How to Make A Career Switch

May 10, 2012

Conventional wisdom says that an average worker has between 7 and 10 careers in a lifetime.  For the Millennial generation, that number is even higher.  Today’s workforce is mobile, global, and tech savvy.   With opportunities literally at our fingertips, it’s easier (and more acceptable) than ever to try one’s hand in a new field.  If you’ve been thinking about a career change, here are 8 tips to get started:

First, ask yourself three key questions:

1.    Why are you making a switch?  Are you bored or not challenged?  Itching to be part of the start-up, high tech revolution?  Do you need to move to a more lucrative field?  Whether you’re looking for more job satisfaction, a bigger paycheck, a more collaborative work environment, or a chance to put your natural talents and skills to use, you’ve got to know what’s driving you and then tailor your job search to meet your needs.    When Suzanne, a close friend, reached her limit as a corporate accountant, she was determined to put her interpersonal skills to use.  As she began to look for new jobs, she focused on organizations and roles that would emphasize and value her communication and leadership skills above all else, and thankfully ended up at a non-profit that did just that.

2.    What do you need to do to break into your new field? Do you need to go back to school to get there? Does it require an advanced degree (Ph.D., MBA, MFA, etc.)?  Are internships or apprenticeships a pre-requisite? If you’re headed to media or entertainment, you likely need to start in the mailroom or as a production assistant.  If journalism is your thing, blogging and/or freelancing are great ways to start.   Finance will likely require an advanced degree while high fashion is all about scoring the right internship.  A great way to learn about what the pathway to success looks like in your desired field is to network within LinkedIn Groups and search for 2nd and 3rd degree connections to ask for informational interviews.

3.    What are your transferrable skills and how will they help you? Chances are you’ve acquired some marketable, transferrable skills along the way.  What do you do well? Coding, graphic design, project management, creative writing?  We’ve all got natural talents and abilities—think about how to put yours to use in your desired field.  What skills will help you mange relationships with teammates, clients, customers or your boss and help you become a great sales rep, councilwoman or entrepreneur? What skills are most valued and how do your natural talents jive with what’s needed to excel in your new field?   Look at the profiles of people who have the positions you want and check out their skills—do yours match up?

Next, get organized

4.    Educate Yourself!  Follow industry trends on LinkedIn Today and sign up for Smart Brief newsletters to get smart about what you need to know in real estate, aerospace or advertising.  If you have specific companies you’re interested in, follow them on LinkedIn and set up Google alerts for up-to-date news on key transactions or key players in the business.  Join or follow your industry’s key professional associations (and if you don’t know which ones to join, check out Groups You May Like).  You’ll need to be able to speak with confidence and insight about your new industry so that people take you seriously and want to help you pave your way into their field.

5.    Create a set of short-term and long-term goals.  A career transition can take anywhere from months to years.  Create a plan with near and long-term goals and strategies to map out your course of action.  I recently spoke with Jessi Walter, a former investment banker who dreamed of opening up her own cooking school for kids.  She longed to start her own business and become an entrepreneur, but the thought of leaving the corporate world (and a steady paycheck) behind was terrifying.   Jessi decided to take baby steps.  She enrolled in an incubator class for women entrepreneurs to bounce around ideas and then reached out to former classmates and friends for brainstorming and fundraising advice.  She scoured her network to find legal advice for small business owners and secure her first location.   She gave herself a timeline of 18 months to get her ducks in a row before leaving her corporate gig.  Today, she is up and running with a staff of thirteen at Taste Buds Kitchen, a state-of-the art test kitchen for kids.

6.    Market Yourself.  Update your LinkedIn profile to indicate your interest in your desired field. Make sure your Opportunity Preferences are set to welcome career opportunities.    Tell everyone you know—family, friends and acquaintances—that you’re transitioning into a new field so they can help your cause.  And make sure you’ve got your personal pitch ready in your back pocket so that you can easily explain your professional journey to others – where you’re heading and why, where you’ve been, and how the two are connected (i.e. why this career move makes perfect sense).

Work your network

7.    Who do you know?  Explore and expand your network.  Reconnect with classmates using LinkedIn Alumni.  Ask friends, classmates, or former colleagues about job openings in your desired field.  Do an Advanced People Search filtered by industry.  Can your connections share expertise, introduce you to others or sit down with you for informational interviews?  Ask key questions about how people broke into the field—what helped them become successful and what skills do they think are most valuable to new professionals in their industry today.

Reach Out.  Finally, stay on top of industry trends, news and events so that you’ve got a great reason to reach out to potential employers, friends or colleagues in your new industry.   Congratulate others on job moves or promotions, offer to help someone breaking into the field you’re leaving, and do your best to reciprocate for help you receive in your own career switch. Reaching out is a two-way street—the more you do for others, the more you’ll receive in terms of help moving forward on your own career path.