How to Switch Careers

If I had known that I was 'switching careers', I probably wouldn't have done it. The things I list here as, I suppose, “tips” for changing your path, are not things I did consciously. They were accidental. My steps mainly involved slipping in and out of tight corners, frustration, and more recently, elation. On hindsight, the task was HUGE. And I regularly gave up. But each time, I found myself trying again.

Here I am, eight (8) years after I unconsciously took the first step to change careers. That step was to go for a job interview in the public sector, a job that would pay just half of my Oil & Gas earnings. Finding out my motives had little to do with money was a crucial discovery.

Today, I can't quite believe it...I changed the path I was on! And these days, it's a lot more conscious.

Here are some thoughts on my stumble (often blindfolded) from one career to another.

Get a mentor and have a role-model

I write this first because for a long time, it is the one thing I didn’t have. In a previous post, I wrote that the lack of role models influenced my move from engineering into commercial roles.

However, even within that transition, having a role model who had changed functions or industry would have been extremely valuable. It would have shown that it was possible, a bit like looking in the mirror and seeing the reflection of who you want to be.

Switch in-company or join a leadership/management programme

Part of my conscious strategy was to do an MBA. I did this part time while working full time for my employer. The end of the MBA was frustrating. I naively expected a change in role or industry but the reality is that it doesn’t work like that. Doing the MBA gave me the skills to make the change but it was going to take time.

One way to start the switch is to move within your current organisation. You have credibility there, which should make it safer to try new things. This is what I did, moving from a senior production engineer role to a new business development role.

Alternatively, you could apply to leadership programs in companies that offer them. Such companies include BP, Shell, GE and Lloyd’s Bank.

Use social media to learn, network and engage

Remember that MBA? I wrote my thesis on social media in business, a theme I had no experience with. I turned to social platforms for help e.g. LinkedIn. By joining relevant group discussions, I engaged with subject matter experts to learn.

As part of the research for my thesis, I interviewed seven marketing and change management professionals. I met ALL these people on LinkedIn groups. They gave me one hour of their time. These seven hours taught me heaps and it changed my career. This research forms part of my first published book, The Smart Sceptic’s Guide to Social Media in Organisations (Rethink Press, 2016)

Read far and wide to understand the challenges, trends, opportunities and hot topics in your new career choice

If you want to move to a new function or industry, you must learn about it. There is no way out of that. Some employers are happy to cross-train or take people from other industries but there is often an expectation that you have an interest and basic knowledge of the new role.

Reading, networking and seeking out mentors are all ways of learning more. Attend industry-specific conferences, subscribe to relevant newsletters and industry magazines.

Show that you care, before anyone will care to give you a chance.

Get a relevant degree to flatten the learning curve

It’s not easy to get a degree, particularly when you’re working and/or you have a family. However, distance learning and online options are a growing opportunity for anyone in any situation to learn something new.

Doing a short (or long) course could get you to a flying start. You will understand current challenges, technology and opportunities within that industry. As my previous point, you will be able to show a genuine and informed interest that will make you more attractive for the new role.

Work hard

It seems obvious, right? Well, it’s not really. A period of switching careers could be a frustrating time. Aside from gallons of patience, it helps to realise that your hard work pays off.

I believe persistence is cumulative so you need to keep at it. Don’t give up too early, knock backs are normal. Keep working hard to achieve your goal and one day that dream will come true.

Rewrite your CV

Four years ago, I went for a job interview in a different industry (same function). A friend’s friend mentioned the role and knew someone at the company, which was ace! The interview changed everything for me. The CEO who interviewed me said, “You know, I wouldn’t normally look at your CV. It’s not what we are looking for.”

Gulp.

He continued,

“But now that I’ve met you and I can see what you can do, you’ve got the skills we are looking for. You need to rewrite your CV!”

Turns out I did not take a job there but this CEO became a great friend and mentor. His comments made me revisit my CV. I hadn’t adapted it for the new industry. The new CV had to focus on what was (now) important; I had to talk differently about my transferable skills.

For instance, if you are in supply chain and applying to a business development role (totally doable!), focus on your pro-activity and relationship building skills. Your ability to reduce costs for the organisation might not be as important.

Take a side gig or volunteer to learn the ropes

This is along the lines of increasing your understanding of the new role or industry. Look out for opportunities to volunteer so that you can learn the ropes.

For instance, if you are interested in marketing or social media, offer to manage your local community centre’s Facebook page.

Over time, you might be able to manage a few Facebook accounts and get paid for it. Who knows? Perhaps you can eventually quit that accounting job and do social media management full time!

Spend wisely to prepare for the transition

There’s also the dreaded money discussion. And it’s important to face the reality of it:

When making a transition, you might need to accept lower monetary returns. At least initially.

I spent 2-3 years paying off debts and trimming my spending so that I could live on ~60% of my income. It doesn’t mean that I’ve settled for a lower income indefinitely.

Transitions are like that. It’s a transit (limbo, gray space, uncertain times)between your current life and a future life that you aspire to. It won’t be comfortable for a while but I found there’s huge benefit, in general, to learning to spend wisely. It builds character and wisdom. The magic is when the money becomes a side effect of living your passion.

Take a break

Sometimes, we just don't know what we want. Or perhaps you are forced to take a break due to redundancy, health or family reasons. This could be a positive time to reflect, find out what you want from your life and career.

I took a break in May 2015 and it's the best thing I ever did. Check out this post, How to take a career break. Thinking back to that time makes me smile. I spent time with my children and spouse, I travelled, I met people for afternoon coffee just because I could.

I also learned that writing makes me happy. The real me thrives on challenge and creativity. Learning makes me feel alive and I don't need to be inside a corporate organisation to be innovative. Great insights that propelled me to where I am now.

Don't listen to people who tell you that you cannot do it

People will say a lot of things. For me, it was often what they didn’t say. The look on their faces. The cold treatment I received because of wanting to do something different. It was unpleasant.

But I felt that I had no choice but to believe in myself. Deep inside, I cared more about my passion than about what people thought. I was fortunate to also have people to support that. Family, friends, mentor and advisers who were pillars of encouragement.

I count myself fortunate - lucky even - that I didn’t recognise what I was trying to do. For I would have run for the hills. Thank goodness for naivety.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on February 1, 2017