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How to Successfully Change Careers

People change careers for many variations of two reasons: They leave their career, or their career leaves them. Either way, employment challenges are much the same when it comes to marketing yourself in places where you haven’t been before.

Even when you think you can easily transition from one career field or industry to another, employers can be a hard sell when it comes to green-lighting career changers for a payroll. Except when they’re filling entry-level jobs, hiring authorities have a frustrating habit of preferring candidates who, on someone else’s payroll, have proven that they can do the work a job requires.

When you want to give your best effort to prevent a career change, whether voluntary or involuntary, from going awry, pay attention to the following pointers:

  • Connect with others in your intended field. When your change is voluntary, at least six months in advance of your leap, join a professional association of members in the career field or industry where you want to go.

    When your change is involuntary and you’re suddenly left high and dry, scramble to assemble a skeleton personal network of people who can guide you into your intended field and beef it up as fast as you can. Make friends. Find out who’s who and what’s happening with professionals who can connect you with employment. Ask what you should read and what workshops you should attend. Ask if you can visit a professional’s workplace as an observer.

  • Educate yourself. Seek out short-term certificate programs and workshops offered during industry conferences, as well as those available locally. If you study online, get the scoop on pluses and pitfalls of distance learning.

  • Bone up on the industry. Even if you’re a non-academic type who always sneaked light rubbish reads or sports sections into your study halls, at this time in your life, you really can’t afford to skip hard-core research on your proposed destination. Those greener pastures sometimes bleach out when something about the work isn’t what a changer realistically expects or can do well. This probably happens as a result of skimpy research.

  • Talk the talk. Learn the lingo of prospective new colleagues. You’ll seem like one of them already — an insider, not an outsider.

  • Brace yourself for interview pitfalls. When you find yourself in a behaviour-based interview setting (used to ask candidates how they’ve handled specific situations, based on the premise that the past predicts the future) and you’re coming up short trying to answer a question about what you have done that’s relevant to the new career, answer quickly. Then reframe your response, segueing from behaviour-based interviewing (the past) to situational interviewing (the future): That’s a good question. And here’s what I would do if we decide I’m the right person for this position. I would —.

  • Make the experience connection. The bridge you use to join the old with the new must be rational and reasonable. Your qualifications have to come from somewhere — skills you already possess, volunteer work, part-time jobs, training, hobbies and so forth. Strive to present a believable relationship between your qualifications and the career you’re targeting. The more convincing your bridge, the easier you make it for an employer to say, ‘Welcome, we want you.’

  • Accentuate the positive. Don’t say you hope to change careers because no more jobs are available in your field. An exception may be when a condition is well known, such as newspaper journalists who transferred to online media or communications firms before the mass redundancies of the last couple of years.

    Even then, add that you’d been thinking about making a change for some time and have decided to redesign your life for a better fit with your priorities and goals. As in any job search, you’re moving toward a preferred future, not running away from a bad spot or a toxic boss.

  • Tell true stories. Expect to be asked the same kinds of questions that new graduates often face, such as some version of ‘Why shouldn’t we hire someone more experienced in this line of work?’ When you work out your answers, remember to storytell — that is, to back up your claims of superior qualities with true examples of accomplishments. Otherwise, what you claim will likely be blown off as hot air. You must be believable.

  • Inventory your core skills and knowledge. Sort through to see which skills will cross over to a different industry or career field. Push them to the front of your memory, where you can find and translate them as needed.

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