Today it is very common to have multiple careers over one’s lifetime. Many of our students are starting or returning to college to transition to a new career, motivated by a variety of factors, including financial gain and stability, change in interest or circumstance, and personal or professional growth.
Some careers allow for growth and change as one grows and changes, but many don’t. Career opportunities also change over time, creating new ones while others fade with the advent of new technology. When being introduced to someone who’s found professional success, I always like to hear their story. Sometimes it’s easy to see how one thing led to the next, but many times their success resulted from switching careers. Transitioning to a new career can be daunting and exhilarating. It also requires self-awareness, strategic thinking, and taking action.
As we age and evolve, so do our interests, values, and skills. Ask yourself: What do I enjoy doing? What kind of environment do I thrive in? What motivates me? What’s important to me at this point in my life? What are my strengths? How do these align with my prospective new career? Self-awareness is an important foundation in developing your new brand.
All of us develop skills that are transferable. Many students ask me, “How can I get into this new field with no experience?” We are not empty slates, and many of our prior experiences can be rebranded for a new career path. Experiences are not limited to paid experience: many skills we develop are developed outside of work.
For example, if you’re looking at transitioning to a career in technology yet have never worked in the field, think about what draws you to this field. What is your comfort level with technology? Where does that stem from? What kind of self-learning have you done? How does your brain work? Another example might be transitioning to a leadership role. What kind of leader are you? What draws you to a leadership role? Have you taken on leadership roles in a course, your community or family? Starting looking at your prior experiences through the lens of your new career path.
Building relevant experience
If you’ve done some research, you’ll notice that many job postings require some relevant experience, even for entry-level positions. The key here is “relevant.” Relevant does not necessarily mean “paid.” Have you done something in the context of a course – e.g. a project, presentation, or research – in your community, or in your free time that could count as “relevant?”
For example, for careers in technology, questions to ask yourself to help you think of relevant experiences might be: Have you ever torn apart and rebuilt a network for fun? Have you ever helped your family or neighbor with computer issues? These are all important, relevant experiences that often go overlooked. Other ways to build relevant experience include volunteering, internships, or part-time or freelance gigs.
Know your value
In understanding what value you bring to a new career, think back on what you’ve learned over your life to this point – on and off the job – and what skills, knowledge, understanding would make you a valued employee in a new career. Often you can find a connection between one career and the next, but sometimes the connection is subtle. We all learn from our prior experiences, and the key to a successful transition is helping others see the value you bring as a result of your prior experience.
When we start something new, we often bring great enthusiasm, curiosity, and open-mindedness. These are all wonderful qualities to bring to any table and warrant highlighting to a prospective employer.
A helpful tip in transitioning is to rebrand yourself and be forward-thinking in how you view yourself. For example, if you want to land a leadership role, think of yourself as a leader and present yourself as a leader. Demonstrate to the employer that you are capable of taking on a leadership role.
Your resume should reflect the direction you want to go, as opposed to what you’ve done in the past. You do this by highlighting experiences, skills, and knowledge that is relevant to your new career path and leaving off things that are not relevant. Develop a 30-second e-pitch that focuses on what you want to do, as opposed to what you’ve done. Learn everything you can about your chosen career path. To grow your network, join professional organizations, become more active on LinkedIn, and find mentors in your industry or community.
As someone who has transitioned careers more than once, I appreciate the emotions this shift can raise, and the potential obstacles it can present. Know that all of us at Champlain College Online are here to support you in your transition, as your success is our success.