It is not unusual to change your career several times in your work life. I have personally made 4 career changes in my lifetime, 2 within related fields and 2 to unrelated fields. My career profile mirrors a zig zag spanning the fields of Information Technology, Telecoms, Management Consultancy, Human Resources Management and Entrepreneurship. Research cited from various sources put career changes at between 3 and 7 times during the lifetime of the average person. There is nothing unusual about seeking a career change. In fact, a career change is inevitable for most.
As people get older, the thought of a career change is more daunting. Sometimes we do it to fulfil dreams, other times to fulfil changing priorities in life, whatever the reason, you deserve the change you desire. A question I often get asked by career changers is how though? How can I make the transition to a new career in the quickest and smoothest possible way?
Career changers have often built careers in a different area and thus desire a career change that will not disregard their previous experience or substantially impact their finances. A key concern of career changers is how to make the transition with minimal financial loss.
If you desire a career change and you have indeed struggled to land your career ambitions, consider the following 10 actions to get you to your desired career destination faster.
1. Retrain: One of the obvious gaps for anyone changing careers is a skills gap. You probably lack the adequate level of knowledge and skills to perform your dream role optimally. If you want to be taken seriously then you need to show potental recruiters and employers what you have done to close your knowledge and skills gap. If you are truly passionate, your desire should be demonstrated via investments in your knowledge and skills. Retraining options take different forms thus consider your options carefully. Will it be a postgraduate programme, short course, professional certification or an apprenticeship? I have personally retrained several times in my career in order to fulfil varying career goals. To begin with my first degree is in Economics, my Masters degree is in Information Technology, I have a Diploma in Psychology in addition to being a certified HR Professional and more recently I completed Coach training. Career advancement requires career investment. Do not think that it can happen with minimal investment. I strongly believe the person who quoted ‘an investment in knowledge pays the best interest’. Money spent on your career is well spent. It is an investment in your future. What better investment can there be? It is the foundation for all your future investments. You cannot give what you do not have.
2. Highlight Transferable Skills:Transferable skills as their name implies are skills that can be transferred to other careers. Examples are skills like Customer Service, Report Writing and Presentation Skills, these skills are relevant to many professions. Some people do themselves an injustice by ignoring their transferable skills, whereas transferrable skills are a important factor in gaining leverage in a new career. Because transferable skills cut across several careers, they already demonstrate that you already have some of the required competencies for the new career or role. For example, Customer Service skills are key to any role that requires managing people or clients. The fact that you may have managed relationships with clients is a good precedence for roles in Human Resources or Sales which require good interpersonal and customer focussed skills. People who are able to demonstrate the relevance of their transferable skills to a potential employer may alleviate having to take a pay cut due to their skill gap. The more you can demonstrate the relevance of your current skills to your new role, the better your negotiation power. Never downplay your transferrable skills, they could be your life line to your new role.
3. Gain Experience: If you can, gain experience in your new field. Consider volunteering during your spare time or if you are employed, consider taking on additional responsibilities that are similar to that of your desired role. I know people who were team leads in Sales or Customer Service and were successfully able to demonstrate their generalist HR knowledge required for a career transition into Human Resources. In one particular instance the candidate was able to demonstrate competencies in Recruitment, Performance Management and Training. All the experience cited was gained from working as a Call centre supervisor where she was responsible for managing a team of 5. She was interested in a carreer in Human Resources and had begun researching and training herself and practising what she had learned on her team. She also spoke to the HR Manager regularly on any issues with regards to honing her HR skills. All this was in deliberate preparation for a career change. It worked for her. She has now been in a Human Resources career for 4 years. Some others decide to quit their jobs in search of an apprenticeship type role. Whatever the case, the objective of gaining experience is to learn and close any existing skill gaps you may have.
