If you’re one of the millions of people who lost their job because of the pandemic, or for another reason, you may be considering a career change.
Maybe your industry dried up, and you have no choice but to look elsewhere.
Or, maybe you’ve been dissatisfied with the kind of work you’ve been doing, and now seems like a good time to look around.
Whether it’s a big move to an entirely different industry and type of job, or a smaller, less drastic change, you’re probably anxious about the challenges ahead of you.
You may be thinking:
- Where do I find an employer willing to take me on?
- How do I position myself as a good fit for a new kind of job?
- Do I need to brush up on skills I haven’t used in a while?
- Or, do I need to invest in training to develop new skills?
- How can I ease smoothly into a new kind of job?
Plan for success with your career change
Whether you’re just exploring new opportunities or you need to switch careers for financial or other reasons, set yourself up for success. A Fast Company article has some pointers:
- Consider what you know about yourself. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and get validation from others who know you best.
- Connect with others. Networking is more important than ever, if you’re transitioning to a new industry, or new kind of job.
- Rebrand yourself. Get busy on social media and begin marketing yourself to a new audience.
- Improve your skill set. In your resume, LinkedIn profile and other personal marketing materials, pare down your skills to the ones that will be most important to the employers you’re targeting.
- Be realistic. Depending on how radical a transition you are attempting to make, you may have to take on a lower-paying position or even an internship in order to gain more relevant career experience.
- Plan for potential roadblocks. Sit down and consider what challenges you can expect, but also consider the unanticipated roadblocks that often arise. Try to frame each unforeseen obstacle as a new opportunity.
What If You Haven’t Found Your Calling?
In a TED Ideas article, StoryCorps founder Dave Isa discussed 7 lessons about finding the work you love. After a decade of interviewing people about finding their calling, he learned that, instead of “finding” your calling, it’s more about fighting for it:
- Your calling is at the intersection of a Venn diagram of three things: doing something you’re good at, feeling appreciated, and believing your work is making people’s lives better.
- Your calling often comes out of difficult experiences.
- Calling often takes courage and ruffles feathers.
- Other people often nudge you toward calling.
- What comes after identifying your calling is what really matters.
- Age is irrelevant.
- Calling often doesn’t come with a big paycheck.
NOT Knowing What To Do Next Can Be a Big Advantage
What if you’re being influenced by all the people saying things like “I want a job that’s more meaningful”, but you don’t have a clue what you want to do?
A Harvard Business Review article offered five ways to take advantage of not knowing what’s next for you:
Let the unknown open you to possibilities.
Uncertainty raises better questions about what could be next. Not having a specific destination to fixate on (e.g., I want to be a life coach or I’m going to be a veterinarian) allows you to step back and wonder about career paths you might never have considered.
Consider the moments throughout your career where you felt you were doing your best work and feeling the most satisfied. In what other contexts might such moments be possible?
Learn to read the right signs.
Like driving on an unfamiliar highway, ambiguity forces us to be alert. The key is to be alert with curiosity, not fear. For too many, career uncertainty and its resulting anxiety lead to suboptimal choices. Fearing our obsolescence, lack of employability, or that we’re ill equipped to convince others of our value, we sell ourselves short. We ignore the signs that might be pointing us to something adventurous and settle for something familiar, even if it’s unsatisfying.
Be foundational in defining your career.
Step back and inventory your portfolio of competencies to ensure the widest possible applicability of what you’re good at.
You can also identify areas where you want to develop. In much the way that researchers conduct foundational or exploratory research to uncover new problems, defining your future in terms of skills rather than jobs will widen your aperture.
Allow ambiguity to make you more adaptable.
What if you allowed yourself to lean into discomfort? By facing ambiguity, you weaken its grip, making the unknown less terrifying. Instead of asking, “What threat do I need to mitigate?” in the face of the unknown, ask, “What does this ambiguity free me up to do that greater certainty wouldn’t?”
Learn to live purposefully.
