Given the recovering economy, emerging jobs and pure human nature, career switches are common. What may have been a great job 10 years ago can be obsolete now, or you may simply be ready for a life change. But how can you prepare yourself for a career switch? The overwhelming advice from career coaches and human-resources consultants is to do your homework and play to your strengths. These experts share the following advice for planning your next career steps.
Understand the work involved in switching careers
Before you quit your job, know what you're getting yourself into.
"When people change careers in this market, the No. 1 thing they must be aware of is that they need to develop the new industry or role experience and knowledge," says Megan Fox, career coach and résumé writer. "A lot of people think they can tweak a few transferable skills and land their dream job, when in fact it takes strategic planning and re-education to make a successful career change. These kinds of activities not only make you more qualified for the new role, but they display a sincere passion for the switch.
"I also encourage my clients to pick either an industry change or a functional role change, one at a time, as it is much easier to do than trying to completely change your job and industry type at the same time. Take baby steps and you'll be able to make the change without sacrificing too much in salary."
Use transferable skills to your advantage
You may think you're ready for a career switch, but how can you convince hiring managers that you'll be a valuable employee?
"For job seekers dealing with career changes, we find it advantageous to conduct an assessment of the transferable knowledge and skills that were developed in the individual's previous career and how that may apply to the new career path they intend on following," says Lynda Zugec, managing director for The Workforce Consultants, a human-resources consultancy with offices in Toronto and New York. "Interpersonal skills, problem-solving ability and project management are all examples of knowledge and skills that can be applied in differing context and careers. We try to focus on these transferable skills to understand the benefits and applicability to our business."
Some of the skills on which Zugec's company focuses include:
- Communication: The ability to communicate at all levels of an organization and across different generations.
- Strategic thinking: The ability to determine and envision where an organization is going. This helps align work efforts with company goals and objectives.
- Partnership building: The ability to choose the best partner with whom to achieve desired results, based on their skills and knowledge.
- Conscientiousness: The ability to pay attention to details, ranging from spelling and grammar to personal organization. "Time and time again, conscientiousness proves itself to be among the No. 1 predictor of job performance," Zugec says.
- Technical skills: Individuals with the most up-to-date and relevant technical skills are among the most desirable employees, Zugec says.
You can start making your career switch before you leave your current role. Krista Mazzuca, director of human resources at Community Renewal Team, a nonprofit human-services agency in Hartford, Conn., offers these suggestions:
- Think carefully about the field you want to switch into and what it will take to land a job in that field. Don't assume that going back to school will guarantee that you'll obtain your desired position -- often you need both the credentials and the experience. Find out as much as you can before enrolling in a school program.
- While you're still employed at your current job, get as much experience as possible that moves you in your desired direction. How can you volunteer in the community, change assignments at your company or find common ground between what you're doing now and what you hope to be doing?
- If you're a manager, prepare for a potential change in status. You may have to start near the bottom in your new career, which may mean that you'll be working a defined shift in a cubicle and taking direction from someone younger than you. You might also have to take a substantial pay cut. The person interviewing you for the position will want to see that you have thought about this and have acclimated yourself to the possibility.
- Prepare a good answer as to why you're changing fields. Be candid, but frame your argument around the hiring manager's point of view.