story, the better chance you have of helping others to take a gamble on you.

Sure it sounds sexy to go off and tackle a new career. Maybe you’ve done your homework, and are convinced you found the career and space you are passionate about.  Now do the gut check.  While you might be making strides in your current career, you’ll be a relative newbie in your desired one.  Are you prepared to take a pay cut?  Are you willing to work harder than all of your new peers to play catch up to learn?  If you aren’t, pause again. Taking classes to learn more about the new role and industry can bolster your skills.  Places like the Startup  Institute, General Assembly or a variety of online universities offer affordable means to build skills to help you prepare. 

PRO TIP:  Of course this sounds like a lot of work; it should be. You are asking an employer to take a gamble on you and hire you into a new role. Be able to show clear evidence that this isn’t just a whim; you are willing and have put the work in to show your commitment. 

Obviously, if your new dream role exists in your current company and you are an employee in good standing, start there.  If you are uncomfortable speaking to your manager about wanting to explore a new role, speak to a trusted person in your human resources or people strategy team.  They can aid you in navigating those conversations and potential transitions.  If you are an outstanding employee, your company will want to retain you, and will likely aid you in finding a different role.  Making a big move like this in a place where you already have a great reputation is that much smoother.  Just be above board with your intentions and process; explain the motivation for wanting to move to a new field.  If managers understand it isn’t a matter of disloyalty or running from them, they are far more likely to help you. If you want to start fresh, be prepared for a lot of work to help you achieve your goals.  Rarely does anyone hand us anything in life. Take the time, do your homework, and build your skills. If you are truly motivated to switch careers, you’ll find your way. 

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.