The classic dilemma of “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” finds its counterpart in the world of career changes, posing a similarly perplexing question: What should come first when shifting industries—the job or the experience? This catch-22 encapsulates the challenge faced by many aspiring to enter a new field. Eager to gain experience in a novel industry, job seekers frequently encounter a common hurdle: nearly every job listing demands the very experience they are yet to acquire. This challenge becomes even more daunting for those who lack connections in their desired industry, leading to a belief that achieving their career goals might be out of reach without the proper experience or network.
However, this narrative is changing. The truth is, successfully entering a new industry, even without direct experience or insider connections, is not only possible but increasingly common. Remember the Great Reshuffle of 2021? Well, according to the Pew Research Center, 53% of employed adults who quit a job in 2021 say they have changed their field of work or occupation at some point during their ‘shuffle’.
If you spent time in 2021 considering a career change, rest assured, that period of reflection was valuable. Let’s explore how you can transition to a new industry and achieve a sense of fulfillment and progress.
Finding the ‘why’ for an industry career change
For numerous workers feeling unfulfilled in their current roles, the desire for change is clear. Yet, the direction of that change remains a significant uncertainty. Bridging the gap in industry career changes, Theola DeBose, founder and CEO of JSKILLS, former Washington Post journalist, and now a career change expert, is currently enhancing her skills with a Python for Data Science certificate and certainly knows a thing or two about valuable insights in this field. “The first step in changing careers is gaining clarity about what you truly want. Define your goals, understand your values, and your desired salary. This step involves introspection—asking yourself the right questions and finding clear answers.”
So, what drives workers to seek change? A prevalent reason for considering a career change, DeBose notes, is the realization they were never truly aligned with their initial career choice. “They might have aspired to be an artist but ended up as a lawyer,” she explains. Additionally, she observes some people have this “wordless nudge inside that says ‘I’m meant to do something different’.” DeBose adds, “Clarity on salary expectations is also a crucial factor to consider.”
For Malcolm Chen, his ‘why’ was all three. After a decade as a marketing manager in the hospitality industry, he transitioned to a training consultant in communications and HR, including talent acquisition and a train-the-trainer program, which was no easy feat. Yet, five years later, he is thriving in his new industry. “I was looking for a way to develop and grow. At the same time, the training industry can have enticing monetary rewards … [It] also fits into what I wanted to do in terms of empowering people.”
Chen found his why. It was a combination of using what he loved from his previous industry, finding what brings him value in work, and, of course, a salary increase. To understand your why, find that balance between passion, skills, and market demand.
How to break into a new industry: Leveraging transferable skills
Making a career switch to a new industry often hinges on how effectively you can leverage your transferable skills. As Monster’s 2022 Future of Work Report reveals, 63% of employers are open to hiring candidates based on these skills, offering training for specific job requirements. The report finds that employers are particularly keen on soft skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving, as well as hard skills in IT and strategic planning.
But what if we believe we lack transferable skills? DeBose says we all need more self-confidence: “We kind of take ourselves for granted long before somebody else does.” Meaning we tend to underestimate the skills we already have. For instance, a role that involves managing a high volume of daily emails is more than just dealing with a crowded inbox, she explains. It involves swiftly sorting through significant information and quickly judging what matters most. Identifying and understanding these inherent skills often leads to a substantial shift in self-confidence. Individuals start to appreciate that their everyday responsibilities reflect desirable competencies they possess.
Chen found that his experience went far beyond creating successful marketing campaigns. “Often, I had to guide and coach my team members to understand the latest technology developments and its impact on our work,” he explains. This realization sparked his interest in empowering individuals through workplace learning, steering his passion for facilitating personal growth and professional learning.
“My marketing background equipped me with strong branding, content creation, and presentation skills, which I applied to designing a compelling trainer profile and engaging training materials,” Chen adds. Also, his knowledge in sales and marketing management helped him build a strong foundation of revenue pipelines. Transferring skills such as project management and strategic thinking allowed him to excel in planning and delivering effective training sessions that suited the needs of his target audience.
The 5 evergreen skills we all possess
DeBose’s approach to career transitions revolves around the understanding and application of five fundamental skills. These skills, which she calls the ‘5 Evergreen Skills’, are present in every job. “Irrespective of the job type or position, everyone inherently possesses these five skills,” she says. Here they are:
- Leadership involves guiding others, making decisions, and setting direction. It’s about taking initiative and responsibility, whether leading a team or self-directed projects.
