By Rich Grant, SNHU Career Advisor
Changing careers might seem quick and easy: Simply earn a degree in a new career field, and employers will compete to hire you for your newfound knowledge, right?
Hiring managers consider many factors, including education, skills and previous work experience. Whether you can successfully change careers depends on your ability to develop your skills and experience, communicate your qualifications and build a solid support network. You also want to have realistic expectations about the job level you can attain when you enter a new field.
Focus on your skills.
Your career may have been concentrated on one field, but that doesn’t mean your skills are relevant only in that field, said SNHU alumnus and adjunct instructor Mike Spinale, director of People + Culture at MedTouch in Massachusetts.
“Sure, there are experiences you may not have had, but you’ve built a broad skill set,” Spinale said. “Look for ways to apply the skills you’ve developed to the job you’re trying to get.”
Spinale suggested comparing requirements from the job posting to your skills and finding ways to communicate the relevance, such as by telling stories and providing specific examples.
Christie Conticchio, a recent M.S. in Accounting graduate, changed careers from teaching sixth grade to her new role in accounting. She succeeded in her transition by focusing on her transferable skills.
“Having the degree helped, but highlighting the skills in my prior career that I could easily transfer to my new role also helped,” she said. “(They showed) leadership, customer satisfaction and creativity.”
In addition to evaluating your current skills, honestly assess what you’re lacking in skills and experience.
“One of the most important things that people need to do is figure out which critical skills they’re missing,” said Cassandra Counts, assistant manager at a credit union in Michigan and a career services professional. “Once they understand what’s missing, the next step for them is to gain that experience.”
Internships are an excellent way to gain experience, as is taking on volunteer roles, temporary jobs, and freelance or contract assignments. Counts suggested requesting additional tasks and projects in your current role that will match the task and project needs of your new field.
Build your network.
As with any job search, networking needs to be the primary focus. For career changers, it’s absolutely critical. Entering a new career field, you might not look as good “on paper” as someone with years of relevant work experience. The solution is to make personal connections with professionals in your new field and find opportunities to tell your story.
“When changing careers, the hardest part is getting your resume through the person that’s screening them,” Spinale said. “Turn to your network for help! There’s nothing like an introduction through someone who knows someone.”
Find people who are willing to help you, such as by putting in a good word for you or walking your resume to the hiring manager.
Ways to meet people professionally include attending professional events through chambers of commerce or industry associations, conducting informational interviews and using social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter to identify appropriate contacts.
Set realistic expectations.
You might need to take two steps back to take one step forward. Steve Fink, a Master of Science in Accounting graduate, knew going into his job search that he would have to start at a lower level and pay rate than he’d attained in his engineering career. But the payoff is that he’s happier at work in his new role as an accounting specialist.
“I expect to advance in my new career over time, but I am essentially starting over at an entry level,” he said.
Spinale seconded that job seekers won’t always qualify for a position at the same level in a different field. “For example, if I’m hiring a person to be a human resources director, I’m going to need someone who knows HR, the laws and people management,” he said. It’s not impossible to avoid taking a step back, but it’s important to consider doing so to get ahead in your new career field, he added.
Conticchio refocused her search when she wasn’t getting called back after applying for several jobs for which the employer was looking for more experience. “That was the piece that finally clicked,” she said. “I had to search for companies specifically looking for people right out of school with no experience in the field.”
Above all, don’t give up.
“As for landing my current job, it came down to persistence,” Fink said. He had several interviews that didn’t lead to offers, but he didn’t slow down in his job search.
“My biggest piece of advice is to be yourself and don’t sell yourself short as far as what you have to
offer an employer in your new career,” Conticchio said. “It’s an overwhelming endeavor to switch careers, but if you take one small step at a time and not think of it as a marathon, it’s more manageable.”
For help with your career change, contact SNHU Career at COCEcareer@snhu.edu or 1.888.672.1458.