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Tips for Changing Careers

I generally describe the role of a recruiter as “helping companies find people …. *not* helping people find jobs.” In other words, a company approaches a recruiter with their hiring need, and the recruiter is charged with finding the best person to fill that need.

While many recruiters will market a great candidate as part of their business development process (or some will specialize in working on the candidate side), most of the time, recruiters do not collect great candidates and then hunt down companies who want to hire them. So for people who are interested in changing careers, working with a recruiter is often not the best option.

Here’s why: Since employers are paying for the recruiter’s expertise (and the fees are significant), they are paying for candidates who are top performers with a proven track record of success in a given field or industry. It doesn’t mean an employer *won’t* hire someone who is changing careers, only that they’re not likely to pay a recruiter to do that. So what can you do to break into a new career?

One of my favorite resources for job seekers is Ask The Headhunter from Nick Corcodilos. He posts a ton of information about broken hiring processes–including recruiting–that don’t serve job seekers very well. A lot of his information is geared to help job seekers land their next role without using recruiters (or getting stuck in an automated, online application black hole). He even sells a reasonably-priced guide, How Can I Change Careers? that consists of a host of articles and other resources.

For anyone considering changing careers, it will be necessary to do some significant reflection. Get a pen and paper, or your laptop, or your voice translator, and start answering questions like:

  • What kinds of tasks do I enjoy?

  • What are my strengths?

  • What are my weaknesses? For this, I think it’s also important to discover whether your weakness can be improved (or even if you want to improve it). At some point, there is a diminishing return to consider.

  • What are the parts of my current role that I like/dislike?

  • Do I enjoy working alone or as part of a team?

  • Document times in your career where you really made an impact – and then make a list of other careers that would allow a similar impact

  • Consider your industry – maybe you enjoy your ROLE, but would like to do it in a different industry. For example, my dad was a purchasing professional for many years in the automotive industry, who then successfully transitioned to a defense contractor. He was purchasing similar raw materials, and working in a similar manufacturing environment, but the end clients were different. In his case, he really enjoyed getting out of the ups and downs of the automotive industry.

Next, build your network! Contact your college alumni association, and look for professional organizations you can join. Tap your existing network for new contacts and ask for informational interview sessions (be sure to offer coffee or lunch!). Since working with a recruiter is not likely the best option, you’ll need introductions to the people and companies you’d like to work with.

Consider your current skills. You’ll almost certainly have an experience gap if you’re changing careers, but you may also have a skills gap. You’ll want to try to close that gap before you start your job search in earnest. You may want to look for volunteer opportunities that allow you to use the strengths and skills you have to build up some related experience.

Do your research. Devote some significant time to your local library. You’ll be researching jobs that make use of your skills and strengths, the kinds of companies (and industries) that have those jobs, and then the actual companies you might want to work for.

Be patient. Changing careers doesn’t happen overnight. Be purposeful, surround yourself with the right people and resources, and devote the necessary time to your endeavor. Life is too short for a career that isn’t fulfilling.



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