It’s easy to be idealistic about a career change. After all, it’s a common occurrence: It’s said that most people change careers at least three times in their lifetimes. And with the push toward career fulfillment and work-life balance along with the fact that workforce needs are rapidly changing, who would blame you for seeking a new path?
The answer: Employers can blame you. And they will.
That may not be the answer you’re looking for, but it’s the truth. Career changing job candidates are risky and all-too-easy to pass up. But if you’re intent on a career change—either by choice or by circumstance—the following tips might help you make the transition smoother.
- Don’t rely on recruiters. Recruiters are not your best source for jobs when trying to change careers. To understand why, put yourself in their shoes. Recruiters are paid to find the best of the best job candidates. Convincing employers to take a chance on someone amid a career change is an uphill battle that rarely pays off.
- Be willing to accept less pay. It can be excruciatingly painful to accept a pay cut midway through your career, but sometimes it’s necessary. Understand that your potential new employer doesn’t owe you anything: they’re taking a chance on you, just as they would have when you were just entering the workforce. Before switching careers, take a good look at your budget and what you’ll need to make to not fall behind on bills. Is the move realistic? Will the new career have a better career trajectory than your current one? And can you find a job that pays less, but that offers better benefits and perks than you may be getting currently?
- Look for other industries that utilize your current skills. Maybe you don’t need a new career as much as you simply need a change in scenery. If you’ve spent years in healthcare marketing, for instance, maybe you’ll be reinvigorated by marketing for an educational organization or a technology company. Or perhaps you’ve been an accountant in the oil and gas industry, but getting an accounting job in manufacturing is just the change you need. Look at ways in which the industries overlap and create a compelling narrative for potential employers on how your skills will transfer and why your fresh perspective could be the breath of fresh air THEY need.
- Look for emerging careers that overlap your skills. Roughly 65% of kids entering elementary school today will eventually hold jobs that don’t yet exist. It’s not far-fetched, then, that you might be an excellent fit for a job that has only recently emerged. Data scientist jobs, for instance, have grown 650% since 2012. Cryptocurrency and bitcoin job openings have tripled in one year. While the competition for these positions can be high, it’s important to note that longevity in these careers isn’t a factor since they’re relatively new. So, if lack of experience is your kryptonite, look for emerging jobs within your industry that could be a good match.
- Research areas where there are skill shortages. All tough news aside, it’s relatively a great time to be in a career change. The historically low unemployment rate means more employers may be willing to take a chance on you now than they would have if the job market were in their favor. Look at areas affected the most by talent shortages. This research suggests the financial and manufacturing industries are suffering, as are technology, media, and telecommunication industries that rely on digital talent. Houston and Austin were recently named among the top 10 U.S. cities with the largest skills gap. Read more about the Texas jobs in need of workers here.
- Study up…if it’s necessary. Will a new or advanced degree, certification, or class help you in your career change? It depends. Research the field you’re interested in breaking into and looking at the degrees and training employers require. For certain IT and project management careers, specific certifications can be the key to job search success, even over a newly minted college degree. In other areas like graphic design and marketing, volunteering, and freelancing to build up your portfolio might be a better use of your time.
- Highlight your more relevant soft skills. The most transferable job skills you have are your soft skills. Thankfully, they’re also your most important ones. More than 90% of executives rate soft skills as a critical priority in business, while most managers believe new graduates lack many of the most important ones including critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, communication skills, and leadership potential. If those are your strengths, be sure to highlight them in a way that communicates the value they’ve given your employers over the years.
- Seek out peer advice and informational interviews. If you’re a mid- or late-stage career changer, chances are you already know people in the field you want to enter. Call them, email them, connect with them on LinkedIn. Take them to coffee or ask them if they’d be willing to conduct an informational interview with you to offer you their honest feedback on what you’ll need to do to get your foot in the door. Who knows: Maybe they have the connections or a current opportunity that could put you on the fast-track to a new job.
- Rehaul your resume. Chances are your resume is in a typical chronological format, which likely won’t work for a career change. Consider alternatives like a functional or combination resume that emphasizes your relevant skills over your job history. A targeted resume that focuses on a specific job opening might work, too. And don’t forget the cover letter, which can be a helpful way to highlight why you’re interested in a job when your resume may not be able to offer those answers.
- Update your personal branding. What does your public persona say about you and your career trajectory? Do an internet search on yourself and take a good look at the portrait it paints, because potential employers certainly will. You’ll want to rework your LinkedIn profile and other pages within your control to match your new career trajectory. Take a look at this advice from the Career Enlightenment Blog for ideas on how to do it.
Embarking on a career change isn’t easy, and you can’t expect recruiters and employers to go out of their way to give you a chance. While you may have built up a name for yourself in your current career, the rules will change once you step out of your comfort zone. With these tips, though, you can take your power back and build a new path forward.