Career “Switchers” – professionals who are looking to make an industry or functional change (or both) – are on the rise. But making a significant change mid-career is tough. When faced with hiring bias, unanswered applications and frustrating rejections, many Switchers give up too soon, even when they KNOW they have what it takes to be successful in their new target role. Don’t let this be you – persevere and get the job you want!
To get you started off right, here are the most common Job Switch Killers and how to avoid them:
Switch Killer #1: Relying on traditional job search advice.
The wisdom you’ll read in most career books won’t work for a Switcher because the competition you face isn’t ordinary. Traditional career books emphasize the importance of using key words on a resume so that you’re selected by applicant tracking systems (ATS) for an interview after applying online. For Switchers, applying online isn’t typically an effective strategy. You must begin with re-branding, not just as far as a resume goes, but extending to every aspect of your professional identity. Career Switchers seem inherently risky to hirers, as they have a steeper learning curve, so everything you do needs to account for this reality.
Switch Killer #2: Treating a degree or certification as a magic bullet.
The first question I usually hear from Switchers is “Should I return to school?” Unless you’re switching to a field like nursing or law, which require specific degrees and licensing, it shouldn’t be a first step. Many overestimate the value of graduate degrees when it comes to switching careers. While people will pay attention to you and it will expand your network, you still need to prove you’re worth the risk as a nontraditional candidate. Obtaining an MBA or other impressive degree is only the cost to entry. Assess the return on investment that your valuable time and money will earn. If you’re already enrolled in a degree program, great! Then, start applying the strategies in Switchers early. You’ll have some advantages, but you can’t skip steps and expect to land your switch.
Switch Killer #3: Ignoring your network.
A career switch is a major goal, and you’ll only succeed if you activate your network. Many accomplished executives shy away from networking when making a switch. Why? Some haven’t searched for a job since college, and think applying online is still the standard way to find employment. Others don’t know how to mobilize their networks. Many don’t network because they feel a bit vulnerable due to their lack of direct experience in the new field. Don’t let ego prevent you from asking for help. Creating ambassadors who can introduce you to the decision-makers as a trusted referral will help you to overcome many of the biases a hirer has against a Switcher.
Switch Killer #4: Failing to know and neutralize your red flags.
Every job seeker raises some red flags for hiring managers. It could be a gap between jobs, a layoff, or too many short stints. Fair or not, hirers look for red flags so they can quickly narrow the list of applicants, and being a Switcher is a major red flag. Even if you gain access through a referral, it’s important to anticipate potential objections to your skills, fit, or motivation that may arise. Have genuine, logical responses ready to go, which show you’ve already committed to the switch and also clearly demonstrate how you will contribute to the team, company and mission through your resourcefulness and transferable skills. Use concrete, measureable examples from your past experience and connect the dots for the hirer on how those will translate into results in the new role.
Switch Killer #5: Disregarding supply and demand.
Assessing the supply and demand for your target job is critical, but even non-Switchers sometimes skip this step. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting to research the market before proceeding, especially into an unfamiliar industry or function. It will not only help as you progress through the hiring process, but will provide important data on how to build your switch strategy. Remember, the further you stray from a traditional career trajectory, the harder it is to switch. So, do your homework, research the market, and craft realistic goals based on what you learn.
Whether you’re contemplating a move from academia to corporate, engineering to product management or military to the private sector, having a concrete strategy that is targeted to your switch will help you leap over obstacles and land the role you want.
This is an excerpt from Dr. Dawn Grahan’s book Switchers.