Career Moves Don’t Have to Hurt: Long-Term Unemployment or Career Changes Are Merely Launch-Pads
Reentering the workforce after a decade or more of being out of work (doing under- or unpaid work) or coming out of a totally different career and trying to launch a new one can be daunting at best, and terrifying at worst. There are both technical issues and emotional issues to deal with and either (or both) can feel like insurmountable hurdles, no matter how passionate you are about the career change, no matter how dedicated you are to the work itself.
Having experienced both situations, I write this blog from a place of empathy. While I remain tied to my previous career as an academic (I still teach, run workshops for new faculty, and design curriculum), I’ve let go of the idea of having an academic career as a permanently lifelong choice. I love to teach and design curriculum but it’s not the only thing I want to do. At forty-three, I set myself on what seemed an impossible task of rethinking (rebranding?) myself and what I wanted to do for a career; I still struggle with insecurities about my age (I’m forty-nine now) and with keeping up with the speed of technical knowledge — insofar as the latter is concerned, I try and take what I want or need and leave the rest behind. I don’t have time (or the desire) to learn how to code.
There are tips and tricks (feel free to call this smoke and mirrors) to crafting a resume for changing careers, but then you’re left with fear and insecurity. So sure, get that résumé in order; while you’re doing that, you can think about how to manage the emotional part. Here are some ideas to help you through the process:
1. Rewrite your Professional Profile.
Your professional profile, which is also the first real section of your résumé, is like an elevator pitch. The challenge is that you’re approaching this section of your document while you’re reentering the job market after a different career or after a few years (or even a decade or more). So, what is to be done? For the younger cats or the folks shooting for the next leg up in a similar career, the Professional Profile highlights any skills that the job is asking for. Here, you want to match your skill set to what they want, but what if you don’t have the specific skills?
The thing is, you probably do have the specific skills, but you might not have them exactly. Let me give you an example. Let’s say one of the qualifications is around public speaking, and you have never commanded an audience. Knowing the specific skills that make public speaking skills is what’s at stake here. Those are: a command of English, ability to articulate complex ideas to a broad spectrum of people, ability to understand the needs of an audience (or group of people, say this however you’d like), understanding presentation software like PowerPoint or Prezi, creating evaluation forms, maintaining eye contact and understanding nonverbal communication, and substantial research skills. These are just a few examples, but they’re essential for this skill because even if you don’t have the experience, you can present that you’ve got the chops.
Writing a professional profile highlighting a desired or required skill in a job description by way of its underlying skills demonstrates you’re not only skilled in that area but that you understand the area intimately (and aren’t just wasting the person’s time by saying have public speaking experience when you don’t have it.
2. Write a Skills-Based Résumé instead of a chronological one.
I often suggest my returning-to-work/career changing clients opt for this because you can highlight many skills and back them up with actual work that ties to the needs of the job at hand. You can include volunteer work as well, and that’s important. You can even include committee work, organizational work, etc. So if you haven’t had a job-job that you’re paid for, but you’ve been a parent, a Den Mother, organized activities for a group, or taken care of an aging parent, you have some skills that will translate well into Skills-Based document.
A good deal of people I work with are leaving academia and struggle to get a ten-to-fifteen-page Curriculum Vitae into a one-to-two-page résumé. Talk about daunting! A little-known fact about graduate school is how completely depressing the system is, and people carry the negativity with them. I’m always so excited to take someone’s hand and lead them into another career path where they’ll be appreciated for what they have to offer.
The thing is, academia is set up to beat people down. We become “experts” in our field and are often made to feel that we can’t do anything besides something in academia which, for the most part, means doing a lot of work for free. When my post-academic clients come to me to turn their Curriculum Vitae into a dynamic résumé, we almost always take the Skills-Based approach, and suddenly they have an excellent and insanely competitive couple of pages!
If you are someone who has at least a year gap in employment, is changing careers from a field completely different from where you want to go, or has done under- or unpaid work for any amount of time, I recommend taking this approach.
3. Understand Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
The what? Yes, the Applicant Tracking System, commonly referred to as ATS. It’s a software used by Human Resource departments for both hiring and recruiting; it screens résumés before human eyes are set on them. Yes, really. Anytime you submit your application documents online; you can bet on that material being screened by software before it’s touched by human hands.
