Career Transitions

Turning chaos into careers.

Career Changers: Make the Job Market Care

The number one mistake made by career changers.

Years ago I heard a talk by Dr. Wayne Dyer. He was discussing the reactions we all have to traffic jams and bad drivers. He commented on how angry we get, how we hit the steering wheel or our horn, how we gesture or shake our fists at the traffic. (Even a recent Psychology Today blog post dealt with that topic.) But, as Dr. Dyer so eloquently said, "the traffic doesn't care." What a wonderful and weirdly calming thought: we can get as excited or angry as we want, but the traffic is going to be the traffic and it doesn't care. So we might as well calm down.

I think about that metaphor when I look at how some people approach the job search. It is not easy. It requires a lot of work. It requires attention to detail (misspelled word on a resume, anyone?). And we can get angry, depressed, upset, whatever. We can send out hundreds of resumes or we can send out none. The job market doesn't care.

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With record numbers of jobless claims, whether you're a lawyer, computer tech worker, construction worker, or state worker, when you try to seek a position in the same field where you were laid-off, you are probably facing an uphill battle. This means you will likely want to transition to another field. And that's where you have to remember: the job market doesn't care.

So how is this calming? Because as soon as you start to focus on what factors will make an employer care, you will change your approach to the process. You will put your effort into positive ways to overcome your situation and focus on what matters.

If you're still metaphorically shaking your fist at the job market, and reluctantly seeking positions in a new field, you aren't focusing on the details of the job search that are likely tripping you up. And daily I see job-seekers struggle with the transition to a new career field making elementary job-hunting mistakes that will keep them from ever being competitive in the new field.

So what is the biggest error made by those trying to transition to another career field? Poor communication skills which come across as arrogance. Arrogant job applicants simply assume because they are good in one field their skills and education will be valued in another. Now, hold on a minute: that's actually true-- your skills and education likely do apply to other fields. But you can't assume that the employer will immediately understand this. Too many cover letters gloss over this issue, with phrases like "as a former corporate attorney, my skills would be very valuable in your nonprofit agency." How? Why? What skills? What if we don't need an attorney? What else can you do?

Marketing pro Joe Vitale has an exquisite line about advertising-- he says you have to "get out of your ego and into your customer's ego." Think about that. Most cover letters and resumes are written from the writer's ego-what you think is wonderful about you, what you want the employer to know about you. How often do you stop and think about what the employer wants to know?

  • Have you researched the company and the position? (By the way, that's the second biggest mistake career changers make- failure to do their homework.)
  • Have you tailored your cover letter and resume accordingly, or have you just created a form letter and simply changed the name of the company? Employers can spot those "insert name of company here" form letters a mile away. They speak in generalities and never really address the direct connection between your talents and position or organization.

You make an employer care by focusing on THEIR needs and interests, not yours. You match your skills and education to their position, not to what you used to do. You come across as strong, competent, and knowledgeable about the field to which you're applying, bringing a new perspective to the position, but also willing to learn.

The next time you get ready to send another cover letter, email, or resume to an employer-- stop for a moment. Have you made them care?

Artworkcredit: John S. Dykes of Sudbury, MA

Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University. She is the author of You Majored in What?

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