Rather than aiming at a narrow target like, “I want to start my own consulting practice” (often born from a desire for freedom from corporate constraints and controlling one’s destiny) or a vague, broad one like, “I want to help people live better lives” (a common aspiration after working mindlessly for years in a boring job), consider what it would mean to live more purposefully each day.
What habit could you build into your routines to carve out time for yourself — to explore future career options, to practice self-care, to spend more time with friends?
What the Experts Say About Navigating a Career Change
Andrew Seaman, Senior Editor at LinkedIn News, wrote an article that takes a close look at the ins and outs of career change.
He spoke with career coach Natasha Stanley who suggested that most people struggle with where to start:
“The first thing we advise people to do when they don’t know what they want to do or what’s out there is to start doing new things and expand your bubble. We really encourage people go and experience as many new things as possible. Just open the door a little bit to the possibility of being surprised.”
She said that many of her clients told her they made themselves have a conversation or attend a professional event that ultimately was a turning point in their career change.
Seaman’s article has hundreds of comments from all kinds of people, including job seekers.
Here’s a small sampling of the excellent career change advice from career professionals, recruiters, and one c-suite executive:
Virginia Franco, Resume and Job Search Strategist
“I encourage people to be very clear on their dealbreakers when determining their next move. Pivots often come with a bit of sacrifice — and there are always situations where wiggle room just isn’t possible! During my own career pivot back in 2008, my dealbreaker was that I had to be 100% virtual (a rarity back then) – but it enabled me to work without going broke in childcare!”
Deanna Mulligan, CEO Advisor
“As we go forward, the necessity for people to reinvent their work lives will increase. This can be a painful process, and we as a society should support people undergoing this transition.
While society and corporations must play a role in assisting people in the re-skilling process, there are still steps individuals can take:
Do the research on who is hiring. In the old days, that meant researching employers in your area, but, today, many more jobs are being done online. and opportunities may exist beyond your current location.
Consider taking advantage of any online courses potential future employers might provide. Some companies open up their internal training to potential applicants as well, and give preference to applicants who have completed their courses.
Check out resources offered by your local community colleges and your local libraries. Most community colleges offer job search resources to local residents, even if they are not students of the college.
Consider earning credentials online that would qualify you for a position in a new field or area. Many employers are giving more credibility to these than they have in the past.”
Katherine Miller, Executive Career Transition Strategist
“My advice for clients shifting to new industries is to first go through a personality and skills assessment with a trained professional. Then chose the industry that aligns with an interest/skillset/passion you already have and create a strategy to break into the new industry.
Your resume and strategy should be future-focused and lean heavily on:
1) volunteer activities in that industry
2) transferable skills
3) classes you are taking / have taken relevant to that industry
Start building a network in that industry and start participating in the field. This means creating portfolios and real-world solution presentations for potential employers. SHOW the employers you have the expertise it takes to solve their problems by submitting creative examples of how you would solve their problems.
This is a little extra work for free but will pay off immensely in the end.
Informational interviews and attending virtual or (where available) in-person networking events, seminars, and conferences should take top priority when shifting into new industries.”
Fran Berrick, Career Coach
“I encourage clients to consider their strengths, skills and interests. It all starts from there. There are lots of ways to do this, with a coach or other tools, workshops that appeal to them. ONET is a great free resource for those in career search mode. Careers evolve constantly and we have to reframe our idea that a career pivot (during the pandemic or not) is inherently bad!
• Conversations matter. Ask people questions. You can’t find a new role, new angle, without new conversations.
• Cultivate curiosity. People who grow tend to be curious, they don’t make assumptions or impose limits.
• Don’t wait until your pain is at a 10, or change has been thrust upon you to do something. Be proactive in your search if you see signs that your work situation may have to evolve.”
Andrew Akal, WorkLife Architect
“I made a major change last year after 30 years in financial and professional services and have never looked back. Changing one’s career can often be a reactive measure and we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to stop and consider whether what we really need is a career change or a life change. I realised it was a life change and I needed to revaluate what was important to me and my family, way beyond just getting another job.
