Reports that young workers are “already” looking to make a career change have been trickling out of publications for several years now. It’s easy to launch into a rant about “Millennials and Generation Z!”, but doing so overlooks an important development in psychology that unravels this deeply human process.
“In early adulthood, we tend to gravitate toward careers modeled on the people closest to us… Our 20s take us through a process of ‘individuation,’ where we” ultimately see what is that we want, what our morals are and what skills we possess. You may have heard this classic scenario before: a young, ambitious artist offers to work at a firm for free and ultimately ends up the director of a high performing department or design agency. It sounds fantastic. But the world has changed dramatically, and so have our career paths. With dedicated staffing agencies (hi!), digital job boards and near-infinite social media networks, how we plot our work lives has made this neurological, and sometimes spiritual, development convenient to act on.
The universal caveat of a career change, no matter how experienced we are, is that we can move too hastily. To prevent such a debacle, we’ve put together a strategy to navigate this complex process.
START INCREMENTALLY AND FROM A PLACE OF STABILITY
If you’re a full-time employee feeling an urge to leave your current role, we encourage you delay that choice for three specific reasons:
· The position you desire might not be as ideal as you had hoped it would be.
· Other candidates could possess higher levels of skill that will stand out most to hiring managers.
· You might sacrifice the security that a full-time role provides while up-skilling yourself.
Freelancers can also heed the above advice: stay focused on your area of expertise, for the moment. Use your free time to plan a career change.
Instead of drastically altering our lives, Rebecca Fraser-Thill introduces the idea of “job crafting”. Scientifically, job crafting is the process of altering your responsibilities within the parameters of your role. If that answer is too vague, Fraser-Thill’s recounting of a young project manager’s move into data science might help.
This project manager took free online classes and evening lessons on data science, gradually taking on data-oriented projects in their role at work.
Not only did it enable them to stop feeling trapped in their job, but it also prepared them to continue their choice to formally change careers. The difference was that they now had a range of data science skills and achievements to demonstrate.
THINK LIKE A JOURNALIST
The second step is to gather information. Research is your best friend in this process. Begin from your vision of your ideal job. Google people and companies who specialize in that area, search for case studies and interviews and see if you can identify information that is shared amongst these different actors. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to tease out the less exciting aspects of a job, but you can start with a list of pros.
Scan online communities like groups or community boards composed of people who work in your ideal field or role. What information can you glean from these boards?
When you’ve gathered that information, reach out to people. There’s no harm in requesting an informational interview with someone in a line of work that you think you’d like to pursue. Those interpersonal conversations and insights are indispensable to your research.
AUDIT YOUR SKILLS
After these two preliminary decision-making steps, you’ll be ready to decide if that change is right for your goals and dreams. Now comes the self-assessment process. Much like a communications audit, assessing your skills, knowledge and achievements is essential to determining where you stand in a strong pool of candidates.
Assessment tests like CareerOneStop, a U.S. Department of Labor platform, and Mind Tools, provide us with a window into our competencies in selected areas. If you find yourself short of the level of expertise that entry into a new career requires, there are accessible, free tools you can use to up-skill yourself.
ADJUSTING YOUR APPLICATION MATERIALS
Writing a customized résumé and cover letter tailored to each role you apply to requires patience and discipline. This is especially true when we make the transition to a new career.
With more applicable and transferrable skills, you can make the case for why your unique skills set you apart from other candidates. Highlight your achievements as they relate to the specific job and place your skills before your experience. Use your cover letter to explain your journey, how you’ve developed new skill, and how you’ve used them to deliver impact on tasks similar to those in a new role. This is an opportunity to effectively show off your knowledge of a role, a company’s needs and proof of how you can solve those needs.
Pull recruiters and hiring managers into your journey, while aiming to keep your letter to three relatively-concise paragraphs (a common rule of thumb is to aim for five-to-six lines each paragraph).
Changing careers is a decision that can impact your life in profound, unexpected ways. Because it is such a significant decision, your safest approach is to follow this strategy. Understand that it may take time to sell potential employers on your skills, but that it can be done. We are no longer bound to a career based on our area of study or previous positions. Pace yourself, don’t give up and keep learning!