Tracking software screens for keywords, plain and simple and they are programmed to pick up keywords that show up in a job call. Generally, job calls have the following categories:
· Blurb about the company
· Job title and description
· Minimum qualifications (pro-tip: don’t focus too much on these)
· Desirable qualifications (pro-tip: do focus very much on these!)
· Education requirements (ding! Ding!
Generally, the ATS software will be scanning for some amalgamation of keywords from each of these categories. It’s tricky, however! If the minimum qualification is an MA and you have a doctorate, it’s going to miss your document unless you also list your MA (not everyone with a Ph.D. gets an MA).
So, play with the keywords and add them to your application materials. A cool feature on jobscan is a free service they offer where you can load your résumé, and have it scanned for a match to the job for which you’re applying. Try it and see what you think.
4. Do informational interviews and discover your transferable skills
I cannot emphasize the importance of testing the waters, especially when you’re learning new ropes or relearning old ones. It’s just so damn important. If you want a job at SalesForce doing project management, find someone in project management to talk to about what they do, how they trained for it, and what they did to get the job they have. People generally love talking about their career journeys, especially when they love their careers. It will also help you to understand how your skills transfer to a new job.
Let’s stay with our recovering academic example, shall we? Let’s say Dr. Such-and-Such of UC-AnyCity got her degree in, oh, I don’t know, Anthropology. It doesn’t matter; she was a professor for a decade but years in the academy has grated on her last nerve. She has drinks out at her favorite bar with her long-time pals, one of whom has just landed her dream job as a project manager for a company that designs curriculum software. She landed the job through friends, but Dr. Such-and-Such doesn’t have the same connections as her pal. So she starts asking her questions about how she got the job, etc. The two of them end up going out to lunch the next day for an informational interview, and Dr. S’s pal is more than happy to give Such-and-Such an earful of how she ended up where she did. Suddenly, Dr. Such-and-Such realized she has all of the skills her pal has but would have to redefine them; for example, Dr. S wrote a dissertation. You know what that is? Project Management. Yep.
Spoiler Alert: I just wrote a blog about Informational Interviews. Be sure to subscribe to my Medium site, so you don’t miss it or join the Scout Coaching FB Group!
5. Figure out your hard skills and soft skills and use them to boost the quality of your résumé
Hard skills tend to be technical, hands-on skills (WPM, for example) where soft skills represent how tuned in you are (like your knowledge of emotional IQ). Knowing where you fall on the spectrum, figuring out what skills a job requires, and then using your résumé as a sort of mapping guide will help you to highlight the skills necessary to close gaps you have from years of not working or years of not working in a particular industry. This is an excellent article on soft skills.
6. Get a Career Coach
Yes, I know. I am a coach, but I’m not trying to get you to hire me; I don’t work like that. Coaching is super personal, and you really must find the right coach for you. You might dig my blog and such (I hope you do!) but we might not be a great fit and for a coach? It needs to be a great fit. I’ve had two coaches, and while I love them dearly and respect them tremendously, neither was good for me, and I wasn’t right for them.
But having a coach to work with to guide you through the process is indispensable. She (or he) can help you develop your materials, get them in top shape, and help you to find the confidence you need to get out of your rut. Changing careers is a big deal, and you need more than a perfect résumé from a Coach. You need someone that will help guide you, get to know you, understand your needs, and have a sense of what you’ll respond to from coaching.
7. Network, network, network!
Not everyone is aces at this, and you’re not expected to go into a room and light it up with your bubbly personality. Networking is personal, and you should network the way that makes you feel comfortable because if you force it, it will be obvious. Be yourself and be willing to do something a little new and a little scary. Start small by networking online. On LinkedIn, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Respond to peoples’ posts who you follow. Join relevant groups and ask lots of questions. Post a status update asking something that will elicit conversation around a topic relevant to changing careers (it can be general if you don’t want everyone up in your business). But do try to network. Engaging people and being engaged is a soft skill (hey! See that? Networking is a skill to add to your résumé) that everyone will recognize and value.
So, as you go forth and conquer, try to have these points in mind. It doesn’t have to be (that) scary or (too) challenging. Aim for the stars, I say. If you want to wake up every day excited to do meaningful work that makes you feel good about yourself, then take the steps necessary to make that happen.