I now help others who lost their way and felt their only choice was to follow the same narrow path to a new role. It doesn’t have to be that way. Give yourself the permission to take a step back and detach yourself from the state you have been accustomed to. Then you can properly reassess what really drives you and build that next step on your terms. It will give you a renewed sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction and it is a truly transformational experience. It isn’t easy to do and so I agree with the article that speaking to others can revolutionise your way of thinking, it did for me. If you see it as an opportunity to invest in yourself and redesign your life, not just your career, you will realise how limitless your potential can be.”
Amy Witt, Executive & Career Coach
“Practice your elevator pitch and CONCISE answers to common questions about your own experience, interests, etc. It doesn’t matter if you have decades of experience or are an executive with generally great communication skills; you likely still need to practice. I have interviewed many people with impressive resumes, including C-suite candidates, who failed the interview because they could not be concise and focused in answers about themselves.
Get out of your comfort zone in reaching out to people you want to have conversations with (not necessarily to get a job directly but to learn more about a field, industry, company, etc.).
Utilize your network. Ask people you know if they’ll make a warm introduction for you. Even if you don’t know the potential introducer well or they don’t know the target well, some link of familiarity can go a long way.”
Madhusree Vemuru, General Manager – CSR & Communications
“Being passionate about your work and giving yourself completely to every job is the key to successful career change. A non-engineering pro cannot suddenly do a core engineering job but there are many things you can learn both before and after the career change to be a successful professional. And, always pick a profession where your interest lies and makes you happy – money will follow. Only difference during pandemic is there could be more people looking for a change or even looking for a job itself. All other rules are just the same.
I changed my career 3 times – I was a practicing criminal trial courts lawyer in the 90’s and after a 5 year break (when my daughter was born) went into television for 10 years, and after I felt I plateaued I moved into development sector while dabbling a little in Advertising & Communications”
“It’s not an easy task, redefining your career is always a daunting and seemingly scary jump… but we think at a basic level following these three P’s sets you on a good path to start off with: Planning, Patience and Preparation.
Planning – Simply put, immerse yourself in research to understand what qualifications/barriers to entry there are and how you can go about overcoming them. Industry conversations and references (LinkedIn is great for this) can also go a long way to easing you into this process.
Patience – When changing career paths it’s always important to maintain a level of perspective regarding the amount of time it may take you to adequately build up the profile so you can apply to jobs in a different field. “It’s a marathon not a sprint”
Preparation – This will vary from person to person depending on what responsibilities a person has, but we always make a point to ask – are you prepared for the commitment that comes from changing fields? There is a fine balance between working in a current role whilst also training for a new one.”
Matt Warzel, Resume Writer & Career Consultant
“My advice is that the candidate should research their new career field/job target! You need to do your research. You need to get a feel for the way the industry and respective companies function in the world, the services they provide to others, and the types of jobs out there in that industry that could pose as a potential new career.
I love using Google News, Google alerts, Salary.com, Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn to uncover industry and job research. Using this research can be a good way to spot industry and job keywords (for the core competencies and summary sections), role responsibilities (for the experience section), and important transferable contributions (for the accomplishments section) for inclusion on your resume. You also need to look out for continuing education opportunities.
Seek out academic programs that can help train and prepare you for your new role while you’re in limbo. Find some new career job openings and the minimal qualifications in each, identify the possible credentials you may need to better position yourself in this new role, and find online institutions that you can acquire these credentials, and list them onto your resume.
Also, find membership groups and industry networking opportunities…this is a wonderful place to gather knowledge from industry pros who can help explain the nuances of your new role.”
And, here’s the comment I left:
“I like what was said about behaving like you’re already in the job, making an impact, in your resume and other job search materials. This is one benefit of researching to learn what makes you a good fit for that company, early in your job search. Helping people see you in the role gives them an indication of how valuable you’ll be to them.”