Change is inevitable, growth is optional – John Maxwell
Have you been pondering a career change? If you are like the average person, you will work for 42 years, have at least 3 distinct careers, navigate economic recessions every 7 years, and change jobs every 3.5 years.
Even if you do not seek a career change, change will eventually find you
After 20 years of helping people reinvent, I want to share 5 keys to unlocking a career change.
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1. Follow your Curiosity
“Around here, we don’t look backward for long. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney
A career change can be sparked by a job loss, the nagging feeling something is missing, or a pull toward a new field. You may feel restless, depleted, undervalued, bored, or frustrated.
Moving through this range of emotions is part of the grieving process after recognizing your current career is no longer sustainable.
The first step to successfully changing careers, however, is to let go of the old and embrace the new.
How do you pivot from what is to what is possible?
Be curious about what has shifted that is propelling you to pursue a career change
- Are you underutilizing your strengths?
- Have you reprioritized your values?
- Are you using skills you no longer enjoy?
- Is your job not aligned with how you are wired?
I facilitate these self-exploration questions using the YouMap® assessment to identify your strengths, values, skills, and interests. Part of the YouMap® process is learning your Holland Occupational Code.
John Holland defined 6 distinct career interest types:
The Doer, Thinker, Creator, Helper, Persuader, and Organizer
Knowing your type helps you determine your next career move.
For example, if you are a Creator and Organizer, you can examine if a career is a match by asking the simple questions:
“Will I be creating?” and “Will I be organizing?”
Learn your Holland Type by completing a free online assessment
In addition, your curiosity can guide you in exploring the world of work
- What problems do you want to solve?
- Who do you want to engage with at work?
- In what type of work environment will you thrive?
- What are you doing when time flies?
Once you have a clear picture of who you are and how you want to spend your working hours you can create a list of organizations that honor your values and a list of roles that require your motivating skills.
2. Make a Commitment
“Small, Smart Choices + Consistency + Time = RADICAL DIFFERENCE” Darren Hardy
Career change is not for the faint of heart. The motivation you feel on day one will fade by day 50. To guard against giving up, create and stick to a schedule of job search habits using all 5 paths to hire.
What are the 5 paths to hire?
Gain Internal Referrals – Earning referrals is the gold standard for career changers to secure better jobs sooner. While only 7% of applications come from referrals, they represent 40% of hires.
Directly Target Organizations – Narrow in on employers you want to work for, become well-versed with what they do, and engage with them through social media and employee career research conversations.
Apply through Job Boards – While applying to jobs online is a necessary part of the process, career changers are less likely to be selected cold from a job application without an internal referral.
Connect with Recruitment Firms – Since recruiters work for the hiring team, they are reluctant to present a career changer as a candidate unless you can convince them as to why you are a top pick.
Attract Opportunities via Social Media – Create a LinkedIn Profile that reflects not just where you have been, but where you are headed in your new career to attract recruiters sourcing through social media.
To benefit from what Darren Hardy calls “the compound effect,” you must commit to consistently performing a series of small, smart job search habits relentlessly over time.
Write down weekly S.M.A.R.T goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) addressing all 5 paths to hire to keep you on track.
A week of S.M.A.R.T goals might look like this:
- Conduct 5, 20-minute career research conversations with connections at target companies
- Research 3 target companies online for 1-hour and follow and engage with their social media
- Apply to 6 job postings with customized cover letters
- Participate in a phone screen with a recruiting agency specializing in your target function
- Spend 15 mins sending a customized note to follow up with a recruiter who viewed your profile
As you learn about your new career requirements, take note of skill gaps and craft a plan to close them.
For high-tech, high-impact job search habits, check out Steve Dalton’s book, The 2-Hour Job Search
3. Master the Art of Communication
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” Flora Lewis
Do you perceive your last career outcome as a failure? Is your confidence shaken after a layoff?
Communicate with yourself with kindness
Careers are full of twists and turns that don’t work out as planned. Are you encouraging yourself as you would speak with a dear friend? Growth is not linear. Setbacks are lessons on the path to success.
Is your self-talk is chronically defeatist?
Write down negative recurring thoughts and challenge them
- Are your negative thoughts true?
- Are you conflating your self-worth with your job success?
- If you have made mistakes, what have you learned from them?
Flip the language from a fixed mindset such as “I will never be able to learn this new skill” to a growth mindset “I have learned new skills before, and I can do it again.”
It is challenging to sell a product you don’t believe in – including you. Negative self-talk unchecked spills into how you communicate about yourself with others in networking conversations and interviews.
Ultimately, you want to transform your non-traditional background into a competitive advantage, rather than a drawback.
These advantages can be as simple as:
- Bringing a unique customer perspective or new prospective market to your target employer.
- Leveraging vendor or partner relationships from your previous role.
- Experience solving problems in your prior industry that your target field is beginning to tackle.
