How Do You Change Careers? Your Questions Answered

Thomas asks:
I am struggling here in my life trying to find a place where I can be of value, I settled for an entry level Job after years of working on my own. How do I find the right path?
Nora asks:
I have been teaching for over 10 years and am hoping to use my expertise in education to explore new, exciting challenges outside of the classroom. I am so passionate about finding a new career path, but it has proven to be a rather difficult transition.  I have been to job fairs, scouring LinkedIn and applying on many company websites for over a year without much success.  Any information would be helpful and appreciated. 
O.R. asks:
I am reinventing myself after a long and successful military career. I earned a Master's Degree in Information Systems because I always had a passion for Information Systems. It is an uphill battle to find employment in this field without the experience.
As these reader questions show, making a successful career change is more complicated than just landing a new job. You have an existing brand that doesn’t represent your desired future but will influence the recruiters and employers that you meet. The people you know are mostly from your former career, so your network will not be as much help. Even interviewing is trickier because your examples come from a different industry or role and won’t be as relevant when you’re up against insiders already in the field.

Like Thomas, how do you find the right career path?
Except for his question, I don’t know any more about Thomas – what business he had before, what new job he has, or how he will measure “where I can be of value.” To find the right path for him, I would explore all of these things. The business he had before would tell me what he likes and doesn’t like in terms of day-to-day work, people he wants to work with, issues he wants to deal with, and work environment. His previous career also developed skills and industry expertise that can likely be translated elsewhere. His new job and how he got there gives me insight into what he has already tried in terms of making a career change. His desire to be of value can be clarified so that he can look for those specific criteria when he looks for a job.
If you’re trying to change careers, use your former career to clarify your preferences and to identify existing skills and expertise you can position for your new career. (Here are five other ways to uncover alternative career ideas.) If you have a mission-driven goal to be of value, as Thomas alludes to, focus your efforts on targeting your search to your purpose. Thomas mentioned taking an “entry-level” job, and taking a job, even if it’s a stop-gap measure, can be good for your career change – providing structure to your days and additional cash flow to buy you more time to look for something ideal.
Like Nora, how can you get traction on your career change if not from job fairs, LinkedIn or company websites?
Job fairs, LinkedIn postings (and I specify just the postings feature) and company websites favor traditional job seekers over career changers. These job leads are easy to access, so the vast majority of job seekers will take the easy way out and look at these sources first. In turn, the recruiters at the job fairs, screening the LinkedIn submissions, or taking applications from the website will be inundated by unsolicited resumes. Who do you think will pop out from the pile – the insider candidate already in the same industry and role or the career changer with no relevant experience?
As a career changer, you cannot rely on your resume to get a job because it outlines skills, expertise and experience from your previous life, not the new career you want. Instead, you need to tell people your story via networking. Person-to-person communication allows you to position this new career as the perfect fit – i.e., tell your story to explain how you do have relevant skills, expertise and experience. To this end, LinkedIn, the networking platform, not strictly the job postings feature, can be a very helpful tool for the career changer. LinkedIn allows you to keep in touch with your existing network (you probably know more people outside your old career than you realize) and to expand your network to new contacts in your new field. Of course, LinkedIn isn’t the only way to network – other social platforms, reconnecting with people via phone, email or live, holiday events, professional association meetings, Meetups, and conferences are other effective ways to network. Make sure your LinkedIn profile accurately reflects your value and is tailored to your new career interest, not the past.
Like O.R., how do you get that first job without experience?
The Masters degree in his desired field should be helpful, though it’s expensive and not a substitute for professional experience (two of several reasons why you should not go to graduate school to change careers). Since O.R. already has this degree, he should milk it for the contacts (yes, your classmates, professors and school staff count in your network), certainly take advantage of the Office of Career Services, and position the courses and projects that he completed in school to seem relevant to his prospective employers.
If you are trying to get that first job without experience, remember that your academic career is indeed experience, just of a different kind. Volunteer work, temping, even shadowing your mentor in the field also give you experience. It’s true that most employers would prefer that you have professional, paid experience from a direct competitor but what they really want is for you to come in and be productive from day one. Your school work or other experience might very well be enough. You absolutely can get a job without relevant experience .
Whether it’s moving from entrepreneur to employee, education to a different sector, military to civilian, or some other industry to a new industry, you can find the right career path for you – and please don’t beat yourself up about taking a stopgap job. You can gain traction – just not from the obvious sources that everyone else uses. You can get that first job because you do have experience, once you expand how you define experience beyond just professional and paid.
I am a career change expert and the co-founder of SixFigureStart and Costa Rica FIRE. I specialize in helping executives, entrepreneurs, and creatives make a great living doing work they love. I have changed careers multiple times myself -- classical pianist, banker, consult...
Join me on December 18! I am leading an online workshop on How To Get Started On Your Big Career Goals.
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