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Your Career Q&A: Making a Successful Career Change

A woman walking down an alley with a suitcase.

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR.


I have been an engineer for the past 12 years in the oil and gas industry, and now I want to change careers to HR.

I've taken a basic short course on HRM for non-HR professionals from a reputed school in my country, and I would like to know what other avenues I can pursue to transition into an HR role. My aim is to become an HR business partner where I can make a difference in any organization I am part of. 

I live on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. Thank you.


The biggest problem with career change is that you usually have to leave most of your skills and credentials behind. Plus, you are older and competing for lower-level jobs usually seen as suitable for younger professionals. So, lack of relevant skills and credentials coupled with ageism can make it harder to get a foothold in a newly chosen career direction. 

Nevertheless, career change can become necessary because of personal needs: You don't like your current career any longer, your job has been automated out of existence, or you've lost your job for other reasons.

Career change almost always demands a professional step backward. Make sure there are good odds for that strategic career move to ultimately take you two steps forward.

Choosing a Target Industry and Job

To get where you want to go, you'll need to leverage as much of your experience as possible. You, as an oil and gas engineer, can increase your chances by pursuing a target HR job within the oil and gas sector. You bring an important body of knowledge to the job: You know the language, the ways things are done, the way the industry works and the problems that arise every day. In other words, you already have a broad frame of reference for the challenges to be faced in any HR job in the oil and gas industry.

With a target industry in mind, you want a target job that provides the easiest point of entry into your new professional world. Choosing this is easier when you've thought through the long-term goals of your new career choice. You say you want to become an "HR business partner where I can make a difference." An HRBP is a deeply experienced HR professional who works with senior management to develop HR strategies and tactics that support the business's goals. Relevant industry experience is again a big advantage.

When you have the specific long-term goal of becoming an HRBP in mind, you can determine the easiest points of entry and how they will support reaching that long-term HRBP goal. To do this, evaluate HR job listings ( will be invaluable here) in terms of:

  1. How can my professional background support me in landing this job?
  2. Once I have the new job, how direct is the path to my long-term professional goals? 

HR people make it to HRBP from any number of originating jobs, and there isn't any one best option. However, with your engineering background, there is an obvious choice that jumps out both as a point of entry into HR and a direct course to HRBP: Recruitment, talent acquisition and talent management.

Your background gives you skills and insights that very few HR recruiters have and makes you a standout candidate. Then, once you are in the job, you are directly involved in sourcing the best talent for individual managers and your company. 

After that, every recruitment project you work on either helps you build relationships with new managers or deepens bonds with managers you've worked with before—the exact category of people you will work with as an HRBP. You are building management support to champion your HRBP goal.

Finding Missing Skills

The skills for talent acquisition in technical fields are straightforward and easy to acquire for someone with an engineering degree. Given your technical frame of reference, you can be ready for interviews in two weeks if you follow this simple advice and understand:

  • How recruitment works.
  • How to objectively define a job's needs.
  • How to structure interviews.
  • How to help managers become more efficient interviewers.
  • What questions you need to ask to quickly screen candidates.
  • The deeper questions that will best enable managers to evaluate candidates successfully.
  • How to make objective hiring decisions.
  • How to get new hires productive fast.

Plumb the resources on to find this information. Webcasts, conferences and events at your local chapter of SHRM will help. Connect with local HR pros with engineering experience who have already made the transition you are planning; they will prove to be resources of invaluable information.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!


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