The Most Important Insight of Changing Careers

In this post I will discuss what changing careers can do for your personal development, and how one crucial insight may boost your career more than anything else.

Career development today — off the beaten path

The recruiter glances at the CV. Five years in finance…analytical work, long hours, the grind. Then moved to the tech industry, done business development, sales and also marketing for three years, the whole mix. He feels confused by this flurry of jobs, industries and skills…so what on earth is this candidate? He does not fit into any bucket!

The recruiter I just mentioned could be any recruiter in any company in the world. The CV he looks at could also be anybody’s CV, but it is mine. I am the person people very often have trouble placing into a category. I spent 5 years in private equity, working 80+ hour weeks, then simply had enough of the industry and decided I wanted to do something more human and creative, so I started working in digital. After five years of building a career and a name in finance, I started over on a blank page, with no credentials and less industry experience than a 21 year-old graduate who had dabbled in social media for a few years. It looked pretty scary, not only from the outside.

Within three years of joining the digital world I managed to gain experience in sales, marketing and business development, and worked on some pretty exciting stuff. However, people still have this huge problem with my career: I do not fit into any of the categories people use! I am not a pure sales guy, neither have I spent years and years doing nothing but marketing — so I get this puzzled look on people’s faces when they hear my story. I can see their brains trying to label me, which produces the equivalent of dividing by zero: a system error.

As I talked to different people over the years, I realised how many were in a similar situation. With more and more people changing jobs and industries frequently, careers are less and less smooth1 and streamlined: they have breaks, seemingly abrupt moves and sometimes cross more than just two different industries in a decade.

When someone with such a CV then applies for a job, they often get the same reaction I described at the beginning: confusion, because the label won’t fit, the usual boxes cannot be ticked! Let’s rather look at the candidate with 5 years experience in the same industry before trying to put together this challenging career puzzle, shall we?

Changing careers gives you an understanding of your true self

Reflecting on this phenomena a bit longer provided me with a fascinating realisation which I think has the power to make you see yourself in a completely new light, which will in turn enable you to massively advance your career development. Let me share it with you.

When I think about the way many recruiters still look at people, ticking their boxes and slapping on their labels, it shows me how static this system is, relying so much on some blueprint on what “the ideal candidate” needs to look like. This presents a massive challenge to anyone who had a career change, because this is definitely not part of any “ideal candidate” concept and makes it more likely that such a candidate will not pass the first screening.

On the other hand, this also means that changing careers and jobs, and experiencing the static thinking of many recruiters, gives you the most important insight of your career:

It tears off the labels, removes the boxes you cannot fit into, and focuses you on something far more important: Your true identity.

When I realised that I do not fit any of the classic job profiles or role descriptions, that my background and skill set are combinations across multiple disciplines, it actually boiled it down to what I, as person, really am. And which of my capabilities connects all the dots that span 8 years, two industries and many different roles.

I am a communicator.

I can hear my friends and colleagues silently protest — after all, I also build financial models, define and implement company strategies or write technical product descriptions — so how does it make sense to call me a communicator and nothing else? It actually is quite simple: It is what I am best at. Period. Dealing with people, understanding and responding to them on a conscious and subconscious level is one skill I never really trained. And it is the one that makes me successful at sales and marketing, and where I feel like a fish in the water.

So there you go: This is the biggest accomplishment changing careers can ever do for you. Not only does it break you free from traditional definitions of roles, it removes roles altogether and replaces them with something so much more simple, and more wonderful: character.

5 ways of turning your character into your brand

What does this mean for all of us who have left traditional, prescribed career models and decided to wander off the beaten path? I think the answer is that we need to develop our own brand, to connect the dots in a way that is visible for someone else to understand. Someone who can see beyond labels, see you for who you are, and understand your character. These are, after all, the people you really want to work with.

Here are 5 ways of turning your character into a strong brand:

1. Start a blog which tells your story. Put a link to it on your CV / LinkedIn.

2. Write an intro text at the top of your CV which summarises your character.

3. Do the same for every professional social profile you have.

4. In cover letters, explain how your skills set fits around your persona.

5. And do the same when you are in an interview. Be authentic.

In some cases this process might be easier, in some cases harder, depending on what kind of career move you made. No matter how hard it seems, though, it will definitely be worth telling your story instead of letting someone else make up their own mind about you.

Have you made similar experiences in your career? How did you respond to rigid job descriptions or probing questions? Leave a comment!

This post was originally published on my personal blog.