Changing Careers? Do This First

One important action to make your transition successful.

Posted Feb 10, 2017

Have you tried to switch from your current career field with little success?  Does it seem like you almost get the desired job, but then another candidate gets the position and you lose out?  Are you frustrated at the difficulty of transitioning to a new career field and feel stuck in your current role?  With a few changes, you might find that your story will get better. Because the truth is, that "perfect" candidate is probably not out there.  Even though you are from a different field, you might be just what the employer needs.  But it's your job to show that. 

My field of career services is open to people from a variety of backgrounds, most commonly counseling, social work, human resources, or sales.  But it’s not unusual to receive applications from lawyers, teachers, fund-raisers, retired faculty, researchers, Ph.D. students, etc.  Arguably any of these backgrounds might be relevant for a career coach in a college/university setting.  In fact, if their resumes and cover letters are well-written, they often make it to the interview stage.  But, quite frankly, they seldom get the position, particularly after they have interviewed with the full staff. 

They usually assume it's because someone else with the “perfect” background got the position.  But that's often not the case. Rather, they have made one key mistake: they did not put themselves in the new role before they interviewed for the position

What does that mean? For one thing, they spent their interview focusing on their successes in the past without linking them to what they can do in this new role.  Or they describe a previous activity by saying “I’m sure that relates to what I could do here” even though it might not. The bottom line is they have not made the transition mentally yet—they are still mentally committed to their current role so they can’t project themselves into the new role.

How can you put yourself in the new role if you haven’t done it yet?  It’s really not that hard but it will require some action.  Before you interview for your next transition position, mentally take on the role you hope to obtain.  Start playing your part in this new career field before you actually get the job. In the words of Alfred Adler, "Act as if." Here’s how:

1. Start by recognizing that while the new role might be similar or related to what you currently do, it is a new role and you need to understand it thoroughly before you apply for the position.   That you have been successful in your current role is probably not sufficient for the transition. You will likely need new skills and knowledge. Knowing a little about your new field is not enough.  You must present yourself as someone who is ready to contribute to the organization from day one—not someone who will have a steep learning curve.

2. Do your research.  Interview individuals currently working in the type of position you want. Find out how they spend their day. What key skills do they use?  What knowledge base do they have?  Read the LinkedIn profiles of people in the role you want.  How do they describe themselves and their work?  What credentials, knowledge or experience do they have? Then analyze your own skill set and knowledge—where are the similarities, and where do you need to learn more?

3. Set up a self-guided learning program for acquiring the skills and knowledge for your new field.  Read books related to the new field.  (I’m amazed at candidates for a career coaching position who haven’t read a book on career coaching techniques or even a classic book like What Color is Your Parachute.)  See if you can shadow an individual in your desired field, even for just one day.  If you can volunteer in this new setting for several weeks or more, so much the better.  Investigate any YouTube videos that might help you learn more about your new field. Join a professional association in the new field.

4. Be prepared to demonstrate to the potential employer that you are ready to take on this new role. One way to do this is by taking a skill you already have (for example, developing creative PowerPoint presentations) and applying it directly to your new field. Don’t show a PowerPoint you used in your current/previous role unless it is exactly what is needed in the new role.  Create a new one which relates to the new role.  A lawyer who once interviewed for a career coaching job showed a PowerPoint he used with clients to explain the legal aspects of liability.  He said during the interview, “I could create similar presentations for legal aspects of the job search.”  So why didn’t he?  Because he had not yet mentally put himself in this new role.  He was still thinking in his previous role. Imagine how much stronger his interview would have been had he created a PowerPoint on the legal aspects of the job search for international students—something directly related to what goes on in a career center. This would have clearly demonstrated his knowledge and understanding of the new field—not his competency in his previous field. Focus on your general, transferable skills, and find ways to demonstrate them in relation to your desired role. 

In summary, mentally place yourself in your new role before you even apply:

  • Review your resume and cover letter and make sure they reflect your knowledge and skills related to the new field, not just your past achievements. Have you made the connections to your new field of interest? 
  • Research the new field thoroughly and create work samples to take to your interview that will demonstrate your ability to start working immediately in this new field. 
  • In the interview, clearly articulate the related skills from your previous role and then enhance that with the new knowledge and skills you have been acquiring as part of the transition process. 

Making this subtle but significant mental transition to your new role will help you land that new opportunity.

©2017 Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved.  Find me on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: " Change " by  Paul Bowman   / Flickr Creative Commons