Career Transitions and Starting from the Bottom

Career Transitions are common these days, whether the result of a failed business, a career choice that didn’t work out as planned, a layoff, or just knowing it was time for a change.  Changing careers is nothing to apologize for but an opportunity to embrace change, to leverage transferrable skills and follow your passion.

Regardless of the reason, career transition should be planned and executed well to ensure success.

  • Honest Assessment – you need to very honestly assess your personal strengths and weaknesses.  Be honest about what skills you possess and what skills are needed in the roles you hope to pursue.  Identify opportunities to develop the missing or weaker skills.  Be very honest about what you like and dislike about your current employer and your current role.
  • Have a plan.  Know where you want to go so you can figure out how to get there.  Carefully consider your skills interests and passions to find the best intersection.  Research target companies and investigate their flexibility.
  • Network like crazy.  This is a great way to learn how others have made similar career transitions, to learn about the various roles in your desired field and the key skills for success.  This is also the best way to learn how flexible and supportive organizations truly are.  Use your alumni database, linked in, family and friends to identify contacts in target positions and at target companies. (More on Networking for Job Search Success!)
  • Focus on your transferrable skills.  What skills do you already have with demonstrated success that are important in this new role?  Think about how to market those skills?  Have you demonstrated your ability to learn a new industry or function in the past?  Use that to your advantage.  Don’t focus on the parts of the job description you haven’t done before.  Focus on the skills required to do that job and sell your skills and experience.  Don’t forget that sometimes a fresh perspective is just what the company needs when it done respectfully.
  • Don’t focus on the reason for the career change in your interview, focus on your passion for the work and the skills and experience you bring to the table.
  • Turn a negative into a positive.  If you tried something and it didn’t work out, focus on what you learned from the experience.  Having the courage to try something is positive and show that you learned from the experience and bring that learning to the new role.
  • Track record – have you already successfully transferred to a new industry, a new department?  Have you learned a new system or process?  Show that you learn quickly, set high standards for yourself and quickly become an expert in your area of responsibility
  • Show your passion – let them know why you are so passionate about this opportunity and what you can bring to the company.  Be sure not to come across as the “flavor of the month” but as someone committed to success in this field.
  • Know your competition – you will be competing for this position with people who have done this job before.  Sell the hiring manager on the unique strengths and perspectives you bring to the position.
  • Execute flawlessly – Be sure your resume has no typos or grammatical errors.  Same for your cover letter.  Prepare well for the interview.  Have questions prepared to ask the interviewer.  Be sure to send a hand written thank you note.  Every step of the process you want to stand out and be remembered for positive reasons.

Managers have come to expect career changes when they post a position.   They want to see someone who has done their homework about the company, the position and the career path.  They want to know why you are making the change and how you will contribute to their organization.  The most critical factor is fit.  Do they feel they can work with you and that you fit well with the team.

But what if someone isn’t wealthy? Can he afford to start over in a new industry?

  • With a career transition you may have to take a step backwards or sideways in your career but you shouldn’t have to start at the very bottom.

If so, what are some tips for making it work and still being able to make ends meet?

  • Do a very honest assessment of what your “floor” is in terms of salary and benefits.  Know what you must have to pay the bills.  Discipline yourself to not consider anything below your floor.  But taking  a cut to get into a field you desire and where you can advance may be a good investment in your future.

If not, what are other ways to make a change without starting from the bottom?

  • If you do a lot of networking to learn what skills are required for success in your target organizations, you can really focus on selling your relevant transferrable skills.  When you are bringing something of value to the table, your offer should be higher.
  • Also consider interim steps to get you closer to your desired career path so you can maximize your value add.  You can build experience in your target field by leveraging your current experience.  For example:  I have an undergrad degree in accounting and was very successful in my accounting career.  I completed my MBA and realized my passion was marketing and managing customer relationships.  My first marketing job was with a financial software vendor who valued my accounting knowledge, my experience with financial systems and my connections in that field.  I was able to make a very significant career change without stepping backwards.  After several years there, I had the marketing experience to pursue the opportunities of my choice.
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