The days of laboring at the same job for 50 years in exchange for a party and a gold watch are long gone. Partly because it’s more acceptable to make a career switch, and partly because people realize they can live a different life, more and more employees are changing their careers at least once in their working lives.
Switching careers can sometimes be seen as a negative mark on your resume, though. Prospective employers may think you’re a job hopper, someone they can’t rely on, or someone who doesn’t know her own mind. Whatever the reason, switching careers can sabotage your life right along with your dream of succeeding in an entirely new career.
Are you looking to switch careers but don’t know how to manage it without ruining what you’ve already built up? Here are some ideas for successfully transitioning from one career to another.
Make the Change While You’re Still Employed
It sure is tempting to go out like a fireball a la Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire.” But unless you want to live through the middle of the movie—remember the part where there was no money for bills or insurance, and he was trying to hide his desperation?—you should resist the urge to tell your boss what he can do with his job.
Instead, go into stealth mode. You can easily get some job interviews lined up in the new area in which you’re interested in working. You can relax knowing that you still have a paycheck if the interview doesn’t lead to a job offer.
Be Prepared With Answers to Inevitable Questions
When your new prospective employer inevitably asks why you’re applying for a job in a new industry when you’re still employed, you’re going to have to come up with some convincing answers that don’t make you look bad. Here are some things you DON’T want to say:
- A) I’m bored at my current job.
- B) All the guys I work with are old. I need young blood around me.
- C) I think I’m about to be fired.
- D) I’m following my boyfriend who just got a job here.
- E) A fortune cookie told me to make a career change.
Now, here are some good alternative ways to answer that same question:
- A) I’m seeking fresh challenges and new ways to use the knowledge I’ve accumulated.
- B) I feel inspired by the millennial movement.
- C) My current job doesn’t allow me to grow.
- D) I have a vested interest in this city, and I’m ready to put down new roots.
- E) Er, there’s really no good way to spin your propensity to base your life on random events.
Connect the Two Fields
You want to somehow make it seem perfectly natural that you would move from one area of industry to another. If you do it right, your new prospective employer will be saying, “Yes, it makes sense that this brain surgeon would want to be a forest ranger in our park. So logical.”
Okay, so your first career is in marketing, where you excelled in improving your company’s prior bad reputation. They spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean, and yet, thanks to your marketing genius, cars are now lining up around the block to buy gasoline from them at premium prices.
You really want to relocate to New York and get a competitive job on Wall Street, but you’re unsure how to make it look like a normal transition. Here’s one way.
You tell the interviewer that marketing has given you insights into how people think. By design, companies are made up of people making business decisions for marketing and personal reasons. Your marketing skills at predicting human behavior will make you an intuitive trader who will bring monetary success to your new job on Wall Street.
You see? Everything is connected. You just have to give it a little thought and you’ll be able to convince your new prospective boss that you’re a shoe in. Spend some time figuring out the connection between the two fields. Then be prepared to explain it in a reasonable way.
By the way—that brain surgeon who turned into a forest ranger? She kept her job at the hospital and interviewed on the weekend at the National Park. She told the interviewer how she was always interested in the differences between human and animal brains, and her love of the great outdoors. She is now a ranger in Colorado with a side business doing taxidermy for a local museum.
Life sometimes unveils unusual paths. Don’t be afraid to take them.