We see recent graduates testing the water frequently. They graduate with a specific degree and career path in mind – to be a journalist, to be a white-collar crime analyst, to be a genetics researcher, etc. They land an entry-level position and soon realize it’s not the career they expected.
For recent graduates and individuals just starting a career, making a change in one’s career path is not as challenging as it is for those who have established themselves as an experienced professional in their field(s).
Many employers understand the drivers of this change. Some even see early professionals make several changes within the first five years of graduation and they realize that the positions sought most often by entry-level professionals may be considered a learning phase, so employers are not as critical about the change of heart.
However, it’s a different story for candidates who have established themselves in a particular career. Whether you are someone who has started a career and left to be a stay-at-home parent, was laid off or have lost the passion behind a particular career path, making a career change has its challenges and employers are more critical.
Off the bat, employers will question the interest to change careers mid-way and whether you have thoughtfully processed what a change in career may mean. Often times, there will not be an opportunity for a lateral move and the pay scale may be different. Other questions employers may have will concern whether you have transferable skills from your previous experience.
Faced with the various challenges of a career change, be prepared to address the questions that will come your way by following some simple rules of advice. You’re going to need a different approach to impress potential employers.
- Transferable skills: Identify 3-6 important skills that are transferable from your previous career that the employer will want to see out of a job candidate for the position. You can identify what skills are desired for a particular position by reviewing related job postings. You will notice a common list of skills employers tend to highlight for the position.
- Focus on skills versus positions you’ve held: While most job candidates may showcase the positions they’ve held and highlight companies they’ve worked for, it will likely be irrelevant to an employer in your case. Immediately out to the gate, you need to focus on the transferable skills you have on your cover letter, resume and discussion with the potential employer. Whether it is leadership, project management, budgeting, writing or other skills, that needs to be your focus.
- Demonstrate how the skills were applied: Maintain focus to express specifically how the skills were used and applied in your previous jobs and how you can see it apply in this new career. As tempting as it may be to discuss other skills you used and were successful at in your previous job, if it is irrelevant, it will add no value. In fact, discussing irrelevant skills for a position dilutes your message to the potential employer.
- Obtain needed skills and knowledge: If at all possible, obtain some of the essential skills you will need with this new career before leaving your old one. If your employer offers education-assistance benefits, make use of the opportunity to obtain necessary skills that are transferable. Some employers only permit courses of relevance to your particular career and may require that you obtain a minimum grade level, in addition to a commitment to stay employed with the company for a certain amount of time after the completion of a course, to be reimbursed. Also, take the time to read up on the industry and field of business that the employer is involved with. Be familiar with terms commonly used in that line of business. Each field has their own lingo and you will impress the employer when they can see you are up-to-date with what’s happening in their world.
- Find a mentor: Knowing someone already in the field is one the most beneficial things you can have in the process of a career change. A mentor can give you the inside scoop on what it’s like to work in a particular field, address the essential skills to have to be successful, and introduce you to important contacts or information to look for in potential job opportunities.
Many things in life change and while it may feel risky to make a career change mid-way, it is a step one should take having thoroughly reviewed and evaluated what the change may mean. It’s important to feel satisfied and fulfilled by one’s career, especially when one will end up spending most of the day in this environment.
When making a career change, you need to understand what sacrifices need to be made, which may include catching up on necessary knowledge and skills for a particular field, rebuilding a contacts list from scratch and, possibly, taking a pay cut and starting as a lower level.
If you are confident about your decision for a career change, willing to face the challenges to succeed in a new career and can demonstrate to potential employers you can apply what you already know and continue to learn and advance, you will make leaps over the hurdles of a career change.