Career change requires preparation, reflection

Dear Joan:
I would appreciate any feedback you could give to me on the following: "How does a technical person (chemist, actuary, etc), with an advanced degree, break into a new area within a company, such as marketing, finance, etc?"

Dear Joan:
I am currently an assistant professor of "English as a Second Language" for a local community college. How do I make the switch into a business environment? I'd like to teach adult classes in communication, management and other related topics. I have a Ph.D. but no related business experience. How do I break in?

Dear Joan:
I am the Manager of Quality Assurance at a manufacturing plant. I facilitate process improvement team meetings and team projects throughout the facility. I'd like to transfer into a job where I am the coordinator of school/business partnerships. I have a passion about this need in our community and I'd like to contribute my skills in this new career. How do I convince schools or businesses that I could do this job?

I'm hearing questions like these a lot more these days, since people are taking control of their own careers. Mid-career crossovers are more common now that some job requirements are changing, downsizing is common and the economy is evolving.

And it's no surprise that people struggle with how to approach a career change, since there is no prescribed way to switch from one to another. Often, a career changer will ask me, "Where do I go to get a new degree that will qualify me to make this change?" or "How do I write a resume that will get me an interview in the new career, when all my experience is in another specialty?"

Obviously, not all career changes will follow the same path. But here are some tips that can be applied no matter what kind of lateral move you're making:

·        Articulate why you want to make this change.
Rather than just running away from the job you have, form a mental picture of the career you're moving toward. When you can answer the "why" that's driving you toward what you want, it helps you to see how motivated you will be to carry it out. Unfortunately, I often hear people say, "I hate my job, so I'm willing to do just about anything else". In other words, you must have some real, compelling reasons drawing you into the new career, or people won't be able or willing to help you get what you want.

·        Spell out the skills you have.
If you can't identify the skills and abilities you possess, you are going to struggle with how to sell yourself in the new career. This is going to require some self-examination. Talk to friends, your manager and anyone who knows your work. Review old performance reviews. Go to a career counselor or agency for some aptitude testing. One of the best ways to figure out what you're good at is to look at projects where you succeeded and ask yourself, "What skills did I possess that enabled me to do this well?"

·        Do research to find out what the required skills are in the new career.
When I did a career change, I discovered my best source of information was to talk to the people who had the jobs I wanted. They were able to tell me what an average day was like, what results were expected and what education or experience was required. In order to make the transition, you must know where you already match up and where you're lacking. That will enable you to do a tailored resume and to figure out which experience gaps you will need to fill in order to be considered.

·        Identify the skill and experience "bridges" between your current career and the one you want.
For example, if you're an engineer who has gone on sales calls with the sales manager, you may already know a lot about sales even though you aren't in the sales or marketing department. If you've taught "English as a Second Language" you know a lot about teaching adults from diverse backgrounds, so you may have many skills that would help you teach a class in "Communications" or "Managing Diversity."

·        Learn the language of the new career and use it to describe what you've done in your past career.
It's important to speak the right language in your interviews and on your resume. Your task is to translate the results you achieved in your last career to a generic, understandable language that a future employer will be able to relate to. For instance, the Quality Assurance Manager who wants to coordinate school/business partnerships won't get very far if her resume is filled with acronyms and business buzz words. She must tell the story of her accomplishments with words that fit the qualifications of the new position, such as "facilitated," "conflict resolution," "partnership," and "win/win results".

·        Invent your own experience.
Many years ago, when I was moving from education to business, I learned through informational interviews that I needed to prove that I could work with adults before businesses would consider hiring me as a trainer/facilitator. I called the Continuing Education Coordinator of the local university extension and offered to develop and teach adult education courses. I was then able to use that experience to fill the gaps in my experience.

·        Pursue another degree or additional education if you need it.
Not all career moves require more education. For instance, if the Manager of Quality Assurance has a degree in business, she probably doesn't need an education degree to run a partnership program between business and schools. However, an actuary who wants to become a marketing director may need some education in the new specialty area.

·        Look for jobs in the new area that combine your past and present career interests.
For instance, the actuary who wants to be in marketing could look for a position marketing an actuarial consulting firm, or work for the Society of Actuaries as a program director.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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