One of the most common job search frustrations stems from people who want to change careers, but are paralyzed by the assumption that they don’t have enough experience.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
I graduated from college with a degree in biology and a job in the medical field. My heart was on a different path though, slowly pulling me in the direction of digital advertising. Two years, one side gig, and 50+ interviews later, I landed a job with Microsoft in digital advertising sales (after landing interviews at Google, Twitter, and Uber as well).
While getting a job in a new industry can seem like a daunting task, it’s actually not as hard as you think if you’re willing to put in the effort. I know, the e-word, but trust me—if you truly want to do this, it’s worth it.
So, without further ado, here are the steps you can take to make that leap that worked for me.
Step 1: Define “Perfect”
First, you want to understand what perfection looks like in the eyes of the company that will be hiring you.
In order to do this, you’re going to turn to the job description for your dream role. What many people don’t realize is that these descriptions are effectively resumes in reverse—they lay out the exact skills the company believes you need to be successful in that role.
For right now you’re going to focus on the listed skills (a.k.a., ignore scary numbers like “years of experience required”—as long as it’s not too far-fetched).
Next, you’re going to want to get in touch with someone who works in the industry or in that specific role (more on how to do that via Linkedin here) and ask these two questions:
- How would you prioritize the skills on this job description—which are the most important?
- What you would you do if you were in my shoes with no experience trying to get this job?
These answers should help you develop a solid jumping-off point for step two.
Step 2: Build a Foundation
Once you have an understanding of the skills you absolutely need to succeed in that role, it’s time to build a foundation. Spoiler: This is the part of the process that’ll take effort and work after your long day at the office. Depending on the change you want to make and the amount of skills required, it could take anywhere from a few months to a year. Yes, this will feel like forever in the short-term, but in the grand scheme of your life and your happiness, it’ll be a blip.
The two most effective tools for learning at this stage are (no surprise here) books and courses. Books are ideal for gaining a high-level, conceptual understanding of the topics, while courses help you learn the granular skills that you’ll be using on a daily basis.
A great way to find the best reads is to ask this questions in your informational interviews: What books do you recommend a beginner read? In fact, this is a great topic to ask someone about who doesn’t have time to meet for coffee, but is open to answering a few questions via email. (Plus, when you finish the book, it gives you a great excuse to follow up again.)
As far as classes go, there are so many online resources (Udemy and Coursera for starters). Some companies, like Google, even offer free courses and certifications for their products. When I began my transition, I knew I needed to learn the fundamentals of digital advertising, so I started with Google’s free academy along with six Udemy courses on the subject. Then, I focused on honing the specific skills listed in job openings, like Google’s analytics and advertising suites.
Many are free to take and are self-guided, meaning you can set the pace. And, on sites like Coursera, you’ll be given the option to pay for a certificate with the university seal stating that you successfully passed. If you’re able to afford it, I’d definitely recommend it. After all it, it never hurts to have the MIT seal of approval on your resume or LinkedIn.
Step 3: Get Some Real World Experience
Now for the fun part—actually getting experience you can put on your resume. One of the biggest misconceptions about professional experience is that it can only be accrued while working full-time at a company. This is completely untrue. I know, because I did it by launching a side gig.
Not only does this allow you to grow your skill set, but it also demonstrates that you know how to manage your time and go after what you want. Now, the one caveat here is that it’s easier to do this in some fields more than others. However, if you think there’s an opportunity there, there a few places to start finding clients.
- Reach out to friends and family and let them know what you’re working on.
- Pitch local businesses on your services
- Apply to be listed on sites that clients come to, like Freelancer.com or CloudPeeps.
For my side gig, I focused on using search engine marketing to drive real estate leads for private communities. To find clients, I chose to cold email local businesses until I landed my first one. Then I leveraged the success I had with that first client to pitch businesses across the country. It didn’t take off overnight, but eventually I went from “just another freelancer” to a real consultant in that niche market.
That said, cold emails and pitches can be daunting if you don’t have the background or the desire to do that. The good news is that if it’s not for you, other options can be just as effective. In an article about getting experience in a field without starting at the bottom, Muse Editor-in-Chief, Adrian Granzella Larssen, lays out several options that range from volunteering to interning to starting a blog.
Despite putting in all of this effort, many people are still dissuaded when it comes time to apply because their dream role requires more years of experience than they have. If you’re only off by a few years, fear not!
Rather than focusing on that, instead, I want you to look at the description and ask yourself “Why does this company want to hire for this position?” Companies hire people to perform tasks that drive revenue and increase their bottom line. If you’re equipped to do what they’re asking for in the description and can back it up with your new experience, you can and should apply. Just make sure to add your new side gig (or internship or whatever you did to earn experience) to your resume and LinkedIn.
For example, since my freelance side gig focused on driving real estate leads for communities across the US, I leveraged that in my application materials and throughout the interview process. I brought up the fact that I pitched all my clients on my own and drove a higher volume of leads at a lower cost than any of the competitive platforms. That experience helped me land the offer over several other candidates with more “experience,” but fewer concrete results.
While this all sounds like a lot of work, I’m proof that you really can do it. So if you’re truly passionate about making a change, stop making excuses and take the first step.
Photo of man thinking courtesy of Sam Edwards/Getty Images.