I’ve been blessed to learn and cultivate a particular set of skills, skills I’ve acquired over the course of my career.
I’ve always wanted to say that.
Actually, it would be cool if I were a former spy like Liam Neeson in Taken, but the skills I’m talking about won’t help me take out violent criminals single-handedly. Instead, they’ve helped me survive layoffs and do well in six industries and disciplines. In about 17 years, I’ve worked in retail management, finance, pricing, marketing, and product management. I’ve also written my first book in a murder mystery series.
Lots of younger professionals (20’s – 30’s) ask me how I transitioned through multiple career paths. Those that ask me usually seek a career that is more fulfilling. Therefore, I thought I’d share a few things I learned. If you find yourself in this situation, I hope you find this useful.
Figure out exactly what you want to do
Hopefully, you’ll already know this, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it. We only live so long, so you don’t have time to taste-test a thousand options. Research your targeted choice and interview folks already in it. Make sure you really want to try it. You don’t want to waste years getting into something only to end up hating it.
Understand and build your transferable skills
I jumped from retail banking to financial management to marketing. Although the roles are different, all require strong analytical capability. I cultivated that skill and positioned it as an asset for each role.
Let’s say you sell used cars but want to work in product management one day. Start by determining the basic skills required for success in each role. Suppose one is understanding and meeting customer needs. Another one may be influencing buying behavior. If you build on those skills and can demonstrate them, you’ll make a huge leap in including yourself among the candidates in your targeted career.
Remember that skills can be learned. Although I majored in marketing, I ended up working in finance because I couldn’t get a marketing job when I graduated. I had to learn how to be analytical and look at the big picture because I sure didn’t do much of that in the beginning of my career.
This is obvious but is even more critical when you’re switching careers. You’ll be an unproven commodity in your new field. Building connections is key to convincing someone to give you a shot. Also consider joining Toastmasters to brush up on your public speaking; the ability to network and present and convey ideas will open doors everywhere.
Offer yourself on a trial period
Some people apply for jobs outside of their field, don’t establish relationships, but expect to command top dollar without working their way up. That’s ridiculous. Instead, find someone in your new field and offer to assist them with a project—for free. Or join a cross-functional project team at work to gain exposure. If people don’t have to pay you, they’re more likely to bring you in, show you the ropes, and give you valuable insight. I’ve landed a couple of jobs this way.
Understand it will take time
Everybody wants everything now. Life doesn’t work like that for most of us. Things take time, even for things where we feel we’re a natural fit.
I love writing—and yet, it still took me about nine years to write and publish my first book. It also cost a lot (i.e., attending writer’s conferences, paying copy editors, paying for promotional tactics, etc.)
Hopefully, it won’t take you as long to start your new career as it did for me to write my novel. Just understand that this effort usually isn’t overnight. Your career path might resemble a line dance; you’ll have to take a step forward, one step back, and two to the side before moving forward again.
But as long as each step puts you closer to your goal, you’ll keep acquiring those valuable sets of skills that will place you where you want to be.