When you consider a career change, it could be for many reasons: you may feel stuck in a job that “isn’t you,” or crave adventure. Your industry may be experiencing difficulties that make you feel a need to seek security in a more stable and sustainable sector. Or perhaps you may have taken up a new interest and wish to invest yourself more in that field, even if this brings risks. Regardless of your motivation, it means that you need to be ready to steer your professional life in a whole new direction. Where to even start?
If you have already set your sights on a new job, the question that has undoubtedly crossed your mind is: “How am I going to convince others – especially prospective employers – that I am right for the role (even if the bullet points on my résumé indicate otherwise)?”
A lot will depend on how you tell your story.
Your Narrative as a Means of Connection
Your story, your narrative, is the string that holds your life events together. It is your unique perspective, a lense through which you make sense of the outside world. Importantly, the story you tell people about yourself – be it at a party, a networking event, or a job interview – also helps other people make sense of you and your motivations.
And this understanding is a powerful opportunity for connection. The narrative by which you introduce yourself to the outside world can be a double-edged sword. It is fairly easy for others to detect when a person’s narrative does not really correspond to who they are. So, importantly, your story should be honest and grounded in your personality.
A disruption – whether of a personal or professional nature – can be tricky to smoothly incorporate into our existing narrative. We all have a desire for our story to follow a neat upward path, like a fairy tale. For this, many of us happily omit details that do not seem fitting, sugar-coat résumés, and tailor reality slightly so it fits our story better. But a comet-like career path is not only rare, but difficult to relate to. And people, more often than not, will need to relate to a story to find it compelling. Any story that has ever had an effect on you – be it a novel, a TV series or just a joke – did so because you probably recognized yourself in it somewhere.
When sharing your story, you should therefore be acutely aware of who your audience is. And as a career changer, you will be required to tell your story to a lot of people. What are the potential points in common between your story and theirs? Are there elements they could possibly relate to? If you are aware of any, be sure to highlight them.
Turning Disruption into Consistency
You might feel that a major disruption in your steady career narrative will look like failure, or at the very least confusing to others. But if told with authenticity, with the reasons grounded in your personality, it can be turned into a different kind of consistency: consistency not with the predictable career path, but with yourself. If told in a compelling way, your story will arouse intrigue, and perhaps even a desire from others to step in and help you reach your goals. In other words, to be part of your story.
As a very welcome side-effect, a well-grounded narrative is also a powerful source of self-confidence, something you cannot have enough of in times of transition and uncertainty. And don’t forget: stories evolve and develop every time they are being told, they are shaped by feedback every time they are put “out there”.
Know your New Industry Before You Commit to It
If you are changing careers because you wish to turn your hobby or passion into a livelihood, one question you need to address before you make any kind of commitment or compromise your current job, is whether your fantasy is going to yield a financially viable opportunity (or just produce a different kind of frustration – namely financial)?
You might daydream about giving up your unexciting office job to become a freelance yoga instructor or a jewellery maker. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the business side of these careers before you make the jump. These might be more prominent and require a lot more paperwork in reality than what it looked like in your fantasies.
If you have no idea which direction you should be taking, and all you know is that you want to change, then you would be well-advised to actually try yourself in any field that even moderately interests you. You could do this through side projects, voluntary work, work shadowing, and so on. Creating and shaping your new professional identity through hands-on experience rather than just self-reflection like this, you are more poised towards success.
If you are stuck for initial ideas and could do with some inspiration, we recommend you try Lensa’s Workstyle Game. It could yield some surprising insight into your motivations, frustrations, and preferred work environment. It even suggests job roles that you might not have thought of yourself.
Learn From Every Possible Source
Once you do have a clear idea of what direction you will be taking, you should do everything you can to get a more precise idea of your new professional playground. If you even have a particular company in mind that you would like to join, you should learn as much as you can about its place in the larger picture, its brands and products (even if you would not be directly involved in sales or marketing). These you can probably figure out from sources that are readily available to the public.
If possible, also try to find out as much as you can about the company’s culture. “Soft” information like this is not as obvious to extract and often more subtle than what you find in mission statements and the company descriptions on career pages. It helps if you have people actually working there in your network. Again, even if they have nothing to do with your aspired role, they can tell you a lot about the overall influence landscape, possible discrepancies between the company’s image and the way it actually operates, as well as preferred communication channels, and more.
The Power of Practice
Again, even if you are determined, investing in some hands-on experience in your new field (through volunteering, internship or work shadowing) is still immensely useful. First, it allows you to develop a network through which actual opportunities may find you later. Second, first-hand experience will help you tremendously in convincingly visualising yourself in your new role.
In any case, the sooner you have a clear understanding of the challenges of your prospective business, the better equipped you will be to confidently make your decision.
At the Interview
Be prepared to answer questions about what brought you there. As discussed above, the way you frame your narrative is key. There is no need to lie or sugar-coat things. Focus on a sense of consistency with yourself, and potential common ground between your story and that of the interviewer.
With insight gained through learning and hands-on experience, you will be able to see more clearly how your existing skill set could serve you well in your new role, which you should emphasize at the job interview.
Your outsider status, though challenging, can in fact be very useful for bringing in fresh ideas and a different perspective. If you have ideas for innovation, you may already mention them at the interview. Having said that you should also not assume that whatever brought you success in the past will automatically continue to do so in the future.
Open-mindedness and the ability to learn and adapt to unfamiliar cultures quickly are key in this situation. Make sure you demonstrate you know how to change, that you are aware of gaps in your skill-set, and have a plan already to address them.
Wrap-up: Your career change checklist
Test Yourself through Practice
Through volunteering, work-shadowing, internships, etc. try out different roles that interest you before actually compromising your current job. When it comes to rebranding yourself successfully, and truly in line with your personality, wisdom comes through practice rather than mere self-reflection.
Work on Your Story
Keep your narrative grounded in your personality. Frame it around consistency with who you are. Look for potential common ground with your audience, and emphasize it. A story well told might compel others to step in and help you in your career changing journey.
Do Your Due Diligence
Learn as much as you can about your prospective professional playground. Read any information available and attend networking events. Get some hands-on experience, if you can.
Turn Your Outsider Status to Your Advantage
Think of how your previous experience and transferable skills could serve you in your new role. These could potentially bring a welcome novel perspective to your new environment. Make sure you highlight them at the job interview.
No two person’s career story is the same, and career changes can be driven by all kinds of different forces. It is no surprise then that there is no magic formula that will guarantee you success in your new career. Keeping the above in mind, however, will help you discover yourself in a new light and leverage resources you already possess in order to poise yourself for success.