Last year around this time, I did a 4-part blog series on Goal Setting, and by far the most popular topic and post was that around Changing Careers. And one of the biggest mistakes career changers make is trying to change focuses without clarity around what it is they want to do in the next phase of their career.
It’s perfectly fine to weigh out all of your transferrable skill sets and experience and try to piece the puzzle together – often times, you’ll come up with more than one thing you feel that you could excel at and decently enjoy. Or perhaps you have a solid idea, but the challenge lies in the execution. Biggest mistake however? Taking the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ approach – “I can really do a lot of different things, so I’ll list them all on my resume.”
So if you’ve got professional change on your mind for 2013, plot your strategy around these 5 key guidelines and you’ll be sure to set yourself up for success in finding your next great career endeavor:
Be the Master, Not the Jack
Having a diverse set of skills is great, but someone who markets themselves based on the jack-of-all-trades theory is selling themselves as “I’m pretty good at a lot of different areas”. The problem with that approach is that you will be competing for jobs with people who are excellent at the one area which they need to be considered for the role. Having a diverse range of skills that you can bring to the table is a great marketing angle, but only if it’s supplementary to you being able to sell yourself on the core criteria which the job you’re applying to calls for. Are you a marketing whiz who’s rebranding herself as a graphic designer, and some of your other top skills include account management, creating client presentations, and leading team meetings? Great- all of those skills will surely help you in your new role, but the hiring manager still wants to see a portfolio that shows you have killer design chops.
Define Your Starting Point, and Build Your Strategy from There
When you’re changing careers you can approach your job search from two different angles, and it’s important to understand which approach is best suited for you. Career changers typically fall into two kinds of categories:
- Those who know exactly what kind of role they want to do, but don’t know how to gear their skills and experience toward it.
- Those who don’t know what type of role their skills would be best suited for, but have an idea of the type of company or industry they want to work in.
If you have a clear idea of what your top transferrable skills are and where you can potentially apply them, then you may focus your search around job titles and descriptions that speak to your top skills, even if you lack hands-on experience. This is a good approach for someone who wants to stay within the same field or organization, but focus on a completely different job responsibility. It also works if you’re breaking into a completely new industry, and your transferrable skills are your primary selling point. The key is to be clear on what your transferrable skills are, give context to where you’ve utilized them successfully in the past, and then make that connection in your cover letter, email or conversation. Keep in mind that even if you have all the right skills, you’ll still be up against candidates with similar skill sets and the added bonus of related industry experience. Be creative about how you can position your experience and talents to best bridge that gap.
On the other hand, you may opt to target the types of companies instead of the types of roles by zero-ing in on organizations you want to work for, and see where there might be an opportunity for you to break in. This is a good approach if you’re not 100% clear on what your ideal position is, but you have a very clear idea of where you would enjoy working in terms of the type of company or the industry. This approach can work well with smaller companies or those with a startup mentality, where there is sometimes less structure to the job description, and more opportunity to wear different hats, because those types of environments value employees who can save them money by functioning in overlapping roles. If you’re passionate about green marketing, and you know that’s the right environment for you, make that connection clear. While desire alone doesn’t replace core qualifications, demonstrating your passion and knowledge around an industry and its related trends and developments can be a good marketing angle when you lack hands-on experience.
Communication Will Make or Break Your Chances
With the jack-of-all-trades theory in mind, you will have a difficult time breaking into a new industry if you can’t clearly articulate and communicate what it is you’re good at, and what you’re targeting. Over 75% of job opportunities are the product of networking, and any person you talk to is a possible strategic connection who can potentially connect you with an opportunity or contact to help you make that transition. So when you are asked what you’re targeting, you want to avoid sounding like:
“Well, I’m in advertising, but I really want to get out of it and do something in non-profit. I don’t know, maybe fundraising, client services… I’d even do administrative stuff just to get a food in the door.”
That doesn’t tell the other person what you’re qualified for, and thus they’re at a loss of how they might be able to help you. A better approach would be to say something like,
“I’m trying to break into the non-profit sector. My background is in account management, so I would really love to apply that to either a community manager or client service role for a non-profit in New York.”
Remember that old game of telephone? Be clear enough in your communication so that you leave them with enough information that, even if it gets diluted, your branding message still remains clear. Keep this tidbit in mind (times 10) when you’re interviewing, both informationally and formally for a job. You know why you’re a good candidate for the job, and it’s your responsibility now to tell them why they should give you a shot and invest in hiring you.
Brand, Brand and RE-Brand
If you lack relevant experience, create some. Thought leadership is a great tool for immersing oneself into a new industry or field. The practice of sharing relevant information through blogging, LinkedIn discussion groups, message boards or forums and social media is the quickest way to start to establish yourself as a thought leader (and that doesn’t have to mean expert) in your industry, which will increase your visibility and start to build your network of industry-related contacts. Don’t be afraid to put your thoughts, opinions, and questions out there, and share relevant and interesting content with your target industry peers. While your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile are all equally important pieces of re-creating your personal brand around a new focus, they don’t necessarily build visibility and credibility in quite the same way social networking can. The same goes for networking in-person and schmoozing with potential new colleagues at industry-related events: pick their brain and ask them about their experience breaking into the industry, and what advice they would give someone trying to make the same career move. Most will be more than happy to talk about themselves.
Take it in Steps, and in Stride
There is no easy formula for changing careers, and there is no promise that a former lawyer can become a creative writer with a simple resume overhaul and a few blog posts. Your job is simply to position yourself as best you can for a successful transition by being clear on your focus, clear in your marketing and communication, and strategic in re-building your personal brand from what it says about you now, to what you want it to say about you to potential employers.