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There is a season for everything in life, and many people are looking at this time to transition into a new career. Shifting into a new field or industry can be a challenging—but not insurmountable—task. Helping people with career transitions is a specialty of mine, so here are some tried-and-true steps that I recommend clients take to set reasonable expectations and make their transitions go smoothly and successfully.
Step 1: Plan Enough Time
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” These wise words, commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, apply nicely to major career transitions. Career transitions often take time, so it’s best to plan for this change well in advance if you can; for example, I frequently work with professionals who have a 12-18 month lead time. However, career pivots can happen much sooner—especially if you already have skills or qualifications that apply to the new role or field. Most of the following steps can fall within this planning period and will likely give you a clearer idea of how much time you need to make your transition.
Step 2: List and Compare the Skills You’ll Need to the Skills You Have
Research and create a list of the skills needed to succeed in your desired field by reading job descriptions. Consider conducting informational interviews with people working in the role or industry you are interested in to learn more as well. Concurrently, take an honest assessment of your skills and strengths to determine if they correspond with those needed in your targeted role or industry. Create a second list of your main technical skills, abilities, and expertise (often called “hard” skills) as well as your personality traits and interpersonal skills (often called “soft” skills). After creating both lists, take stock. Do you want to go into digital marketing but lack relevant experience with social media? Are you seeking a project management position but have never worked in a role that required those skills? This step can be uncomfortable but also enlightening because it literally shows you the areas you need to focus on before you can reasonably expect to make a transition.
Step 3: Fill Knowledge Gaps
If you identify knowledge or skillset gaps, start learning! Coursera.org and other online learning platforms such as Udemy can help facilitate your transition. You can also gain hands-on experience through an unpaid role; consider volunteering for an organization or engaging in professional development by joining an organization like Toastmasters. Volunteering or testing the waters in an unpaid role may also give you valuable insight into the work that extends beyond just the skills needed to succeed before you commit to a paid role.
Step 4: Tailor Application Materials to Your New Career
It is crucial that you target your application materials to your new career by showing that your skills and experience are a good fit. I do not recommend, for instance, applying for a sales role without showing sales skills prominently or making it difficult for an employer to identify relevant experience. Highlight pertinent skills and experience by placing them in the summary of your resume and in bullet points throughout, and show measurable results using numbers and metrics. As the applicant, it is your responsibility to satisfy the employer’s expectations. Remember to review and update your LinkedIn profile as well to ensure that it aligns with the new direction you want to take in your career.
In my experience, transitioning to a new field or industry takes less time and is less taxing when you have a clear path for getting there. When you approach a major change by breaking it down into smaller, defined steps, you’ll know how, when, and where to focus your energy so you can land a new job that’s a good fit—and that you’ll love.