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Changing Your Career WITHOUT Starting at the Bottom

Changing Your Career WITHOUT Starting at the Bottom

Changing jobs is hard. . . . . . . . . .Changing Careers is harder.  But if doing something different is on your mind, don’t let anything stop you.  Know that changing your career’s direction is very doable providing you are realistic about what it will take to achieve your goal. 

As job markets improve, unemployment lowers, and hiring increases, many job seekers’ thoughts turn to moving on to a new job opportunity.  For most, this means moving onto a new but fairly similar job.  However, for some, who have been dreaming of doing something different, this can mean moving on to a new type of job type, field, or level of responsibility.

Can you do it?  Absolutely.  Making a change in your career’s direction  – new field, new job type, new level  – is very doable.  But, remember the three P’s:  It will take Planning, Perseverance, and Patience.  It will also take hard work.  The question is:  Is it for you? 

Career Change Statistics

Is a Career Direction Change for you?  Well, you know that changing jobs is hard.  But know that changing career direction is harder. It will generally take more time, more energy, and often more resources than a regular job search.  So before you embark on a career    and often life    change, be sure it’s a change you want to make. 

Is it doable?  Well, today the workforce changes jobs and career directions multiple times before they end their careers.  Long gone, for the most part, are the days when an employee hired into a company or organization and stayed for the duration of their career as evidenced by the following statistics from the Department of Labor, and other sources that study employment.

It will come as no surprise that people now change jobs frequently.  Employers expect, or at least accept, that workers will be changing jobs a lot more often    about every 3 years.  So, by the age of 42, many workers will have had about 8 - 10 jobs.                                                                                                         

However, these sources cite a statistic that may be something of a surprise:

The average person will change careers 5 - 7 times during their working life according to career change statistics.  (I have seen sources which cite this figure as high as 12.)

So, take comfort in the fact that job and career change is no longer seen as out-of-the-norm, thereby making it a little easier to achieve such a goal. 

What is a Career Direction Change?

A Career Direction Change (C.D.C.) is not merely changing jobs.  For our purposes here, we are defining Career Direction Change as changing an employee’s:
1.   Field of work
2.   Type of work within a field
3.   Level of work (responsibility).  In each circumstance, this type of change will require a change in duties, knowledge, and, importantly, skills to perform the work. 

Obstacles to Career Direction Change

Many, if not most of us, have probably dreamed at some point of doing something entirely different . . . doctors who wanted to be lawyers, engineers who wanted to be astronauts, program managers who wanted to be antique dealers, . . . Do they succeed in making the transition?  Some do, but the majority of job seekers I’ve worked with over the years - probably 1000's by this point in time - don’t.  Something stops them.  For many, the deterrents come down to these two obstacles:

!   Fear of the unknown

!   Reluctance to start at the bottom . . . again.

However, don’t let these obstacles stop you, particularly if after doing some homework you find you really are serious about making a real career change. 

First, just doing some research (as described below) can help you begin to overcome fear.  As your knowledge grows about the career change you intend to make, so will your comfort level.

Second, there’s good news!  You don’t have to start at the bottom.  By skillfully identifying your Transferable Skills, you can move into your new profession at a level that is more comfortable and familiar to you.  Yes, it may require a step or two down, or a lateral move, for a period of time, but this can be a far cry from starting at the bottom.   

The Secret to a Career Direction Change:  Transferrable Skills

While I have long maintained that when it comes to job searching, there are no quick fixes, no magic pills, no secrets to success, when it comes to changing career direction there is  “one secret-of-sorts” to achieve a change.   It is Transferable Skills.  

Transferrable skills are skills that are relevant and applicable to a wide range of different jobs and industries.  They’re usually gained over time, and can be gained from previous positions, charity or voluntary work, hobbies, and interactions with family, friends, and acquaintances.  These skills can be moved from one place to another – one organization to another    one job to another.  Think of them as Portable Skills. 

Through the strategic incorporation of your Transferrable Skills into your networking conversations, marketing materials (including Elevator Speech, resume and cover letter), applications, and interviews, you can show that while you may not have all the in-depth skills of a competitor, you have enough skills, ability, and experience not to start at the bottom!

Preparing for a Career Transition

There are good reasons and bad reasons to change your career direction.  What’s driving you?  Being clear about why you want to make a Career Change is the 1st step.  Here’s how to gain clarity about what’s driving your desire for a Career Direction Change:

1.  Assess your motivation for making a Career Direction Change.

Why do you want to make a career change?  Be honest.  Take a hard look at yourself and your motivation.  Take the time to explore your motivation:
!   Is your drive internally based, i.e., driven by your own deep-seated goals, needs, and desires?

!   Are you being enticed by unrealistic expectations or perceptions of different career fields or career levels – the grass is greener phenomenon?   Use your research to determine if this a dream or a pipe dream!

