Thinking of Changing Your Career

How often have you thought of changing your career?  For some people, especially those working in a ‘dying’ industry, changing careers is a necessity imposed upon them. For others changing jobs and careers is something that is almost as natural as breathing. By diversifying your work experience and learning new skills, you make yourself a more desirable candidate for future roles.

However, to change careers successfully requires good research skills and honest self-appraisal. For example, it’s not enough to assume that just because you speak English, you can teach it or that because you’ve travelled extensively you can write travel articles for a national newspaper. For some careers you’ll also need to get specific qualifications, while for others you’ll need to develop particular skills. Here are seven steps for making a successful transition into a new career.

1. Understand the industry
If you’re making a transition from one industry into another, you’ll need to know that industry inside out. What are the challenges and the opportunities currently facing the sector? Who are the main players and the competitors? What market does the industry serve, and what are their typical needs and problems?  Obviously, this learning curve is easier if you transition into a sector related to the one you’re currently working in.

2. Learn about the role
What is the typical profile of a successful candidate in the role you are applying for? What experience, skills or qualifications are indispensable, or merely “desirable”?  There are various ways you can go about getting this information. The easiest and quickest is probably just to ask HR or the recruiter what the profile of an ideal candidate would be. Alternatively, you can search LinkedIn for the person already holding that job, then look at their previous experience and route into the role.

3. Know your skills
Be honest with yourself when you assess your personal strengths and weaknesses. It’s often worth asking someone close to you (such as a colleague or peer) their views too, as individual perceptions are rarely the same. By evaluating your workplace skills too (technical skills, communication skills etc) you should be able to work out where there are gaps between you and the “ideal candidate”.  If you’ve had a fair amount of experience in a different industry, demonstrate your transferable skills. This is particularly the case if you’re changing industry rather than function. For example, if you’re moving from one finance position to another, you’ll still be using the same core skills, although the industry you’re working in might be different.
In a recession where employers can select from a wide pool of candidates, you need to be able to demonstrate the relevance of your transferable skills – especially if you have little or no direct industry experience.

4. Focus your CV
Make sure that what you write resonates with the employer. At its simplest, this means using the key words of the job ad in your CV. It also means that you only include relevant information that shows you have the experience and skills to do the job. Show how your transferable skills are applicable, and find appropriate career highlights that illustrate your potential “fit” for the role.  Be mindful of any company or industry-specific language you use in your CV, as it may not translate well into different sectors. As with all successful communication, you need to focus what you write or say on your audience, and this means using the same terms as they do.

5. Target companies
Make a plan to approach companies you admire in the sector. Look at their websites, and research them and their employees on LinkedIn. If you know somebody there from either your first or second degree of contacts, ask them for information, or a referral to someone else at the company who can give you additional information.

6. Be prepared for a pay cut
If you’re going into a new sector, you may need to accept a lower salary. You may also only be offered short-term, contract or maternity cover work. These are all good ways to get your foot in the door, and once in, you’ll be better placed to learn the job and apply for internal promotions.

7. Be flexible in your thinking
What do you have that will be useful to a company? Why should a company employ you and not someone with years of experience in the industry? Being able to see what you can bring to the table from the employer’s point of view is perhaps the most important element to changing career successfully. If you have a way to solve some of the company’s most pressing problems, or if you know how to implement new systems and processes to save time, increase efficiency and profits, then you have a good chance of getting the ear of a potential employer. And this is as much the case for people who have a long work history as it is for those who enjoy challenging the status quo and thinking creatively.