As a career coach, I help clients overcome challenges during job transitions. From a client’s perspective, one of the most daunting prospects is switching positions or industries mid-career. Happily, making a major career change isn’t as difficult as it may appear. If you’re thinking the grass looks greener in other fields, take heart. With the right approach, you can make a change without starting from scratch.
If you’re considering a major career change, or a minor one, keep in mind that the job market has evolved considerably in the last few years. Whether you joined the workforce five, 10 or more than 15 years ago, things have changed since you were starting out. Millennials, called “the job hopping generation” in a 2016 Gallup report, have removed much of the stigma of changing jobs and making career transitions. If you’re thinking of changes industries or trying out a new role in the industry you’re in, you don’t have to be a millennial to benefit from the new normal.
I know firsthand that successfully moving from one industry to another is possible, through my work as a RiseSmart Certified Career Coach, and through my experience making industry transitions myself — from acting to marketing to sales to coaching. Although you may be invested in your latest career choice, and it may take a little training or additional effort to get started, keep in mind that your latest job interest does not have to define your entire career. The move you’re considering now could lead you down a path to yet another major, or minor career change in a few years. So, although you may be feeling anxiety about making a move, remember that fear is just a feeling and do it anyway.
Unless you’re being chased by a bear, don’t let fear determine your future. I’ve coached many professionals through both major and minor career transitions. Here are my top 3 tips to help them make the transition smoother.
Tip #1 Seek Clarity
Many people feel trapped in their jobs and want to make a change, but aren’t sure what industry and/or role would best suit their unique talents. The first step to making any kind of career transition is to gain clarity. It’s a big world and there are many opportunities. Before you start to make a change, focus in on what you want to do and set your priorities. Here are a few things to consider when trying to decide where to put your energies:
- Research various industries that sound interesting to you
- Read job descriptions posted by those industries and drill down to discover matches
- Type in keywords to find commonalities
- Do a skills assessment
- Determine what additional training/skills acquisition will be required
At this stage, I advise my clients to take a close look at job descriptions from companies they’re interested in, paying particular attention to keywords and titles, which can vary greatly from one industry to another.
Personality tests and strength assessments can also be incredibly helpful at this stage. Free online tests like 16Personalities or Personal Strengths Inventory by Truity, or those with a nominal fee, such as CliftonStrengths will help provide clarity around your innate strengths and guide you to search roles that are suited to your personality and natural inclinations.
Once you have some data to work with, daydream a little. Sit back and think about what you would do if there were no limitations – if money, geography, or other constraints didn’t exist. Daydreaming may lead you to consider an industry or role you hadn’t before. Of course, you’ll have to make sure that any role you pursue will satisfy your financial and geographic needs.
Tip #2 Be curious:
Once you’ve gained some inspiration for a possible new career direction, learn as much as you can about the target industry and role. Networking and talking to people in the industry is your best strategy at this phase of your transition. You may know someone in the field, or have a friend who knows someone. Use your social networks and former business contacts as resources to help you build knowledge about your new field. While making the first move to talk to someone can be daunting, remember that most people are happy to discuss their jobs and themselves, if given an opening. Meet someone from the industry for coffee to find out more details and to discover if you might be a good fit for the job.
You’ll want to know:
- What is it like to work in the industry?
- What does a typical day look like in their role?
- What are the things people most love about the job?
- What are the challenges?
- How did your contact get into that field?
Job descriptions are also essential for this stage. I advise clients who go on interviews in a new industry to first become thoroughly familiar with the target job description. Read trade publications online, follow key industry players on social media and conduct research on the industry and specific companies to prepare for interviews.
Tip #3 Acquire and transfer skills
Everything you’ve learned along the way you’ll use in your new position. Find ways to make connections between the experiences you’ve already had and the skills and experience required for the new career. Start by identifying your transferrable skills. In your research, you may discover knowledge or skills gaps that you’ll need to address. Make a plan for getting the additional training you need before you quit the job that’s currently paying the bills.
It’s likely that many of the skills you use now will be directly applicable to your target position and industry. Whether a company sells computer chips or potato chips, employees must collaborate, satisfy internal and external customers, and handle crucial business initiatives.
Some industries are tougher to break into because jobs require specific certifications and technical skills. If you’re targeting a job that requires skills you don’t currently have, it’s a good idea to look at local or online training opportunities. Have a realistic view of the training that is required for a specific role, and make a plan to acquire the new skills.
Attitude is important when making a major change like switching industries or trading in a familiar role for something new. It may help to keep in mind that none of your past career was wasted time — you learned much along the way that will be valuable in the next phase of your working life. A great résumé can communicate that value, so it is vital to create a document specifically targeting the new industry that incorporates keywords and paints your transferable skills in the best possible light.
Today, the workplace is more volatile for employees and employers alike. Fewer people today assume they’ll stay in the same job and focus on a single industry throughout their career than a generation ago. Just as today’s economy requires companies to be agile, it demands the same of employees. Be clear about what you’re looking for, stay open to learning and be ready to adapt. If you can achieve that, you’ll be well on your way to a successful career transition.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu
How will you take your first step? I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments below.
Dr. Michele D’Amico, CPC, CELC, is a RiseSmart Certified Career Coach. Her approach to coaching is to listen for your mental constructs and limiting beliefs -- the ones that may be holding you back from achieving your goals and dreams. According the Michele, “The client/coach relationship is a unique and synergistic one: we are a team united in the pursuit of your goals.” Learn more from Michele at micheledamico.com.
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