Perhaps it is because spring is in the air and it seems a time for new beginnings. Lately we have been working with a number of friends to help them change career directions. Some of these are the C-suite clients we have consulted to about matters within their companies who now find themselves ready for new challenges. They have turned to us because they know and trust us. Others have been people just starting out in their careers and having found that the path they thought they wanted to take was not the right fit for them after all. Since spring heralds change, we thought it would be worth summarizing the steps we have taken to help people build a case for the change in their lives and clarify where they want to go.
Create a narrative for potential employers about why you are changing direction. Take a sheet of paper, or better half a sheet of paper, and brainstorm what it is you don’t like about the work you are doing now so you can state it clearly. People are going to ask and you should have a clear answer. After you have stated the negative, refocus on what the positives are. Part of the trick is going to be framing the change in a way that sounds thoughtful and positive. You need to know that you don’t like doing X but you want the discussion to be about how you discovered your skills and interests are Y. You have to know what those reasons you want a change are before you can talk about them.
Next use the other half piece of paper to brainstorm what the things are you really like to do in work/school environments. Maybe it is complex problem solving, maybe it is working in teams of people. There aren’t any right answers but you need to know what things really appeal to you. I happen to love doing big deals and being engaged at the highest level of companies so starting a company that is only ever going to sell to a small local market is a non-starter for me. What you are trying to tease out a bit is whether a start-up environment is going to work for you, whether you want to be in a big company, whether there are industries you are more interested in than others, whether you want to be out selling to people or alone in a lab. Use bullet points and really let the ideas flow honestly. There really are no right and wrong answers.
Third, what skills do you have? Again think broadly about this. You are changing tacks and direction in your career so you need to articulate how the skills you have fit into a different environment than the one you have been in. Are you good at analysing complex data? Bringing a team into focus when completing a project? Seeing a problem in a different way from others around you? It is helpful to ask a few trustworthy colleagues or teachers or friends after you have made a list. It is hard to see yourself objectively and other people see things in you that you may not see. I just did this exercise with an EVP who took for granted the fact that he does a good job of pulling together rival fractions in a room because he has just always done it without thinking. So pick one or two people, send them the list of skills/strengths you’ve made and ask them for constructive input. You can use all of the above to help construct a good introductory cover letter as these points will help you discuss why you are looking to move into a new direction that you have carefully considered.
Once you are ready to tell your story you can update your Linkedin profile, your CV on Monster, and call the recruiters. But while the world sometimes to seem to be all about social media, don’t overlook the power of face to face interaction and building solid relationships. Especially for those early in their career, attend networking events whether these are start-up weekends or events at the local business school. Find out what business speakers are talking on campus or at local events, attend and introduce yourself afterwards to the speaker or other attendees. You have a thought through a compelling story about your change of direction and it may be easier to get attention in person rather than online. Online tools pick out keywords that people know they are looking for in their hiring. Without the specific skills they think they want, your CV will be overlooked. Meeting people in person is more likely to give people an opportunity to hear a compelling reason to take a chance on you. I have never once had an advertised job, they have all been based on meeting people and convincing them that I can bring something to the table that they hadn’t thought they needed.