!   Is your drive externally based, i.e., influenced by another person in your private or professional life?

Answer these questions honestly.  Changing career direction is hard, more often than not requiring a lot of networking and selling prospective employers on your ability to do the job.  If your goal is not driven by internal motivation, it ups the odds that you won’t stick with it.

2.  Understand the benefits and losses of making a Career Direction Change.

 What’s In It For You WIFFM)?  There are real benefits to be derived from a Career Direction Change:

!   You are less likely to be bored.
!   You will be exposed to a greater variety of work experiences and Organizational Cultures (the way an organization goes about getting work done, resolving problems, and acknowledging and rewarding achievement).
!   You will meet a lot of interesting people – and build your network at the same time.
!   You may find greater professional satisfaction and fulfillment. 

There are losses / negatives too, such as:      

!   Having different career choices available means that you might be tempted to change careers too frequently – especially if you find you’re good at it!
!   Some prospective employers may see you as a “job hopper,” and fearing a short tenure, their perception may lessen your chances for hiring into their firm.
!   You may also miss out on the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder due to short tenures.
3.  Expect your C.D.C. to take time.

Adjust your expectations.  While it may have only taken you a few months to find earlier jobs, entering a new field or trying to increase your level of responsibility takes time. 
!   Exhibit patience. 
!   Don’t rush the process.                                  
!   And, importantly, don’t give up!

Steps to Take to Change Your Career Direction

If, having done your preparation and assessment, you find that changing your career’s direction is still for you, take the following steps to make a successful change.
Step 1.  Identify What You Want To Do And . . . What You’re Qualified To Do

Put into words what you want to do in this new phase of your career; this step moves your desire from thoughts-in-your-head toward reality.  Begin to determine how qualified you are to enter this new field, type of work, or level.

Step 2.  Identify and Evaluate Your Current Skills

Identify the skills you have and evaluate them via a Career Analysis as shown below:
!   Review your professional, technical (technology), and social networking skills and capabilities.  Evaluate them:  What are your strengths?  Weaknesses?
!   Interpersonal skills are key, and often the lynch pin, to making a C.D.C.  Your skills, knowledge, and experience become the selling point for why an employer should consider you or a network contact should refer you.  To do so effectively, you must identify your interpersonal skills’ strengths and where you fall short.  Try to fill the gaps.
Creating a matrix may help you sort out and sift through your abilities.  Create a 3-column chart, labeling your columns:  Subject Matter Knowledge, Skills, and Likes / Dislikes.

                                                           Career Analysis Chart
Subject Matter Knowledge

Likes / Dislikes
Now fill in your chart, analyzing what it tells you about choices that are likely to pay off for you.  For a real-life example of a Career Direction Change, please refer to “My Story” at the conclusion of this article.

Step 3.  Identify the types of skills needed for your new career.

Action 1:  Get educated.  Learn about the type of skills needed to make your Career Direction Change. 
1.   Read Job Descriptions, position advertisements, industry news, . . . to help you identify necessary skills. 
2.   Network with people in your new profession or familiar with it; ask questions about what it will take to both enter this new area and succeed.

Then utilize a “T” chart to compare the requisite skills with your own to see how close you come to meeting job requirements.  Identify your Transferable Skills.  Determine which skills will help you make this transition.  Identify skill gaps and plan to fill them.

Action 2: Review your Career Analysis from Step 2.  Ask yourself two questions:    

1.   “Does my Analysis confirm that I HAVE ENOUGH of the skills (along with knowledge and likes) required by my prospective career to be seen as a viable candidate for a job?”
2.   “Does my Analysis show that I lack the necessary skills to do the job?”

If your answer to Question 1 is “Yes,” you’re off to a good start.  However, even if you have the skills, identify any small gaps in proficiency and take action to strengthen them.

If your answer to Question 2 is Yes, get the education and training you need to at least begin to fill the gap(s).  Get certified    Finish or begin a new degree    Take a  course. While you can NOT make up for a lack of experience with education and training, it can provide you with an understanding and often some hands-on practice in performing the skill(s) as well as demonstrate your seriousness to anyone you talk with.

Step 4.  Get experience.

You can’t invent relevant skill(s) experience if you don’t have any.  However, there is a way you may be able to gain a little hands-on experience.  Volunteer.  The hands-on activity of volunteering will also give you a realistic assessment of whether you really want to pursue this Career Direction Change.

!   Finding volunteer activities available in your prospective career is a way to gain and practice skills, as well as to demonstrate that you have some experience in performing these skills. 
!   If there are no opportunities to volunteer in your new field, job, or level type, finding volunteer activities utilizing a skill that would be valuable in your prospective career can still help provide you with experience in using the skill.  For example, while you may not be able to find a “Program Manager volunteer role” in your desired profession, volunteering to manage a project for a local charity or association will give you practice in utilizing the skills of a program manager as you direct a project from inception to completion.  

