We now live in the era when it pays to manage your career as opposed to just letting it happen to you. As in any other successful campaign, knowledge is vital, so here at interviewarea.com, we have a large and growing resource that will put you in touch with information and advice about training, employment sectors, career choices and the arts and sciences of making an application.
This article is about the most likely career change scenarios that you may be facing and what issues to include in your strategic and tactical planning.
1 – Forced change
You are not alone: more than 50% of my clients for CV writing are now going through or have recently experienced one of these situations:
- Redundancy caused by merger, acquisition, downsizing, takeover
- Redundancy caused by loss of market position and performance
- The job turned out not to be as it was agreed in the contract
- Training, bonuses and opportunities not as promised
- Conflict with the new regime after merger or takeover; a boss who dumps blame for failures
These scenarios are so common that you need to feel no shame whatsoever and no one will judge you by them. I have many clients who in the last five years have been forced to change jobs two or three times or even to take periods as a freelance or Interim. Providing your CV tries to hide nothing and makes these periods coherent and explicable, they are no bar to re-employment. Indeed, you may unearth some valuable experience of ‘change management that would be an asset to a new employer and you can certainly talk about having coped effectively with a crisis!
Forced career change demands the best in us all and the rule must always be: don’t go mad, get out clean… Plan your change rationally, before the situation becomes unbearable and you risk doing something rash or provoking retaliation. Keep your risk evaluation antennae switched on and have a Plan B at the ready in any case, because no one knows what will happen next month. It always pays to be looking around at what jobs are on offer.
Two further points to bear in mind: a good career change can sometimes be synchronised with a conveniently mutual redundancy arrangement and in this process, your old employer may well pay the cost of a professional CV Writer or outplacement consultancy. You never know until you ask.
If things get out of hand and your forced change comes through dismissal for incompetence or some other serious contractual breach the situation is far more complex and you do need to think carefully about your next move. Take legal advice by all means but take other advice to assess your risks more generally. My advice would always be to stay awake at the interview and ask the right questions before you take the job, then make sure your contract reflects that then in a civilised way draw attention to any lapse from what was agreed. It is fatal to fester, to let your health suffer and to let yourself be driven to a negative outcome. Even if you won a legal conflict it would still have taken a toll on your psyche and it could tarnish your future prospects to have a lukewarm reference or a black hole you don’t want to mention….
Non-contentious forced change detracts nothing from your case as a candidate and the advice that follows on planned change will often apply to you.
2 – Normal career improvement
In this most common scenario, you already know that you can take on a tougher job with more reward within your sector. You are aware that your employer has dragged its feet on salary and bonus issues and that other companies offer more. You know how rare or common are the positions you could coherently apply for and you have a good idea of how your skills and experience will make a match.
All that remains to be planned is to get your timing right, to start networking your contacts and scanning the job adverts, possibly to begin approaching agencies or headhunters.
What you need is a superb CV and a coherent letter that explains what you are trying to achieve. These should be prepared long before you hear those magic words ‘send in your CV’ and you should be thinking throughout your campaign about how you are positioning yourself in the marketplace.
3 – Major career change
If you are wanting to completely change your occupation, possibly returning to the marketplace after motherhood, a period abroad or service in HM Forces, perhaps just finishing some continuing education designed to improve your career prospects – then the full power of your initiative should be coming into play.
These changes are no longer easy because every occupation, every technology, every sector and every functionality has become more specialised than it was ten years ago. It is not true that managing a military unit will automatically be seen as relevant to managing a commercial enterprise, even if you have just finished an MBA. These transitions are possible, but they are not for the lazy.
Here are some pointers:
1. People who get the job know about the job: whatever changes you are contemplating it is absolutely vital to study in detail the methods, concepts, industry players, buzzwords, employee specifications and attitudes that prevail; there is lots of general information available but it would also work to start talking to those with first-hand experience; the greater the fluency of your knowledge the more convincing you sound like a potential colleague.
2. Good applications are totally relevant: your CV needs to lean into your projected future, not dwell in your glorious past; by necessity, it must place emphasis on skills and experience that are transferable and will actually match your new type of role; hoping that people will welcome your genius and pay to re-train you belongs to yesterday and the day before; these days you turn up with a full toolkit, talking the right language and ready to contribute immediately.
3. The only exception to delivering straight from the box is the graduate training concept whereby the cream of the year’s students are invited to join good employers in a general role without typecasting on a specific functional area; if you can get on to one of these, grab it – and sometimes they will accept ‘mature returners’ who have suitable skills and education; ask them; be persistent; be relevant and don’t make embarrassing statements that exaggerate what you know about the company.
4. Often it is enough to show willingness through training; certain occupations, such as marketing and HR, will expect people joining them to at least have embarked upon a recognised professional training course and certification; that is the entry route – you show determination and they consider you for a trainee position, more likely than the other way round; this applies even if you already have a degree or advance professional training.
5. Public sector employees have generally had softer access to training and opportunity but less access to commercial cut and thrust; to be convincing in transition they need to highlight those aspects of their work that resemble the complexity, challenge and uncertainty of the profit-led sectors; this is a particular challenge for people coming out of the teaching profession, who will often need to focus clearly and start a second professional training that builds on their many but often uncelebrated skills.
6. Down-stressing your life also requires some realism; don’t assume that because you were a great accountant you could run fundraising for a national charity; the not-for-profit sector has its own professionalisms and jargons and if you want to quit the City to do something more socially committed you should make just as much effort to re-orient yourself conceptually.
7. Warning: do not get sidetracked; some people deliberately take a basic job with a great employer in the hope of being recognised and this often works and in some areas (like journalism) is virtually the norm; many very successful dot.com managers that I meet began life in something like media sales and moved across when the organisation went Internet, for example; but do not take a naff, stopgap job with a small local company if you can possibly help it; two years from now you will be typecast and feeling stuck; it works to go for what you want, aiming high from the start and modifying your approach to fit what you learn; aiming low leaves you low.
Having said all that, many people do make these transitions successfully and go on to enjoy satisfying second careers. Successful change comes from mature attitudes and just about anything is possible if you want it enough and are willing to do the work rather than rely on luck.