Help! I want to switch careers but don’t know where to start.
Please raise your hand if you are doing a job that you love.
Congratulations! You are part of a tiny minority of people that truly love their work.
More often than not, my conversations with clients and friends revolve around how nice it would be to be doing something else, ANYTHING else.
This type of rhetoric has really ramped up during Covid. The effects of being cooped up in our homes, facing our own mortality or having to make huge sacrifices has caused many of us to question why we do what we do.
In fact, this time period has been dubbed “The Great Resignation” as workers around the world quit their jobs to pursue something new.
Almost every day, I talk to people who want to do something else, but are too afraid to take that first step.
Part of the hesitation relates to our mindset. Part of the hesitation relates to our own and other peoples’ expectations. If I’m a VP at a prestigious multinational making good money, why would I want to step off the career ladder and start my own business? If I’m in a highly specialized role (like an airline pilot or nutrition scientist), then how will my skills ever be transferable to another industry?
How indeed! These are the types of questions that hold us back and keep us from making a change. If you recognize yourself in these questions, read on to find out how to move forward.
Starting from zero
“But why would they hire me over a candidate who has the exact right experience?” Does making a career pivot mean that you have wasted your time? Are you starting from scratch?
NO! You are not starting from scratch. You are starting from experience.
Right now, is just one moment in time in a very long career. You are not starting from zero. You are starting from a 6 or a 7. Of course, you won’t be a 10 right away. But your transferrable skills will carry you part of the way toward your new career goal. Your mission now is to identify those transferrable skills and create that positive mindset that will help you to move forward.
Believing in yourself “But I don’t have anything to offer.”
This is another common refrain from clients. How can you shift your mindset into believing that you have something to offer? How can you ditch that fixed mindset and move into a growth mindset?
Start with making a plan. As they say, a dream is just a wish without a plan. Open up an excel spreadsheet, pull out a notebook or drop voice texts into OneNote. It doesn’t matter how you record it. What matters is that you get it out of your head and onto paper. Start writing down what you plan to do. Work backwards from your end goal (“In 12 months, I want to be working in digital marketing.”) until you get to present day.
Part of your plan should include talking to people in your target industry or role. Write down their feedback, helpful ideas and the resources they recommend. Identify any themes that emerge from those conversations. Have several people recommended that you take a digital marketing certification? That’s probably something you should seriously consider. Did a few people mention that your German fluency would be attractive to potential employers? Think about ways you can highlight that more in your applications.
Then, identify specific ways to move forward. Set yourself small, measurable goals that you know you will stick to. Don’t measure your progress in months; measure it in days (or on really challenging days, sometimes even hours!). Making a successful career change happens when you enact a series of incremental changes that snowball into achieving your bigger goal.
Career transition is a team sport
You are not alone. Making a career change can be isolating and lonely. Create your own personal support team of positive people who can walk with you every step of the way. These can be mentors, friends, ex-bosses, previous coworkers or professionals (like a career coach). Most importantly, your support team are people who know you and want to see you succeed. Then tell them you’d like them to be a part of your support team. Be clear with them about what help you need. Do you want them to call you once a week to check-in? Review your resume before you submit applications? Help you create a project plan? Send you uplifting memes before your big interviews? Then, put your support team into action. You’ll feel more motivated and upbeat. Making a career transition can be lonely, but you are not alone.
Live and learn Creating a “learn list” is one strategy for making your career pivot a little less painful and a little more fun. Make a list of all of the things you’ve always wanted to learn: these can be things that are both practical and career-oriented (Python, digital marketing, etc) and fun (pottery, origami, outrigger canoeing). Then prioritize that list and start to work through it methodically.
Because doing things that are new and different helps to open up your mind to new possibilities. You’ll meet new people. You’ll try new things. And you’ll be happier. And that openness and happiness comes across in networking conversations and interviews. If you are spending all of your free time ONLY focused on trying to pivot your career and you are getting nowhere, the stress and negativity that comes with that shines through loud and clear during your interactions with other people. Take a step back. Write down your learn list and commit to doing one thing on your learn list today.
Flex your strengths Transferrable skills are so important when you want to make a career pivot. But how do you know what you are really good at? What are your strengths? Where do you excel? If you don’t know what your strengths are at the beginning of your career pivot, it will be pretty difficult for you to talk about them during a networking discussion or interview. Here are 3 ways you can identify and flex your strengths:
• Take an online strengths assessment. If you’ve never done an assessment before, this is a great time. There are many different types of assessments but I recommend ones like Via Strengths Finder or Hogan. Your assessment report may flag things you might not see in yourself and open up a whole new way of thinking.
• Get 360 feedback. This can come from your peer group, your boss, your friends or your ex-colleagues. Ask everyone the same set of questions. What do you think I’m good at? What do you always come to me for? Where do I need to improve? Identify any themes from their feedback and commit to acting on it.
• Do a “career audit.” When were you most happy? What was happening around you? Who was there? What are some of the things you have achieved? What are you most proud of? This type of reflection can help you to pinpoint the circumstances and relationships when you do your best work.
It's never too early A career pivot is not instantaneous. More often than not, you’ll need to complete additional studies, get a certification or do some unpaid work to help you facilitate the switch. Here is a list of some of the common things that career switchers do to help them make the move (this list is not exhaustive).
• Certification programs
• LinkedIn Learning
• Job shadowing
• Personal branding
• Networking events
• Professional/Industry associations
Consider crossing a bridge For a variety of reasons, you may not be 100% successful in your career transition the first time around. Instead, you might want to consider taking a bridge job. A bridge job is a position that helps you to switch 90 degrees but not the full 180 degrees. Perhaps you will change your functional role first, then change your industry later. The question you’ll want to ask yourself is, “Will this role get me closer to my end goal?”
I witnessed this a lot when I was completing my MBA studies last year. MBA students often enter an MBA program wanting to achieve the ultimate trifecta: changing geography, industry and function all at the same time. This is very difficult (if not impossible) to do. Yet every year, a few students achieve it. However, I’d argue that those students are the outliers. For the majority, it’s smarter to focus on just one or two of these elements firstly. Identify a bridging role that achieves one of the three and helps you to get closer to your end goal.
Always remember that you are not starting from zero – you are starting from experience. A positive and open mindset is so imperative when you are considering a career shift. Shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset by making a plan, gathering feedback and committing to action. Identify your strengths and activate your support team. Get going now on some of the certifications or additional unpaid work you know you need to make the switch. And finally, be open to taking a bridge job if it helps you move closer to your end goal.
So what’s next? What should you do after you finish reading this article?
START. Even if you aren’t ready.
Start small. Start NOW.
Want to hear more? Check out my recent guest spot on the Actsplore This podcast, where I give some tips and insights into making successful career transitions or read more of my articles on this topic.