Making a Career Change

Caroline Ceniza-LevineMaking a career change is a big decision. It can have a big payoff if it’s the right move, but can turn into a big regret if you pivot without thinking things through.

Career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine shares how to decide to take the plunge and how to break into a new business.

Is there an ideal time to pivot to a new career? Is it ever too late?

There is no “ideal” time, but I would argue that you could make a change at any point where you feel like you want to do something different, especially early in your career.

Something you do have to think about is whether or not you have the bandwidth, both mentally and physically, to do what it takes to change careers. You’re going to have to learn about a different industry and need a new set of skills and build a whole new network—and that doesn’t happen overnight.

If you’re working a crazy PR job where you’re at the beck and call of a client, it’s going to be a more difficult time, not ideal, versus if you’re in between projects or have gotten laid off and have a severance that can cover you for a few months. So, there are some things that can make it a better time, but there’s never going to be an ideal time.

I know I want to try something new, but I don’t know what the next step is. How do I figure out what jobs are out there and what I might want to do?

Your job is probably the most disruptive thing other than your significant other to change, so if you want to try something new, I would suggest a “date night” over a “divorce.”

A job is your source of income, it can be your identity, it’s your network—it’s not something that’s easy to dismiss. So if you want to try something new, I would say take a class, join an association in that field, join those LinkedIn groups and social platforms, start hanging out with people who have the jobs you suspect that you want.

You want to place small bets and only escalate when you’re sure. Because on the other hand, if you find you’re not interested, you can pull out and you didn’t spend a lot of time or money on a new career that’s not actually right for you.

I have 5-10 years of work experience, but none in the new field I want to enter.  How can I best translate my prior experiences into a new career?

A lot of career change is common sense. It’s putting yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and saying, ‘Would I take a risk on this person?’ Hiring is always a risk, and this is why employers always want people who have done the job before.

But people do make fascinating career changes all the time. It’s about finding out what the company wants and how you are going to fulfill that, and the only way to know that is to really know that industry and that company. You have to be the one to figure how your skills translate and show the hiring manager—that’s where the work comes in.

In some ways it’s easier at the beginning of your career because you’re less invested, but at the same time, you don’t have a body of work that you can draw on, you don’t have as big a network. There are always pros and cons. But the big pro early in your career is that you should still be pretty nimble and used to the fact that you have to turn on a dime and figure out how to assimilate into an environment, and that’s what you’re trying to do here.

Do I have to start at an entry-level position and salary?

It depends on how you translate your experience. For example, let’s say you have 5-10 years of experience and you’re an account executive, so you’re the main person managing the client relationship and you’re in the healthcare practice. If you go to a health and wellness resort and become their corporate communications manager, where you’re essentially using a lot of the skills and a lot of your industry expertise, I would argue that you have a pretty solid case for not starting at the bottom. Now, if you are the same account manager in healthcare and you want to go into block-chain, I would say that there’s less translation there. It depends on the level you can come in at.

What’s the one piece of advice to keep in mind when making this type of career change?

It is difficult to change careers—the job market is competitive, employers want to lower their risk and hire people who have done the job before, and you’re coming in as the outsider.

But I think one of the most important things to remember is that people do make career changes, especially early on in their career. People pivot all the time, and businesses pivot—there are lots of success stories. If you can keep your eye on the prize and take the small bets and think why not me?, keeping that optimism will serve you really well. It will give you the momentum and motivation you need to keep going; and it will also make you a much more attractive job-seeker. I also think in a state of optimism you’re more likely to be creative, to keep your options open and to try different things.

If you find yourself getting frustrated or feeling bad about yourself, you have do whatever you need to do to break out of it, and maybe that’s just having a good time doing other things. Because as I said, changing careers is the most disruptive thing you can do—and if you’re trying to bring challenge into your life, do something new, learn a new skill, you can do all of these things without changing your job. So if you’re stuck at a career change, just make a change.

—Ann Kaiser


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