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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. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.
A career change (moving from one profession to another) is a much more complex and time-consuming affair than a job change within your chosen profession. Why? You get hired based on your credentials, not your potential.
With a job change within your current profession, you bring most of the skills required to the table. That is rarely the case with a career change, making the switch more challenging and taking longer to achieve. Here are some thoughts to help you evaluate options and execute such a career transition.
It's All in the Prep
Without thoughtful preparation, a plan of attack and good timing, a career change can cause extensive financial and emotional disturbance. The worst time to change careers is when you are out of work during an economic downturn: You are short of cash and the bills are piled nose-high. Plus, the competition is fiercer than you have ever faced. You are up against candidates with the very experience you lack—they offer credentials, while you offer mainly potential.
A career change is best planned well in advance to coincide with a good economic climate when jobs are more plentiful, there are more opportunities than candidates and competition is lessened.
No strategic career change should be made on a whim. The profession itself needs to be carefully chosen. For example, a large, stable profession (say, within the health care field) will offer more points of entry and still have opportunity no matter the economic climate.
You will need to identify the easiest way into that new profession by identifying a target job to which you can bring the most credentials. Then you should get to know that job inside and out. The
Bureau of Labor StatisticsBLS.gov website has thousands of detailed job descriptions, accompanied by excellent snapshots of what the earnings potential and daily work life is like. You can compare your options with the job postings to help you see the hurdles you'll face.
Once you have identified a target job and have collected a range of appropriate job postings within your new targeted profession, get to know that job inside out. Most importantly, identify what you bring to the table and what you don't. Then educate yourself in those areas where you are coming up short. Apart from professional accreditations, building a network in your new targeted profession will be most helpful.
Create New Networks
Join the local chapter of the most relevant professional association and get to know and be known by the most committed and best-connected people in your profession.
Simultaneously, you should build an online network, focused on your new career, on LinkedIn. Join the groups most closely associated with the new profession and targeted job. "Like" people's blogs and comments and, a day or two later, citing the observations you liked, ask to connect.
On the group pages, ask questions about those areas where you fall short in skills, as everyone loves to give advice. You can learn from and then connect with everyone who offers tips. Don't ask a few big, overarching questions. Regularly ask many small, focused ones: "I'm transitioning from job A to job B. Has anyone in the group done this?" "What are the biggest challenges with …. (a specific job responsibility)?" You'll gather more insight and contacts this way.
Examine each group's membership list by title and geography. While you are interested in getting to know anyone in this profession, those who live locally and hold your targeted job title can give you the best advice. And the title holders who are one, two and three levels above your targeted job are the very people who will one day hire you. When the time comes to launch the search, you will already know the people most likely to know of openings, make introductions or offer you your next job.
A career change is a challenge. Careful planning and prep work will take time, but 50 percent of the success of any project is in the preparation. You are planning to change the direction of your life, so having a clear focus, planning and being ready to pull the trigger when the time is right put the odds in your favor.
Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!
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