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Should You Shift or Change Your Career?

A job application on a desk with a pen and paper.

​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.

I am currently working on my master's degree in psychology with a specialization in industrial organizational psychology. I have a head for numbers and a heart for people, and teaching and training allows me to [work with] both. Having over 15 years of experience in corporate management, analytics and adjunct instructing, I know I want to work with adult learners after I get my degree, but I do not know which route to go in the interim. I am looking at ways to gain relevant experience over the next two years as I complete my program. After a session with a career counselor, I am now working on gathering information on transition employment moves that I need to make now. Any information will be most helpful.

Let's talk about making a career shift versus a career change:

A career shift occurs when you want to change direction within your career to take a different job with responsibilities in the same general area of expertise. You most likely already have skills that are applicable to the new direction. This makes achieving your goal easier because you have some frame of reference for the work and can source information on the job's deliverables and how the work contributes to corporate goals. A career shift typically is easier to achieve than a career change.

Alternatively, when you pursue an entirely new profession, you may have very few skills that apply to the new job. This is a career change, which is more stressful, takes longer, and can include significant reductions in salary and professional standing. Consequently, a complete career change is best pursued when jobs are plentiful and exceed the supply of qualified workers—and that's not the case in 2020.

Making a career change in less-than-optimal conditions is much easier if you create steppingstones to take you from where you are, through intermediate jobs—or, as you wrote in your note, "transition employment moves"—to your chosen destination. Here's an example.

From Actor to Trainer

Years ago, a young man wanted to be a writer, teacher or trainer of some kind, but he had no HR experience and had only worked in the theater.

He took whatever work was available and ended up in Silicon Valley as a headhunter, which is an intense sales job. He steadily climbed into headhunter training management and volunteered to rewrite and upgrade the training manuals at every company where he worked. While volunteering can be a thankless job, in this pursuit he got to know many people of importance and developed a stronger job network.

The headhunting experience enabled him to move into corporate HR recruitment training, a change that was made easier because his core experience was relevant. He knew the headaches headhunters cause for HR and therefore how HR could stop those headaches and manage the headhunters to maximum effect. He had made a living by "raiding" companies for their talent and saw how that skill could be turned around to help a company better defend itself from such "predators."

His next move was to become director of training for an employment services franchiser. Although he'd never worked in franchising, he brought extensive recruitment knowledge to the world of corporate recruitment, which is very different from headhunting. He also realized that his failed acting skills helped him with audiences, and he became a great trainer.

Time passed, and he achieved all of his goals: He had become a trainer, teacher and writer with the publication of the book Knock 'Em Dead, The Ultimate Job Search Guide, which is now in its 32nd edition.

And now you know my complete career history.

How to Make the Shift

Your education and professional experience make a career change into training and development or learning and development an achievable goal. Try to stay within the same industry, as that makes a career transition easier. Get to know the skills workers in your industry need to learn, and develop that knowledge and those skills to make your lessons accessible and genuinely helpful. The career shifts and changes you make are best served by planning ahead and making extra effort in those areas that most need strengthening well in advance of implementing a job search.

Also, join your local Society for Human Resource Management chapter. You'll increase your profession-specific knowledge and build a network relevant to your career goals.

In an ever-changing world, future moves are likely to be transient, shifting with the demands of your industry and field. Everything you do should be a transition employment move because there is little job security and we all should plan to have more than one option for our professional future.

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.


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