I’ve been thinking for a long time about transitioning out of my current career path, but am not sure where to start. Any advice on how to go through this process?
Stuck At Square One
Dear Stuck At Square One:
Switching careers can feel like a daunting challenge, and I commend you for reaching out proactively to get a road map for going through this process.
I’ve worked with many clients navigating mid-career transitions, and while it’s not an easy task (let’s be honest, you’re talking about making a major change in your life!), it is absolutely possible -- especially when you embark upon it in a strategic and thoughtful way. And if you go through this process the right way, I promise you’ll feel that much more empowered, capable, and at ease as you move forward.
Here are 10 tips to follow as you go out to find, land and love your next step:
1. Define your values
Before you start digging into the “what” of your next career move, it’s important to get in touch with the “why.” Use this 10-minute exercise to identify what you’re optimizing for in this next phase of your career and life. Is it more balance? Stimulation and learning? Money? Long-term career security?
Once you have your list of values by your side, it becomes much easier to consider which career paths will and won’t ladder up to your ultimate fulfillment.
2. Inventory your skills
To figure out which job you want to do, you need to ask yourself which responsibilities you want to fill your days doing -- or in other words, which skills you want to fill your days using.
Make a full list of your skills, separating them into two categories:
Skills you know and love (or are curious about learning), and may want to use in your next step
Skills you know and dislike, and do not want to use in your next step
Be as inclusive as possible, referencing your resume or old job descriptions, and make sure your list is specific enough so that the skills you’ve listed don’t apply to most or all jobs (e.g. if topping your list are “teamwork” or “problem-solving”, you’ve got to go another level deeper!)
3. What issues get you fired up?
Childhood hunger? SaaS tech? Medical devices? Adult learning? Fashion? Food?
Ask yourself, what kinds of problems do you want to solve? Similar to your list of skills, you want to write down in two categories:
The issues or industries that you know and love (or are curious about learning), and may want to focus on in your next step
The issues or industries that you know and dislike, and do not want to focus on in your next step
3. Brainstorm and research potential paths
Set aside an hour to brainstorm and research all the potential paths that could bring together the skills and issues you’re interested in - and align with your values.
Bring in a friend to support your brainstorm, conduct online research, use LinkedIn to type in keywords and see the job titles that pop up. Get as many good-enough ideas down on paper as possible, and then narrow it down to the ones you’re most interested in possibly pursuing.
4. Learn what’s required to achieve your top options
One phrase I often share with my clients is, “Every degree of difference brings with it a degree of difficulty.”
Once you’ve identified the paths you’re most interested in, it’s time to gut check whether you're ready to do what it takes to land them. Use online research and conversations with people who hold the roles you’re interested in to gauge the requirements and necessary steps to accessing each path.
Be honest with yourself about how hard of a transition you want to take on at this phase of your life and career. What will you have to learn and do? How long will it take? Have you gotten to know this career path enough to confidently pursue it - and is it worth the journey?
I am a deep believer in people's potential to transform their careers. But you want to make sure you choose the right next step for you and your values, and that includes the path to landing it.
5. Consider stepping stone opportunities
If the career you most long for feels out of reach today, or you are interested in a less taxing transition, ask yourself: what opportunities exist that would get you one step closer to your ideal role?
Freelancing, part-time work, contract or consulting opportunities, or even an alternative full-time role are all worth considering --
Because these opportunities are often immediately or more easily accessible, they can make you more qualified for your ideal role and help you expand your network in the direction of your dreams, they can generate the financial cushion you need to take a leap, and they can bring you joy and satisfaction one step closer to your values.
6. Craft a plan
I’m a fan of plans. Because having a goal isn’t enough to make sure we spend our precious time wisely (or get off the couch to achieve it!).
Once you know what it takes to achieve the career path you’re pursuing, it’s time to chart a plan to get there.
How and when will you gain what you need to access this new path? What kinds of support do you need and who will you ask to support you? How and when will you handle exiting your current career? What kind of a safety net do you have and need to feel comfortable taking this leap? And if you don’t have enough of a safety net to stomach the risk, how can you pursue this path while maintaining the security of your current career?
Get specific. Put it down on paper. Request feedback from someone who’s in the role/industry you want to access to make sure your plan is grounded and achievable. And then jump on it and get goin’.
7. Tailor your resume and LinkedIn profile
Change your headline to “Aspiring” or “Passionate” followed by the title you’re pursuing. Adjust your summary to tell the story of why you’re passionate about this new path and the key experiences or skills you’ve had that make you qualified. Showcase any projects, volunteer opportunities, or skills that are relevant to your desired role.
8. Choose networking over applications so you’re the one telling your story
I advise all of my clients to minimize the amount of time they spend on their resume and online applications, and double down on getting their foot in the door with networking.
And especially for career switchers who don’t have a solid track record of success in their new field, your chances of landing the interview when you apply online are even slimmer. By networking, you have a chance to tell your story the way you want it to be remembered, and you make it easier for people who work at your target companies to effectively advocate on your behalf.
Similar to how you’ve tailored your resume and LinkedIn profile, you want to share a simple narrative with your new contacts, clearly stating why you’re making this transition and what makes you qualified for the role you want.
9. Don’t expect a raise
Sometimes career switchers will say to me, “I really want to get into a new field, but I also want to increase my salary.”
While it’s possible to increase your salary when making a significant transition (and of course it depends on what you’re transitioning into and from where), it’s unlikely, at least in the short term.
Most career switchers are required to take a step down in level (and possibly pay), if not start at the very bottom to work their way up, or invest in some kind of educational or training experience before making the kind of salary that people at the top of their new field make.
Still, using strong negotiation techniques can help maximize your next salary. And, don’t forget to look back at what you’ll be gaining in terms of your values. Chances are, the financial tradeoff - especially long term - may be worth it to you.
10. Pay it forward
You can probably already tell from reading this list that the transition you’re embarking upon is a lot of work. It will entail risk, uncertainty, resourcefulness, patience, and above all the kindness and support of others.
So once you’re sittin’ pretty in your new role, send thanks to all those who helped you along your way.
When you see one of those pesky informational interview email requests come through from some unknown career switcher, make sure you rise to the call. Forward them this article for reference.
Let them know that you did it, and you know they can too.
I'm curious - have you ever made a big career change? If so, strategies, mindsets, or people helped make it possible? Please share your story in the comments!