- Management, contrary to the common assumption that management is only about overseeing people, also involves managing tasks, resources, time, and expectations. This skill is about efficiently organizing and coordinating to achieve objectives.
- Problem-solving is about identifying challenges, analyzing situations, and finding effective solutions. It’s a critical skill demonstrating the ability to think strategically and make sound decisions.
- Collaboration is crucial in almost every job. It involves working well with others, whether in a team environment or with external partners, to achieve common goals.
- Judgment involves making informed decisions based on available information. It’s about evaluating situations, assessing risks and opportunities, and making choices that align with goals and values.
The ‘evergreen skills’ perspective shifts the focus from job-specific tasks to more universal capabilities.
But surely I would need to reskill, right?
Indeed, when someone is considering a career change, they might think about reskilling—however, DeBose cautions about how the conversation around upskilling and retraining is currently framed. “Often, the way upskilling and retraining are discussed can inadvertently make individuals feel like they’re not good enough with the skills they currently have,” she notes, pointing out that it has become somewhat of a buzzword.
However, for those clear about their career objectives, she advises examining the specific requirements of the desired industry. For instance, aspiring tech professionals might need to learn programming languages, while those eyeing a medical career must consider medical school. Nevertheless, not all career changes require such formal pathways. DeBose points out the power of resources like Google and YouTube for learning new skills. These platforms offer a wealth of instructional content, from mastering social media tools to understanding new technologies, thus enabling individuals to familiarize themselves with skills frequently sought in job postings.
To prepare for his new role, Chen pursued certifications in instructional design and adult learning principles, adding, “I realized that industry experience alone is not enough to project myself as a preferred marketing trainer.” Consequently, Chen took up certifications like Google-certified courses to enhance his resume and gained proficiency in e-learning tools, improving his competitiveness in the training industry.
The power of networking and mentorship
Networking in career transitions is fundamentally about human connections. “It’s a people game,” says DeBose. Networking is not just about making contacts but genuinely connecting with people who can say ‘yes’ to your potential. “It’s about what the other person needs to hear,” she says, emphasizing the importance of stepping out of one’s internal narrative to engage with others genuinely. Her analogy is striking: “Think of it like shooting baskets. You keep aiming, adjusting, some shots score, others don’t—but you keep playing.”
Chen’s successful move into the training industry was largely driven by his active effort to seek guidance and build networks with established professionals and industry veterans, adding, “I connected with ex-colleagues and associates. They provided guidance to navigate the initial hurdles, and referred me to their contacts for potential assignments.”
In hindsight, Chen would have started networking in the training industry sooner. “[It would have allowed me] to gain insights early on and invest more time in understanding the specific needs and challenges of the training industry before making the transition,” he adds.
Overcoming the challenges of career transitions
Venturing into uncharted professional territories demands a boldness to confront the unknown, where safety and predictability are left behind. “You need courage to step into the unknown with no guarantees,” DeBose suggests. This leap goes against the human tendency to seek safety and deflect danger. She explains that staying committed to the unknown, despite the brain’s instinct to avoid risk, is pivotal for overcoming the challenges of career change.
For Chen, staying adaptable, patient, and continuously seeking learning opportunities were his strategies for overcoming these challenges. “Embrace the learning curve; career change requires time, so be patient. Always leverage your existing network—it’s surprising how support and opportunities can emerge from unexpected connections,” he says. This combination of flexibility, perseverance, and strategic networking forms the cornerstone of successfully transitioning into a new career path.
From passion to profession
As you stand at the crossroads of your career, contemplating a shift to unexplored industries, remember: the path to change is less about the quandary of ‘chicken or egg’ and more about recognizing and harnessing your inherent potential. Every step toward a new professional horizon is a step toward realizing your aspirations and capabilities.
So, take that leap with confidence. Whether you’re drawn by a newfound passion, a desire for better alignment with your values, or the pursuit of greater challenges and rewards, know that the journey ahead is filled with possibilities. The road to a new industry is not just about acquiring new skills or connections; it’s a journey of self-discovery, resilience, and transformation.
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