Working with career changers, I'm struck by how little milage these job seekers get out of conventional wisdom:
Because even though these maxims look sharp on a motivational poster, they ignore some pretty basic issues:
What if I don't know what my passion is?
What if my purpose isn't hiring right now?
So to put some actual muscle behind these limp sayings, here's the step-by-step advice I give to anyone looking to make a high contrast career change.
Step 1: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
The most critical step in your career journey is the first one: Knowing where to focus.
That’s because, much more than perks, brand name, or stock options, your satisfaction at work will be defined by the work itself. Specifically, do you get so engrossed in your pursuit that you lose track of time? Or do you find yourself staring at the clock, willing the hands to turn faster?
Because while you can negotiate many things about your next job - pay, benefits, location - you can't fundamentally alter the fact that, say, HR professionals collaborate with lots of people, while you do your best work solo. Or that accountants spend all day in spreadsheets and you're certified allergic to Excel... :)
So instead of getting caught up in all the career change sideshows (What will my friends say about this job? Is it the job that my parents want me to have?), keep your eyes on the prize: Will I actually like doing this work? And then you'll be well on your way to a job you can truly be passionate about.
The most critical step in your career journey is the first one: Knowing where to focus.
Step 2: Give Yourself Permission to Experiment
Before we dive into specific roles, let’s address one major source of anxiety for those transitioning into a new career: While the choice of a career path is a critical decision, it’s by no means a permanent one. Workers can expect to have about 20 jobs over the course of a career, which means that your next job doesn’t have to be your forever job!
The bottom line is this: You can change your job or even your field throughout your career. So give yourself permission to experiment at this stage, knowing full well that you likely have many more adventures yet to come.
While the choice of a career path is a critical decision, it’s by no means a permanent one.
Step 3: Find Your Spot on the Spectrum
Within any industry, there are a range of jobs that fall on the following spectrum:
That’s because each end of the spectrum represents a tried-and-true way to create value:
Interpersonal - You influence others to get something done that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise (e.g., a Sales professional motivates a prospective client to do a deal)
Analytical - You evaluate data and systems to find hidden opportunities for improvement (e.g., a Data Analyst discovers a bottleneck in a company’s marketing funnel)
And, of course, there are lots of jobs that fall somewhere in-between, drawing upon skills from both ends (e.g., a Project Manager analyzes resources to develop a project timeline, then keeps individuals accountable for meeting that timeline).
To give you a sense of how this shakes out for the tech and media worlds, I’ve ordered some of the most common tech roles:
Chief of Staff
IT Project Manager
To find your range within this wide spectrum, we recommend the following process:
Start by reflecting on your own most memorable experiences - both positive and negative. When you were absolutely loving your work, were you leading others and motivating a team to get things done? Or were you digging into data or systems, trying to track down a flaw or an opportunity? And then do the same for the negative experiences - what kind of work bored you out of your mind or left you feeling like a fish out of water? This should give you a sense of your natural inclination along the spectrum.
Next, read through each of the job descriptions above. And as you do, close your eyes and try to imagine what it would feel like to be doing each job right now. Notice how your body naturally responds to each imagined experience - are you getting charged up or are you feeling fatigued just thinking about it?
Between these two exercises, you should start to get a feel for where you belong on the spectrum - both in terms of general predisposition and specific role fit.
Close your eyes and try to imagine what it would feel like to be doing each job right now.
Step 4: Test Your Job Fit
But don’t just trust your gut here. Because while your intuition may have served you well in the past, it was also refined over time by lots and lots of experience. Which meant that you could draw upon a robust dataset every time you were looking for a familiar pattern.
Now that you’re starting out in a new world without that ample data, we recommend testing your intuition against those who do have the data - the people who’ve actually done these jobs before!
So here’s the exact process you can employ to check your gut instinct against real-world expertise:
1) Get a LinkedIn account if you don’t already have one. But don’t worry about building out your profile yet - all you really need right now is the ability to do a search of the world’s professionals. And you can even do it on the down-low if you want, by turning on LinkedIn’s private browsing mode.
2) Go to the search box at the top and enter the role you’re interested in - e.g., Project Manager, Data Analyst, etc. If you’d feel more comfortable speaking to someone who’s been in your shoes before, feel free to add your background to the search - e.g. “project manager” “Navy veteran” (since adding quotes forces LinkedIn to find the whole phrase).
3) Look through the profiles that pop up and pick someone who has a job that seems like the kind you’d want - maybe they’re working at a company of interest you or have traveled a similar path. But don’t sweat this step too much since you’re not committing to a specific job yet; you’re just trying to get a sense of where you fit. And so reaching out broadly and discovering that a particular role isn’t a good fit for you at this stage can save you a lot of heartache down the road!
4) Go to Hunter.io and enter that person’s name and company into the Email Finder tool, which should generate their work email address.
5) Now send them an email, drawing upon the following template:
Subject: Navy vet interested in your career path
I’m a (soon-to-be) Navy veteran and, as such, I was thrilled to come across your profile on LinkedIn. That’s because I’ve been thinking about getting into Project Management and would love to learn more about how you chose that path. If you’d be open to sharing your story, is there any chance you’d be available for a 15-minute conversation in the next few weeks?
Thanks for considering!
6) You won’t hear back from everyone but you’ll be surprised by how many people are happy to talk about themselves - it’s just human nature! And then, after they agree, just get ready to ask them lots of good questions:
How did you get into this line of work?
What do you spend the most time on?
What do you love about it?
What drives you crazy?
How does this compare with your past experience?
If you had it do all over again, what would you do differently?
What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
7) Try to get at least a couple of different perspectives for each role by repeating the process above several times.
Now that you’re starting out in a new world without ample data, we recommend testing your intuition against those who do have the data - the people who’ve actually done these jobs before!
Step 5: Take Your Passion for a Test Drive
After completing this process, you’ll have accomplished two essential goals:
You’ll have identified the role or small group of roles that really do fit you - both based on your natural inclinations and a better understanding of what those roles are really like.
You’ll have built out an initial network to support you as you explore these roles - from helping you navigate the application process to referring you directly to the hiring manager.
Which means that you're ready to actually give your potential dream job a shot. But if you're not quite ready to look for a full-time role, just know that there are other options to try before you buy:
Search for internships in your desired field - LinkedIn has a filter just for that.
Reach out to your brand-new network of experts and ask them if you can help with a small project - that way, you get to try out the field and they get an extra pair of hands. Or do something similar for a nonprofit that needs a skilled volunteer.
But no matter which approach you take, have confidence that the next stage of your career will be powered by much more than just a motivational poster. Instead, it will be driven by an honest look at your unique interests and strengths - so you can lead with passion, not just follow it.
Don't just follow your passion - lead with it.