Career changes are a fact of working life for many college graduates. We start down our professional life’s path and encounter many forks in the road.
While many of us observe this and intuitively know that it is true, there are very few hard statistics to describe the phenomenon. One thing that is known is that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American worker will hold more than 11 jobs in his or her working lifetime. That is fewer than six years in any single position!
Whether it is driven by promotions, obsolete technical skills, companies merging or disappearing or changing life goals and circumstances, the challenge of career change will impact many, if not most, of those entering the workforce now.
Career change can and should be managed to the greatest extent possible, and there are certainly positive steps that can be taken before and during the events that precipitate the change. All are grounded in certain employment market realities.
First, have a real understanding of what employers are seeking in their workforce. If you are a specialist in some area, keep abreast of the trends and work to keep your skill set fresh. Even workers in what could be considered nontechnical fields have new tools and/or regulations that will be valued by employers.
The ability to write well, demonstrate effective presentation skills, implement collaborative work techniques and negotiate and manage conflict come into play in most management and professional jobs.
Continuing education is a key to any profession. If you are seeking to enter a completely new professional path, then you may need to plan on retraining. Find out how long that training may take, where it could be obtained and the cost.
Plan ahead and be working toward that before circumstances force short-term decisions.
Second, understand that there are skills and attributes that a wide range of employers will value. These transferable skills will cross many functional areas and are often difficult for employers to find. The ability to write well, demonstrate effective presentation skills, implement collaborative work techniques and negotiate and manage conflict come into play in most management and professional jobs. Know yourself and your strengths, and be able to leverage those strengths in the job search process.
Whether the skills are specific or transferable, they should be represented on an up-to-date resume.
Keeping it updated periodically to reflect your changing employment and evolving skill set is a prudent thing for anyone to do. Also, prior to submitting it for consideration for new positions, have a career services or human resources professional check it over. Attention to detail separates successful candidates from the also-rans.
For most companies, the primary content of interviews will revolve around abilities not related to your technical expertise. How you make decisions, interact with your co-workers, approach your work life, handle stress and express yourself are the information goals of behavioral interviewing – the technique employed by most human resource professionals when interviewing candidates. Mastering these skills and being able to express them is one of the major hurdles in the job search process.
Understand the hiring practices of not only the profession, but also the industry, company size and geographic area. Know whether the employer uses primarily local media, national media, online job boards, social media or personal connections in locating new employees. Leverage contacts from your professional life, your academic career as well as friends and family.
Use professional societies to cultivate connections throughout your career and take advantage of the education and training opportunities that they provide.
The last piece of advice offered concerns taking a realistic assessment of your goals before embarking on this process. Be clear about what your life goals are and how your career goals fit into them.
Also be clear about why your current career situation is not satisfying. This realistic assessment of what you want will allow you to better evaluate opportunities. You may find a position that seems attractive in terms of compensation but may not meet many other important criteria for your ideal job. You may find that you need to arrange other parts of your life to accommodate relocation or longer hours. You may need to manage your finances for lower income to meet other non-monetary goals.
Be honest about what you are willing to sacrifice and what you expect to gain, and the odds are you will be much happier in the long run. By honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses and planning ahead, you will be in a position to better manage your transition from one career path to another.