How to Make a Career Change

April 1, 2019
April 1, 2019 Jennie Ellis

How to Make a Career Change

When it comes time to consider a change in your career you may find yourself at a crossroads with no guiding influence besides whatever is niggling inside, compelling you to make that change. One of the most frequent asks candidates (and colleagues, friends, and people in general) have of me is for help and advice when making a career change. Whether it’s a small hop into a similar role or a flying leap into a new sector, sometimes people just need some advice.

Being asked this so many times, naturally, I developed a structured process to help point people in the right direction and I’d be happy to share.

The first step is to consider yourself. Think about a time you were really, truly happy in your job. Why was that? What were the skills you were using? What was the company culture, size, mission, product, team? Where did you fit in? Write down the attributes of that role. What strengths of yours were you using, and why are you proud of those strengths in particular?

What was the job title of that job? Let’s use the example of a Program Coordinator. The necessary skills to be a competent (and in your case, perhaps killer) Program Coordinator might be things like organizational skills, facilitating communication between others, helping people get the tools they need to thrive and execute well on their jobs, effective coordination of projects, or the ability to smoothly meet deadlines.

Now that you have a list of your skills, take a step back. What are all the possible jobs where you can use these strengths, both in your current industry and out of it? Think broadly, think both inside and outside of the box: team leadership, project management, mentorship, or even HR leadership, training coordinator, lead product marketer. Go hunt on job sites like Indeed, Simply Hired and LinkedIn with your list of qualities and possible jobs to match those qualities and make a new list of 20 potential job titles in at least 50 companies. You may have thought about some before but try to find more that you never even considered.

Consider building a spreadsheet – this is a list you can keep and build on over the years for your career intelligence. Pay attention to the requirements of each job to determine where you can update your resume, whether to make it more general or better suited for these different roles. See how the companies on your list differ from each other and take the time to consider why that matters to you. The more disparate your options are, the more you can hone in on your core values and considerations. Naturally, you’re going to eventually draft multiple, tailored versions of your resume in order to highlight particular experiences depending on the job and industry, and that’s okay! It’s not disingenuous to explain yourself in different ways, in fact, it emphasizes your own ability to visualize your potential.

The next phase of making a career change may be hard for some: asking for help. There is no better resource than your own personal and professional network. You can start by leveraging your spreadsheet of job titles and target companies and find contacts on LinkedIn or other networking sites that either work at those companies or know someone that works there. Be sure to make careful notes on that spreadsheet of contacts – add a column for notes about how you know the person, as well as the date you reached out. Your contact might not have the information you seek but they might know someone who does or provide insight into the role or company that you might otherwise miss.

Armed with your spreadsheet of job titles, companies, and network contacts, prepare your elevator pitch! If you don’t already have an elevator pitch, go back to the list you compiled of all the qualities you possess that make you good at what you do and have a good time doing it. Sometimes, having a reminder of your strengths is all it takes to up your confidence, whether you’re talking to strangers or friends. When you have your pitch, ask your network for help to refer you to places and people and help you make new contacts. This is exactly how you can develop an extended network, something that will prove invaluable in work and in life.

Let’s use the above example for a Program Coordinator to create an elevator pitch which will be tailored for a person’s desire to make a career change:

“Hi ______, I’ve been in program coordination and have proven at keeping people organized and helping them communicate better and I really liked these aspects of the job. Because of this, I’m looking to make a career change to become an ‘X’. Do you have any advice or contacts that might be able to help me in ‘X industry’?”

The most important thing you can do for yourself is map out all the possible jobs you can fit and start building your career intelligence network. Trust me, if we could all just wing it and stumble our way into our dream job, we would. But part of making a career change is the process by which it develops – or, I should say, the process by which you develop it. Take notes on yourself, on jobs, on companies, and on your contacts. Keep those notes as reminders of what you are and what you can become.

The world is an interesting place that’s worth the effort to explore, but all good explorers bring tools like a map and compass. Your spreadsheet is your map, and your list of strengths is your compass. With them, you have the tools to make a career change and with a good network and a little effort, you might even surpass your own expectations.

I wish you the best of luck!

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