I am a recruiting consultant and career coach. One of the main reasons candidates seek me out is because they don't just want to switch jobs – they want to switch careers.
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I recently had a candidate reach out to me because she wanted to leave her legal career after spending 20 years in her position. She knew this was not going to be easy because her role is very niche and only found in law firms. As a result, the skills she built up may not be very transferable. Additionally, because she worked her way up in her role, she was also earning a very comfortable salary and wasn't sure if she would be able to find something comparable.
It can seem daunting and scary to make a move like this, but with some helpful advice, it is possible to switch careers!
1. Have Realistic Expectations
Depending on how drastic of a career change you are making, it's important to realize you are likely taking a few steps back in order to learn about this new position or industry. Just because you were a manager with a six-digit salary in your old job does not mean you are entitled to that same title and salary in your new career.
When determining what a new career might look like, I always encourage candidates to leverage the skills they have already built up over the years. However, sometimes a candidate wants to shift gears completely, and if that is the case, it is important to know they will likely have to accept a salary cut and invest in additional education or training in order to present themselves as a viable candidate.
2. Have a Solid Plan of Action
Now that you have decided what career you want and understand what it's going to take to make it possible, you should create an action plan. Most people are unable to quit their jobs until they have another job lined up, so it's important to understand what skills and qualifications you will need and how you can attain them while still maintaining a full-time job. Do you need certifications or licenses? What software does this role require? A lot of major universities offer extension courses and certificate programs that can be taken online or part time, and there are easily hundreds of video tutorials and trainings on Excel, Quickbooks, and other programs a new position may require.
I also recommend looking into nonprofits or other organizations for which you can volunteer in order to gain relevant experience. Once you understand what it will take to become a marketable candidate in your new field, you should also outline what kind of resources this will require, as many licenses and certifications are costly and time-consuming.
3. Join Professional Associations
Research the professional associations related to your desired new career, join the local chapters, and attend as many meetings and networking opportunities as you can. Through professional associations, you will likely meet directly with hiring managers or people who can put you in contact with hiring managers. This will also show a dedication to keeping up to date with the latest trends related to this profession. Professional associations also usually have job boards, LinkedIn groups, hiring events, and relevant training seminars that can help you out in your search.
4. Find a Recruiter in Your Desired Industry
Finding an agency recruiter within the desired industry can be a huge help to your job search because recruiters usually work directly with hiring managers. If you were to apply to a job by yourself, a hiring manager might look at your resume, not immediately see the relevant experience, and pass you over as a result.
However, if you are working with a recruiter, they will take the time to understand your background, motivations, and the goals of your job search. Then, they will be able to explain all of this directly to the hiring manager. Most recruiters have long-standing relationships with these managers and have recruited for them in the past, so they will also be able to coach you on how to prepare for and ace an interview.
5. Create Several Versions of Your Cover Letter and Resume
Most recruiters will spend less than three minutes reviewing a resume, and if the right experience doesn't pop out immediately, chances are the resume will go in the trash. When applying for positions that might not directly relate to your previous experience, you should tailor each resume to the position that you are applying to. Be sure to pull specific bullets from the job description and explain how your previous experience is relevant.
In your cover letter, be sure to explain your motivations for your career change and why you are so passionate about this job or industry. There are also many professional resume writers who are experienced in preparing transition resumes, so it may be well worth the investment if you need some extra help.
Mostly importantly, be patient and stay confident. Good luck!
Carly Simms is the founder and owner of Hummingbird Recruiting.