With careers spanning 30, 40, and 50 years, more people than ever are changing careers, so you’d think that employers would be used to hiring career changers. With all the emphasis on innovation, you’d think that employers would welcome the outside perspective that career changers bring. As economic and technological changes abound, you’d think that employers would embrace the flexibility that career changers demonstrate.
You’d think. Unfortunately, as both a recruiter and career changer myself (I trained as a classical pianist before transitioning multiple times to strategy consultant, executive recruiter, actor, corporate HR director, and entrepreneur), I’ve seen both sides of the hiring process. I know that my recruiter self wouldn’t hire my career changer self. I also know that I was able to make career changes anyway--so it can be done.
See also: Rebrand Yourself for Career Change
But first, the don’ts for those of you who want to take the plunge:
* Don’t expect that employers and especially recruiters will welcome you. It’s a recruiter’s job to find the perfect match; only the direct hiring managers can be creative about hiring (i.e., hire career changers).
* Don’t focus on your outside perspective as an innovative advantage. It doesn’t highlight how much your other experience can bring, but rather highlights that you don’t have matching experience.
* Don’t focus on the flexibility to learn as you go. That just emphasizes that you don’t know what is needed and still need to learn.
Your job instead is to get prospective employers to forget you’re changing careers and see you as a knowledgeable insider already. So, focus on these three rules:
- Emphasize PULL over push
Some people get pushed out of their careers by a shrinking industry, a restructuring that eliminates their function, or by sheer boredom. Others get pulled out of their initial career into a new one by discovering a new industry or role, by determining that they will finally go after a lifelong dream, or by a drive that fuels them to take on a new challenge. Who would you rather hire?
When you focus on leaving an old career, your new employer will feel like the rebound relationship (I don’t want you; I just don’t want this!). Instead, you want your new employer to feel you’re compelled to join them specifically. Research your new industry, role, and company and find the reasons that PULL you into your new career. You might have discovered your new career because of an industry change, restructuring, or boredom, but you don’t have to emphasize that part of your story. As an experienced professional, you have an advantage in crafting a compelling PULL story, because you have perspective.
- Find a champion
When someone who is already an expert in the field recommends you, their credibility extends to you. As a career changer, your allies and supporters are likely in your old field, so you will need to build a support base in your new field. Join professional associations and be active as a volunteer. Use social media and follow what the experts are saying, adding your comments or even guest posting to establish your footing in your new field. Target your networking to centers of influence for your new field, and enroll their support. Even if they are not hiring, they will know who is, and a referral from them will shortcut your process. As an experienced professional, you have an advantage in finding champions because you have likely done this before, and your large, established network branches out into diverse fields, one of which is likely your new target.
See also: Career Change Secrets: What I Know Now
- Embody the change
People often think it’s a catch-22: You need experience to get hired, but you need to get hired to get that experience. This assumption is both incorrect and limiting. While it’s true you do need experience, it doesn’t have to be paid, permanent, or full-time. Employers are not looking for the traditional employment experience, but rather what that experience implies – up-to-date skills, an insider’s network, and valuable expertise that will help a company meet specific goals. To convince employers to hire you or even centers of influence to advocate for you, you have to embody the change that traditional employment experience brings. You can volunteer to demonstrate those skills. You can join professional associations and use social media to build the network. You can conduct exhaustive research to develop the expertise. But you have to do the work to embody the career change now, not just promise to learn later.
As an experienced professional, you do not need to get another job to prove your experience. A great example is one of my previous clients. Vicki had 20 years of communications experience, but none in social media--and she was applying for a social media-focused position. At first, her approach was to present herself as a quick study: someone who had learned other tech skills quickly and had transferable offline experience. This is what a lot of career changers do—but unfortunately it requires a leap of faith from an employer, who has to be willing to train you on their dime. So instead, Vicki just threw herself into it, researching her prospective employer’s social media approach, comparing it to competitors’, and presenting a strategy for how she would tackle the job. The employer suddenly had tangible proof that her career change was already made. Given Vicki’s wealth of experience in other areas, she got the job (and is still there two years later).
A successful career changer has to make an employer believe the change has already happened. You can most effectively do this by having compelling reasons for making the change, by leaning on the credibility of others already established in your new field, and by embodying the change well before you have a job in your new field. Experienced professionals are not pigeonholed by past experience or too late to change. Experienced professionals actually have an advantage given the perspective only experience brings, given the network that gets stronger over time, and given an existing body of work that complements the new career.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert with SixFigureStart®. She is a former recruiter in management consulting, financial services, media, technology, and pharma/ biotech.