If your self-perception is limiting your growth and you are becoming your own worst enemy, check out the exercises in Dr. Colleen George’s book, Rescript to reframe fixed mindset stories and get unstuck.
Communicate in the language of your target career
One of the biggest mistakes career changers make is communicating their capabilities in a language that is irrelevant to the new employer.
Changing careers requires learning the new language of your target market. You must translate your skills and accomplishments into words that resonate with them.
How can you adopt this new language?
Prepare with Podcasts
Just as immersion is the best way to master French or Spanish, engaging with professionals speaking the language of your desired field will improve your fluency in your marketing documents and interviews.
The proliferation of digital content provides unlimited access to career information. There is a podcast spanning every imaginable career. Interested in finance? Listen to insights from leading investment strategists. Exploring the non-profit sector? Choose from 30+ podcasts on non-profit issues.
Conduct Career Research Conversations
The most impactful activity you can do to change careers is embracing career research conversations early and often with people who can hire you for or are doing the job you want. You will gain quality, timely insights you will not find online. Pay attention to what is important to them, the vocabulary they use, and what keeps them up at night.
Many career changers tell me they don’t know people in their targeted field. Maybe you don’t know anyone yet, but don’t let that stop you!
Reach out to podcast guests, fellow alumni, past coworkers, LinkedIn connections, instructors from courses you have taken, and friends and family in your desired career. Ask for email introductions to LinkedIn 2nd degree connections in your field.
Once you have immersed yourself in the language of your chosen industry, translate your skills into the field’s key terms and desired outcomes in your resume, social media presence, and interview stories.
4. Engage in Collaboration
“Alone we can do little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller
Did you ever wonder why geese fly in a V formation? As geese flap their wings, they create an uplift for the birds behind them. They can increase their flying range by 70% when flying in formation together.
This cooperation enables some geese to fly over 4,200 miles each year from Canada to France.
The beauty of how geese work together is they take turns in the headwinds.
The same is true for engaging with your community to enable career transitions.
Career change is harder when going it alone, collaboration is key
By collaborating with others, you will reach your destination more quickly, travel further, and complete the journey with greater ease. The relationships are both give and take as you rely on others to inform and support you in addition to helping them by sharing your knowledge and experience.
How can you foster collaboration?
Ken Coleman’s book, The Proximity Principle, describes how career changers can find creative methods of engaging with people working in their target industry and getting involved in networking and projects.
Participating in professional association events in your desired industry, connecting with classmates in skill-building courses, commenting in LinkedIn groups, and taking on volunteer projects are some ideas to get started. The goal is to be in the proximity of the professional community you want to join.
Check out my blog on Career Research Conversations for a list of questions to ask when learning about your targeted role from contacts in the field.
5. Summon your Courage
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin
A quick Amazon search for career transition books yields 3,000 results, yet people still struggle to change careers. Why do professionals who know what they want still fail to make it happen?
You need courage
Career change requires humility, a beginner’s mind, and a growth mindset. You must let go of the comfort of being the expert, leave familiar colleagues, and change your routine.
The advice to “follow your passion” and you will never work a day in your life is a misconception. The word passion has Greek origins meaning “to suffer.” So, the question to ask yourself is “what career is so appealing that I am willing to sacrifice to attain it?”
Honestly assess your willingness to make trade-offs
If you are not open to giving up something for the new career, such as financial compensation, flexibility, autonomy, or comfort, maybe you are not ready.
Consider a bridge job to transition to your new career through an interim step. For example, if it is challenging to switch both function and industry simultaneously, switch industries first while remaining in your function, then make a later switch to the desired function once you gain industry experience.
While it is hard to embrace the unknown, it is also hard to remain stagnant in a role you know no longer serves you. Choose your hard. I am not suggesting you ignore shortcomings or truths about the obstacles, but most people hold themselves back by letting irrational fears go unchallenged.
What if your worst fears are realized?
Create a contingency plan and financial cushion to alleviate anxiety and gain momentum. Imagine yourself not just surviving change but enjoying the journey.
Recently, I captured this photo of beautiful birds taking off at sunrise. I was thinking about starting a doctoral program, a scary and exciting change in my own career. As the sun rose, I listened to a favorite Nina Simone song that conjured up the feeling of freedom that comes from a fresh start.
“Birds flying high, you know how I feel,
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel,
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day,
It’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good . . .”
The world of work is full of opportunities that require your unique gifts. With curiosity, commitment, communication, collaboration, and courage you can make the change. As you reach your destination, remember to take your turn in the headwinds to enable those behind you to also go the distance.
Use these 5 keys to unlock your potential, contribute in a way only you can, and embrace a new day.
Meet the author
A Career Counselor and Resume Writer for 20 years, Julie provides strengths-based assessments, customized career storytelling, and high ROI job search strategies.
Julie’s holistic approach is fueled by two decades of coaching experience, multiple career industry certifications, a graduate degree in Counseling, a “first act” career as a Fortune 100 recruiter and a desire to help clients maximize their professional potential and personal well-being.