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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

5 Steps That'll Take You From Thinking About Changing Careers to Actually Doing It

Research continues to show that you’ll have numerous career paths in your lifetime. Millennials, for example, are expecting to stay in jobs less than three years and most undoubtedly will change careers as their idea of a dream job changes.

Whether you’re a few years into your career or in the middle of it, if you’ve ever attempted to change course, you know it isn’t easy. After all, you have a certain set of experiences, knowledge, and skills, and you can’t just do anything with them, can you?

Yet, you’ve targeted the next avenue you want to go down, but you have zero, zilch, nada on the five years of experience that employer wants to see in the ideal candidate. It’s frustrating enough to have you thinking you might as well just keep doing the same old thing, so convinced you are that you’ll never get hired without several years’ experience in the new field.

But that’s not the right mindset. There are ways to segue from one path to another, and here are five steps to help you get there.

1. Mentally Prepare

When you have the exact experience listed on the job description and you’re filling out online applications, those applicant-tracking systems (or ATS as they’re called) love you. The robots easily detect that you’re a good match, and when you’re moving from one role in your industry to a similar one, job searching seems not that bad.

When you’re making a pivot, however, it takes a bit more work. ATS aren’t able to make the connections that you can articulate. And you know where that lands you? The reject pile. Be aware of the challenge ahead of you—it’s the first step in succeeding in your career pivot.

2. Inventory Your Genius

I find most people don’t stop and look at what they can offer. When you see years of experience required on a job you want, and it isn’t a perfect match based on your work history, you get discouraged and quit the search altogether. Here’s a better option.

Evaluate your experience and identify the skills that are transferable; these are the ones you’re going to want to highlight as you promote yourself as a viable candidate.

The five-step ETHOS method I created for clients examines the experience you have and makes it relevant for where you’re headed. It’s kind of like re-purposing a piece of furniture or something in your wardrobe.

You can use this approach whether you’re fresh out of school, or mid-career making a pivot.

Start by taking one aspect of your job, and ask yourself these five questions:

  • E – What is the specific experience you have?
  • T – What are the tasks you performed?
  • H – How did you achieve those tasks, that is, what are the qualities you exhibited in the work?
  • O – What are the specific outcomes you achieved?
  • S – Now, voila, what are the skills you exhibited?

Say you work in supply chain and, after doing this analysis, you realize one of the things you are a genius at is using demand management tools to create pinpoint forecasts for purchasing. Instead of thinking, “So what, anybody can do that!” practice talking about yourself like this: “I’m good at analyzing vast quantities of data and making accurate forecasts. Now who else can I solve problems for using that skill?” Repeat this for each and every skill you come up with.

3. Investigate Your Dream Job

OK, so you’ve been thinking about moving into a marketing role. But you’re stuck because, I mean, supply chain personnel making a move to marketing? You can’t pinpoint the connection. Your friends and colleagues probably don’t see it either. So maybe asking them for advice isn’t your go-to strategy. Here’s a better one.

Talk to colleagues in marketing and people in your network who are in this industry you wish to move into. Learn about what they do, how they got there, and what they think a person needs to make it in this field. Ask them specically what skills and talent they believe are needed.

Notice I said you ask them about the skills and talent. You’re not asking about years of experience. You’ll also notice you’re not asking them if they know of any jobs you can apply for—right now, you’re in investigative mode, soaking up everything you can about this new industry.

4. Translate Your Brilliance

Now put the pieces of the puzzle together. Based on the conversations you’ve had, you should have a pretty good idea of what you need to make it in your new field. Armed with that knowledge, return to your ETHOS breakdown. Let’s see, you how to work in cross-functional teams, how to manage spending, keep projects on track, and delegate responsibilities. You’re well versed in creating decks on forecasts and programs too.

So basically, check, check, and check. Feeling more confident now? When you begin to realize that so much of what you do and have done is applicable to other types of work, the leap will feel less scary. Now you can go ahead and call the head of marketing to ask for time on her calendar.

5. Pitch Yourself in a New Way

Before you read this article, you might have been thinking about timidly approaching marketing—or whatever industry you’re itching to transition into—to see what jobs they had open. I hope I’ve disrupted your thinking about that. Because now you’re going to hit them up with a much more powerful and confident approach than if you’d reached out as soon as you got turned on by the new field.

When you meet with the head of marketing, the social media director, or the VP of sales, you’re going to want to make it clear that you’ve done your research and connected the dots for making this move. Share the “why” behind your desire to change careers from X to Y.

Finally, articulate why you’re a great candidate who should be hired. No matter what field you’re moving into, you want to sell yourself. But that’s not all you want to do. Instead of inquiring about open positions, have a conversation that demonstrates why you’re equipped to make this transition and what the company (or even the industry) stands to gain.

Working through the ETHOS exercise enables you to truly identify your skills and how they can be transferred. By building stories you can use in interviews, networking conversations and potential hiring managers, you’re on the path to proving what an excellent hire you are, regardless of how unorthodox your career change is.