How can I successfully start a new career?

Changing careers used to have a stigma—In the past, lots of changes on your resume might have made you seem unreliable and as a less-desirable employee—but that’s no longer the case. Nowadays it’s the norm to change jobs rather than the exception. Research says that, on average, most people change jobs 12 times over the course of their lifetime and 29% of people have completely changed fields since starting their first job after college.

This report also states that 58% of U.S. adults want to make the pivot to a completely new career, but “the risk of starting over is a barrier.” So how do you navigate this change well and overcome the risks? We have some thoughts and advice on how to make the change successfully.

Our Top Tip: Check Your Ego

When changing careers, the biggest piece of advice we have is to check your ego at the door. So you’ve been in the workforce for 20 years, but doing something else for someone else, probably in a different industry. In this new position, you’re basically starting from scratch. The bigger the shift (completely different industry/job vs. tangential/related), the lower on the totem pole you will likely need to start. Understand that and be okay with it.

The reality is:

  1. In your new career, you’ll likely be compared to people with far fewer years of total work experience but considered the same because you both have the same level of experience in the new job.
  1. “Years of experience” in a job description tends to mean “years of experience IN THIS FIELD DOING THIS JOB.” Finding out how little their past experience is valued is usually a big shock for people.In our experience, most people looking to switch careers do so because the market is changing. For example, people with deep careers and skills in print publishing often have to pivot into the digital world. Some of them look into edtech and think their skills are applicable, but the hiring manager may not value those publishing skills quite as much, if at all.
  1. You can’t be highly attached to the trappings of seniority: title, money, level of responsibility – it requires a beginner’s mindset, which can be hard for someone with a great deal of work experience.
  1. If you want to execute a true career shift you have to prove that you are emotionally flexible, humble, and not only willing, but excited to learn. You will also most likely take a pay cut, at least at first. Make sure that works for you both practically and mentally/emotionally.
  1. Recognize that it will be a big change. Assume that you’re moving to a different country – you’ll basically be an expat. You may be the same person, but everything else around you has changed, so you will have to adjust and do things differently. Again, be humble and willing to learn.

So what skills do I need?

The bare minimum skillset when switching careers becomes:

  1. An excellent work ethic
  2. Solid communication skills
  3. Strong organization skills

If you want to change your career, we recommend exploring continuing education opportunities to reskill, upskill, and prove your commitment to that new career/industry/position. Make an investment in yourself to prove to a hiring manager that you are committed to a change in path.

For example, Google has a number of free courses through Coursera (digital marketing & e-commerce, data analytics, project management, etc.). Do a sales development representative (SDR) or coding bootcamp. However, realize that such programs don’t automatically catapult you into a field of experienced people. What they DO do is show your level of commitment to your new path.

This demonstration of commitment is important because a lot of people get excited about a shiny new thing but then become disenchanted when it’s not as easily attained as expected. Many give up on a career change after they find it’s harder than expected, so demonstrating your personal commitment – showing your “stick-to-itiveness” – by having more training will make you stand out.

One note on continuing education – higher degrees may not be worth it (IOHO). They’re expensive, take a great deal of time, and may not yield desired results. If you want to go into finance, investment banking, or management at a big financial institution, get an MBA. Most other areas don’t value an MBA as much as you might think. In edtech, we see more advanced degrees in marketing than any other field, but that field is rapidly changing, and recent work experience will probably be more valued than an advanced degree.

What can I expect?

People changing careers often feel like a new company that offers them a lower salary/title than their old company is taking advantage of them. More often than not, this is not the case. If you have doubts, check with a recruiter (like us!) or look at salary numbers online to make sure their offer is reasonable for an entry-level position. Remember, your previous skills and experience may not count for much.

For those of you looking to make a career shift to edtech, there’s a perception that there’s a ton of money to be made, which can be true in the long term, but likely won’t be the case in your first job. Keep this in mind and be okay with it.

Also be aware that many companies aren’t open to hiring career changers except for entry-level jobs. To mitigate that, expand your network. Make connections in the new industry. Go to the conferences. Learn the language. It becomes a numbers game – you may have to interview 15 times for an offer when you may be used to being more desirable.

Is my experience really worth nothing?

No, your past work experience is worth something, but you may have to prove how your old skills relate to your new career. Don’t be offended by this, but instead act preemptively and offer up the necessary proof. You might bring in paperwork from your old career, or marketing materials you created, or other tangible items of work that you did. When switching a career, everything that normally goes unsaid because of a shared experience has to be stated explicitly. Learn how to sell yourself in a way that makes sense to them. Keep the door open long enough to give a meaningful description of your work – that’s nine-tenths of the battle right there.

Oftentimes career changers don’t understand the business objectives of the position, the hiring manager, or the new industry – they bring in assumptions from their old experience. If you were a project manager and are shifting into sales, understand what skills are valued in the new position/industry. For example, the edtech industry has a very different relationship with politics than most other industries. Also, efficacy is hugely important in edtech at the moment. Do the products do what they say they will do? This isn’t a big thing in Silicon Valley, so if you’re just talking about ROI, 10x exits, or growing from $0-100M in 3 years, it won’t matter in edtech. Know that before going into an interview.

Again, take the time to build a network in your new industry of choice. To change careers successfully you need to be hyper-focused on discovery – ask the right questions and find out what THEY need and how what you offer can fit. Don’t impose any of your old methods and processes on your new industry.

A Real-World Example

A colleague of ours used to work in TV/film production in Los Angeles. She moved to a different geographic market for personal reasons but found she could no longer make a living in the same industry – in her new city it was a hobby or passion project rather than a lucrative job. She had worked in offices in the past so started putting out resumes to return to that career and had very few responses at first, as people didn’t understand how TV/film production could possibly relate to working in an office.

The more she talked to people, the more she realized that there was an understanding gap. If she wanted to succeed in a different industry, she would have to explain her old position in a way they could understand. In order to successfully “sell” herself, she brought in some of the paperwork she produced on set and explained some of the managerial tasks that were part of her job. Presented with a concrete understanding of her skills, employers were much more interested and she received two job offers within a few days.

That said, she had to start in an entry-level position with an entry-level salary. She was eventually successful in her chosen career change but had to continually self-advocate and prove her worth (salary increases, etc.) in the new career to make it work. It took a great deal of humility and patience but paid off in the end.

In Summary

Making a successful shift is all about the mindset. Hiring a new employee or accepting a new position is like a marriage of sorts. Hiring managers want to minimize risk, so as a career changer, you have to show that you are NOT a risk as much as you can.

A good smart professional is both competent and confident, but we can’t stress enough that you also have to be humble. Don’t be Competent and Confident (with capital Cs) – humility is what will get you the position and keep you there. A willingness to learn and ask questions will take you far.

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