4. Network: Networking can never be over emphasized. As long as people carry out activity, our lives will always be impacted by the people we know or we have access to our network. Be accessible, ensure you can be found and are approachable. Develop your interpersonal skills, people tend to assist people that communicate and relate well with others. I for one get so many career related requests and when opportunities for careers arise, I only ever remember the people who are regularly in touch. Attend professional events, have a good linkedin profile, join professional online and offline forums, get to know recruiters, keep in touch with past colleagues. Great things happen through people, people of all levels and responsibilities, never under estimate who may be able to assist you in your career pursuits.
5. Consider Internal Vacancies: If you already have a job, rather than looking outward, consider an internal job change. Speak to your Manager, Human Resources or anyone else who may be in the position to help you realise your career ambition. However, demonstrate your desire by showing your employer what you have done so far e.g attended a training programme, researched extensively in the field or pursuing further studies. I often hear people say they are passionate about a new career path but once questioned about what they have done to demonstrate the ‘so-called passion’ they become mute. They have no evidence to demonstrate any sense of passion. A few years ago, I met a lady with a 12 year career in customer service, she had a strong desire to start a career in Human Resources. She attended one of our training programmes based on the advise of her HR Manager. After attending a few short courses, it was not too long when an opening in Employee Relations within her organisation’s HR department came up and you guessed right, she got the job. She got the job because she was prepared for the opportunity. Needless to say, she had made the necessary investments. Remember it is often quoted ‘there is no such thing as luck, it is opportunity meets preparation.’ How well have you prepared? If the opportunity came now will be ready to clinch it or would you be found wanting? Be honest.
6. Consider Your Industry: It is similarly easier to leverage on opportunities within your industry or sector. You may not have the job role experiece but your knowledge of the industry counts in your favour. An example would be if you were in Relationship Management in a Bank and wanted to build a career in Human Resources. Your Banking experience will be an added advantage in the financial services sector. Your banking experience will serve as a great foundation for a HR Business Partner role within financial services which cuts across Insurance, Banks and Investment Houses. HR Business partners work closely with Business leaders crafting strategy required to help them meet their business objectives. Your ability to demonstrate leverage from your existing career is key to your making a smooth transition to a new career.
7. Consider Easier Entry Points: All careers have easier entry points. By this I mean roles which have a lower barrier to entry. An example in Human Resources is Recruitment. A lot of HR professionals start off in Recruitment. Even entry level staff are often given routine Recruitment tasks like shortlisting and scheduling applicants for interviews. Ask professionals in your desired role which jobs have a lower entry threshold then consider taking that route if your preferred role is not forthcoming. Remember it is a means to an end not an end in itself. There are different ways to get to the same destination, hence your entry point is simply your unique route to your final destination.
8. Plan Your Finances: Some people are able to change careers without having to take drastic pay cuts. However, some career changes require that you resign from your current higher paying job to either retrain or gain experience in a lower paying job. This is a very crucial consideration because some career changers are not able to persist due to financial obligations. However, you need to make that decision and stop giving 1001 reasons why you cannot achieve your desired career goal. Sometimes you just have to quit your current job. If you have to, you need to plan your finances. A rule of thumb is save at least 6 months equivalent in salary. If you will be training for extensive periods then you may need to have much more saved up to ensure you have enough income to manage the entire duration of your transition.
9. Plan and Execute: Like everything we really want in life, we have to set goals and decide at some point when we should have achieved certain tasks. A plan keeps us accountable if only we commit to its execution. Write down your career change plans based on your preferred course of action. When will you hope to have achieved your career goal? Running away from a deadline is only postponing your goals and extending your misery. Specify what steps you are going to take in order to make your successful transition. What will you do and in what sequence? You will need to set timelines with deadlines you can track. Remember your goals need to be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound.
10. Be patient: For some people it happens quickly but for most a career change is a deliberate effort that requires careful planning and patience. Do not expect overnight success, it happens to a rare minority. Have a realistic timeline, if it happens earlier great news but if it does not, remain positive it is only a matter of time. Never ever give up and remember it is never too late, John Pemberton invented Coca-cola at 55 and Harland Sanders started KFC at 65. Sadly you have no excuse!
Now get going and good luck, your next career awaits you with open arms.
Have you successfully made a career change? If you have please share any tips that worked for you.