How to Successfully Make a Career Transition
by David Franklin

Advice on Getting Your First Job While Making a Career Change

There are generally 3 instances when you might consider transitioning careers: tangentially (to a similar field), completely (to a new profession), and after high school or college (which is very similar to changing from being a student to a new profession, except instead of not having relevant work experience, you have no work experience at all.)

Each of these instances can come with their own set of challenges. We put together some advice for people who are thinking about making a career transition. Check it out to get started on your new career move.

Be as knowledgeable as you can about your new field

Even if you don’t have a formal education or training in an area, there are undoubtedly personal contacts, blogs, videos, or online trainings you can consult to make the transition as seamless as possible.

 

Be as employable as you can when applying as an underdog

If you have been bouncing from job to job, career to career for a while – no one is going to want to take a risk on you. If the job you are applying for requires an in-person presence, and most candidates live 15 minutes away, it probably won’t be best for you to live 3 hours away.

Right now, your job is to remove as many other barriers to hire you as possible. Since your employer will be taking a risk to hire you, it behooves you to make that risk as small as possible.

Be as dependable as you can when applying as an underdog

Soft skills and personality traits are vitally important to any job. A deciding factor in most hires is regarding if the hirer would like to work with you or have you on their team, and if they think you will be a self-starter or require “baby-sitting”.

If you have a solid foundation, a wiliness to learn, and some useful skills and knowledge, your likelihood of getting hired is much higher, no matter what stage of career-transition you are in.

Leverage Social Media to Find Jobs (Rather Than Have Them Find You)

Applying for jobs is tough. Chasing down every new possibility on LinkedIn is not only time consuming, but it inherently means you have a less targeted application going to a more competitive job posting.

Search out companies that you admire and follow them, connect with people, and ask to be notified when new jobs become available. (Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook are all great places to do this) Reaching out to people, or even following tags/institutes you admire is good because they put out calls for work. People are afraid to reach out (and I know because I’m one of them) but it never hurts to try. You need to be respectful and not spam people with thoughtless comments, but it helps you gain insight into what those people or companies are about, develop your new skillset, and get hired.

Sometimes it helps to look on sites like Glassdoor and Linkedin for a new position, but if you know of a company you would like to look for, seek them out directly. They may have positions that can be seen on their careers page that have fewer people applying to them, and that are more likely to be evaluated by a human rather than by an algorithm.

Specific Advice for different types of Career Transitions

 

Tangential Career Moves

This is the most common form of career move. Maybe a developer moves from a front-end to a back-end development position. Maybe a video illustration designer moves to a static illustration designer. Maybe a project manager moves to manage the operations of a company.

All these positions represent some friction, but ultimately, offer a lot of cross-over in terms of skill and experience.

First, find where the skill differences are and address them.

For example, let’s say you are a motion videographer who transitioned to static design – you’ll have to sharpen your unrefined skills that are required to do the new job. Some of the principles are the same, but graphic designers need a much stronger understanding of layout, color, and typography than motion graphic designers do.

And because “graphic designer” can mean so many different things, you would also need to determine what tasks you might be doing. For a smaller design firm, you might be doing User Interface Design, Web Design, or Print Advertising. These might use similar rules in terms of spacing, but all require knowing about color in the digital space (RGB) vs color in the physical space (CMYK).

Because video is inherently one image after another, you also will have to learn how to tell a full story with less “time”, so to speak, now that you would be working with static images.

Also, at a smaller firm, being a generalist is most useful, since you will likely need to be a jack of all trades, master of none. At larger firms, it is much more effective to have many specialists work as a cohesive unit to craft solutions. Knowing where you want to apply will help you determine the breadth and depth of new skills you need to develop.

In some cases, talking to an expert, working on a few projects from your current position, or just taking a class may be all you need to shore up those differences in skillset before your big career move.