Step 5.  Attend and Network, Network, Network!

Because your competition for jobs will come from job seekers who actually have real hands-on experience, non-traditional ways of finding jobs rises in importance.  And, networking, with a revised Elevator Speech in hand, focused on the type of job, field, and level you want in your next position, becomes paramount to making a successful change. 

Let’s face it:  Your resume or job application when breaking into a new line or level of work CAN NOT be as strong as a resume from an experienced worker.  So, utilize opportunities to show and tell others about your desire to make a C.D.C. and your qualifications for doing so::

!   Network professionally and informally.  Attend everything you’re invited to, business cards in hand and tell your story.
!   Target and contact companies and organizations that might hire you and try to arrange appointments to talk with them.  Arrange “informational interviews” if you can.  Even a short phone call can add to you knowledge.
!   Identify a professional association that focuses on the field  and level of job you are interested in.  Attend, participate, and volunteer for tasks.
!   Attend relevant conferences.
!   Show up a lot!

Step 6.  Spruce up your resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letters.

Experience is not the only thing prospective employers are looking for.  Finding the right “fit” is important to most organizations, meaning this new employee might actually stay a while and contribute.  Address your strengths, skills, and relevant experience in all of your job search communications.  BUT remember to address “fit” too, showing that you understand the qualities that are sought by the hiring firm and that you possess them.

Step 7.  Search for your new position.

Enjoy your search for your new Career Direction!

Go for it!

Are you up for the challenge of making a Career Direction Change?  Being forewarned about, prepared for, and educated about your desired change is half the battle.  Employ the three P’s:  Planning, Perseverance, and Patience and . . . Go for it! 

In the end, it’s your job, your career, and your life.  How do you want to spend it?

Best of luck,


Bonus:  An example of a Career Direction Change:   “My Story”

Is a Career Direction Change doable?  Yes.  I did it and here’s how.

Several years ago, I was working in my 3rd defense engineering firm, and although I was still quite happy and successful in performing my various roles, I started to feel a teensy bit antsy as the major project I had hired on to do was implemented; although it still required continued development and maintenance, in fact, the challenge was gone . . . done.  And, I started to find myself wondering what else I could do and how I could use my background to do it!

As I wondered about what I could do that might be new or a little different, I found myself running through a list of Subject Matter Knowledge (SMK) I figured I possessed and skills I had.  I thought: If I combined my subject matter knowledge with my skills, what fields could they open up for me?  Then, I started to question when I was happiest in a job?  And when, instead, did I find myself taking long lunches?  I decided to put this information down on paper and came up with a chart: My Career Analysis Chart.
As I filled in my Chart, I identified 8 areas in which I possessed Subject Matter Knowledge, and 8 areas of skill.  As I studied my chart, it occurred to me that my Top 3 strongest areas of SMK occurred in:

1.      Construction (where I had spent an earlier portion of my career)
2.      Education and Training / Human Resources (doing a lot of workshops, seminars, and manager and employee coaching
3.      Sales and Marketing (of Construction, Retail, Training Services)

Looking at a list of skills areas told me that training, public speaking, fixing problems, and managing/implementing projects topped my list. 

Then, I looked at what made me happy in a job - a key, I figured, to staying in a job a while.  For me, topping my list were autonomy, interacting with people at all levels, and strategizing / starting / implementing / and then handing off projects or programs.  A micro-managed situation was not for me.

I took this new-found way of looking at my background and asked myself:  How could I put it to use in a new way?  I initially reasoned that certainly construction offered avenues, as well as Human Resources, as follows:

!       Construction – offered education and training opportunities, and to a lesser extent HR and sales and marketing positions in construction companies.
!       Education and Training - offered opportunities in education and training firms, or sales and marketing of education / training services to, construction companies; I also looked into HR positions, particularly those with a training component.
!       Sales and Marketing -  To a lesser degree, I looked into positions in sales and marketing that came across my desk when I discovered them in industries I was familiar with:  Retail, Defense, Engineering, and Publishing.

I networked like crazy, one person referring me to another and to another.  Through this networking activity, as well as “library” research, I discovered two new avenues to employment.

4.  Construction Training Companies

5.  Construction Trade Associations       

I explored them all.  To make this long story a little shorter, I won’t go into more detail other than to say I worked really hard.  It took me at least 3/4 of a year.  At the end of that time, I found myself being hired into my new job, utilizing my knowledge and skills, but in an entirely new and previously unthought of field:  I was hired as the Education Director for a Construction Trade Association.  This position was a great fit; I had a great challenge, worked with tremendous freedom, interacted with members from all over the country - and world - and traveled a lot.

So, when it comes to Career Direction Change, is it doable?  Absolutely.  Is it hard work?  Indeed it is.  But with the application of the three P’s  – Planning, Perseverance, and Patience  – you can make a desire to change your career direction a reality!

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