Secondly, once you have these skills – do your best to work on any project you can (and document it!). More important than gaining knowledge is knowing how to employ your new skills – and demonstrating that. Even if it is a personal project – be prepared to share how you approached each problem and how you tackled it. For designers, you may choose to share your work on Dribble, Behance, or any design forum. For developers, resources like Stack Overflow or Github are great places to develop experience and credibility. Not only do these serve as portfolios, but they also serve as a space to get feedback and to improve your skillset.

Complete Career Moves

Unfortunately, transitioning mid-career to a new career is a tough road. On one hand, you don’t want to buy into the sunken cost fallacy and stay in a career that is sucking your passion out of your work and taking the best years of your life. On the other hand, starting a new career might mean losing years off retirement, a loss of tenure, and a decrease in pay and benefits. Before heading down this path, make sure that it is something that you want to do.

However, many people have done this before, and have been very successful at it. There are two things you are going to have to learn (besides the three universal tips offered at the beginning): your soft skills and your old skills

Soft Skills

Aside from your ability to do the job, and sometimes even more than that, your ability to be liked and communicate well is the second most important skill you can demonstrate. We have all worked with that one person who was technically a good employee, but no one enjoys working with them, and people groan when they have a meeting or a project with them. Well-spoken, articulate, easy-going team members consistently excel past more reserved peers, especially when considering roles with more responsibility. Because humility and cooperation are vital to the success of a project and a company, having a lack of an ego is also important.

If you work in a client-facing position like at a consulting company, this is doubly important. Not only do you need the soft skills to get hired and to be a good team member, but you also will be judged on your willingness and how you speak and act towards your peers and your clients.

After your resume, the first thing recruiters will look at are your soft skills. It isn’t their job to know how skilled you are, it is their job to see if you will be a good fit for the company culture. If your soft skills aren’t well developed, you may never make it to a position where you get to demonstrate your technical ability. If your technical ability is lacking, this is where you might be able to surpass some of your more qualified peers.

Old Skills

Some of your old skill sets will remain useful. While an SUV is better than a car at off-roading, both are suited for it, especially when compared to a boat. Skills in project management, maintaining budget, and developing people are always useful.

But what about all those other skills that don’t immediately seem necessary? Most companies run the risk of becoming rigid and closed-minded in their thinking, and an injection of new ideas can rejuvenate a company.

A psychologist could easily make the case of becoming an exceptional marketer, designer, or salesperson, and with a couple of online classes, could have a few new skills that would be bolstered by a deep understanding of the human mind. An engineer might have a unique propensity with logic that makes them an exceptional analyst. A store owner may have seen new products succeed and fail, and that knowledge might make them an invaluable consultant. Don’t sell your experience short – examine who it might help and let them know why it will.

Post-Education Career Moves

Post-education career moves, like graduating from high school or college, is generally more difficult than making a complete career transition – and writing “managed upper-level food distribution for a fortune 500 company” on your resume for your time as a fry cook at McDonald’s isn’t fooling anyone.

I graduated from college late and spend nearly four years of my life in food service, and I hated it. Unfortunately, it seems like most companies want to hire you after you have experience, without taking a risk to give you experience.

Fortunately, this means that the solution is as easy as gaining some experience that most of your competitors don’t have, and this guide will help you do it.

(If you are trying to gain experience and you have none, try launching a personal project on Kickstarter, volunteer for an open-source project on GitHub, or find a part-time job that serves as a career builder. For more information on how to gain experience, check out our blog on how to gain experience when you have none.

Putting it All Together 

Many employers know that they are looking for a specific skillset, others know that they need a hardworking person, and still more never knew the type of person or skill set they needed until they boldly introduced themselves to them.

Whatever your experience, it NEVER hurts to gain more experience or knowledge. It is always better if that experience is more similar to your new position than not and finding a way to develop yourself and tell a story to your prospective new company is vital when finding a new job.

If you can do all of these things, have patience, and apply to many positions in a targeted and well-explained fashion, you will almost definitely find yourself at a new position in no time!

 

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