Changing Careers

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell

The Great Resignation is a lot of things. Some of them true, some of them REALLY true. One stat, in particular, strikes me as incredibly interesting!

Last year, 53% of those who quit did so for a career change. That’s incredible to me. Over half of those who quit didn’t move on to the same or similar role – they outright said “NOPE! See you later [insert industry here].”

Have you ever changed careers midstream? I have – sort of. I began my professional career as a nonprofit program director. My job was to ensure the senior citizen bus ran on time. However, along the way, I discovered this little thing called human resources. I nudged my way into a dual role of program director and HR Director. Eventually, I shed the program to focus solely on HR.

My wife changed careers – twice! She was a daycare director, then a nonprofit director, and now she’s a FT early learning teacher.

The point is, I have been around career changes, and I know it’s not without scariness, nor is it without stress and uncertainty.

A friend recently messaged me on LinkedIn. She told me that she left a highly stressful job doing the only thing she’s known her entire career. Unfortunately, the toxic culture led her to lose her love of what she was doing. She wrote:

“You should write a piece about mid-career changes. How does one move from a role they have done for 15 years but has burnt out on. How do they transition? How do you build a resume to help highlight the skills necessary for a new kind of role, etc.. current situation and I think an HR perspective would be cool!”

The HR perspective isn’t that different, I would say, from the general one. HR professionals leave the industry and enter the industry same as other. But one thing we may (or should) have over others is a perspective that skills make the person, not the industry experience. It’s hard to break into new careers without getting someone to give you a shot. Hiring managers get too stuck on “industry” knowledge, instead of focusing on how this person’s skill set or personality will add value. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes.

HR can help hiring managers get past this by vetting and presenting talent that can be great additions to any team. I think HR professionals should stress skills and personality more with hiring managers than focusing solely on “industry.”

I don’t want to give the impression industry experience isn’t valuable. It is. But in the context of career change, it’s an artificial construct that keeps many from hiring incredible talent simply because they lack “industry” knowledge. Industry knowledge can be taught and learned. It is a concern, but it doesn’t register high on my list. Skills, attitude, thought process, innovation, ideas – these things register higher on my “wants” list. I think we need to focus on potential more than we do. These things are transferable. It just sometimes takes some clever marketing to showcase that having a skill that served X-Industry can also serve Y-Industry. Sometimes BETTER than one would have thought. Unique perspectives cannot, nor should be, overlooked by employers – especially in today’s employment market.

Another thing I think that gets lost is the importance of NETWORKING! People make hires base don relationships. Is it 100% fair? Maybe not always, but it’s not as bad as it many make it out to be, in my opinion. If you know someone and you trust them, of course you want to work with that individual. Nothing wrong with that. So, get out and build a network of people you can lean on in good times and bad.

Another thing that networks do oh so awesome at is offering up their wisdom and guidance and mentoring!

I took to Twitter to ask some of my favorite HR pros their thoughts to get the “HR” perspective.

Here’s what many had to say:

Highlight how your transferable skills can make an immediate impact. Make a plan to deal with the PTSD from your old role. Think deeply about what type of leader you need, & the type of organization you want to join. Clearly define what brings you joy. – @BozemanKimberly

Be very clear on what you want and what you won’t sacrifice on.  Know thyself.  That being said, be realistic and if you have to take a job to pay the bills in between do it. – @mjmullady

Stay #Curious and have a #BiasForAction – the rest will fall in place #Career. BTW #CareerPath is a lagging metric for most humans 😉 – @anisharavind

If it was me and I had an idea of what kind of work would bring me joy, I would make a list of obvious transferable skills, and a sub-list of outside the box transferable skills. Reach out to old pals, and network with new pals. And most importantly do all the things that make you happy to refill the cup that the toxic place drained from you. Family time and silly dog videos on YouTube work wonders. — @TheRealGappa

Is it really a desire for a career change or was the toxic workplace driving need for the career change?

Why? What are you wanting to do now? Are you realistically qualified to make that change? Transferable skills? Can you take the potential hit to salary if the change requires a comp decrease to start? Who do you know in the career to info interview with? Are there prof associations to join and build your network? Are there current connections in your network to chat with? – @murtaughj

Go to therapy to get closure from the toxic work environment and then hire me as their coach to help them move on to the next best thing. — @iamjulieturney

To an extent, the advice depends on factors like: do they know what profession/industry they want to pivot to, do they need to maintain a certain income level while they’re pivoting, etc. Maybe I’m getting too granular? Sorry to answer a question with a question. 🤷🏻️ — @KeithCEnochs

Leaving a toxic place is liberating. Tomorrow is full of possibilities. Take a deep breath & relax. Next, reflect on what worked & didn’t work, and identify your needs for your next role. Reach out to mentors, learn, and read. Be diligent in finding the next role and move on. — @baski_LA

Be realistic about your financial situation. Do you need a stop gap to pay bills? That’s totally okay. Take it and then take the time to decide what’s next. — @mfaulkner43

Overtly understand what U don’t like in current circumstances & ensure that new org won’t have same issues. Be sure 2 compare salary, learning opps & benefits, i.e. total rewards offered. Investigate culture of org you move to. Don’t romanticize current or future situations. — @doublempeacock

1st Visualize: What would your dream job be? Research companies & positions. Who do you know in that company or industry? What are the key requirements? Do you have those skills? If not, develop a plan to gain those new skills. Brush up that old resume. Develop a 90-day plan to land a new job: Outline how many jobs you will apply for each week & how many people you will connect with each week. Update & use #LinkedIn to learn new skills, find new jobs & connect w/ recruiters. #HRCommunity #HRPhilosopher — @ebonyagrey

@RobDromgoole posted a quote by @mikeroweworks

Heal first so you can make good decisions about what you want. Right now, you are clear on what you don’t want, which is also important but not the same. Also, the question is not what you want to be or do; it’s what would you like to try next? — @heatherbussing

Make a list of what you want in your next role & company. Also, make a list of what you want to avoid. Have that laid out before you start looking. Stick to your lists !! It’s just as important for you to interview the company as they are interviewing you. Get a meaningful network of people to help you now AND remain as a resource for you (and you for them) going forward. #Networking is a #Business skill – NOT a #jobseekers skill. Great folks give you encouragement, a sounding board and support. #HRCommunity – @sbrownehr

I was just about to say what Steve said. I say make a list of the “energy givers” – the things you most look forward to doing & that give you energy. Then make a list of the “energy suckers” – the things that suck the energy from you. Once you have your lists, identify the non-negotiables – the things that must absolutely exist & the things that must absolutely not exist. This will help you look at your skills in a new way- what’s transferable – and the type of environment/company you want to work in/for. And in the words of one certain mentor/friend: “Don’t underestimate your ability to create your own position in a company…” — @KyraMatkovichHR

Is it what they did or where they did it? Focus your interview with new orgs on examples of them living their mission, mission & values. An aspect of the former job they loved, that they can be focus of next gig. Transferable skills they can use for a role that will bring joy. – @JeffreyWShapiro

Some thoughts:

1) what is it you want to do and what are the skills/competencies you need?

2) what skills/competencies do you already have – and what are transferable?

3) if you aren’t already, network (and never stop)

4) share your interest and skills with that network. — @tomrdaniels419

So, themes I am seeing:

  • Truly ask yourself what is making you not like where you currently are. Be honest with yourself.
  • Identify those things that bring you joy in work, or things you at least don’t mind. Focus on the next phase of your life through those “life givers.”
  • Focus on the value your skills and attitude bring to an organization.
  • Do not forget the HEALING. Sometimes, if not often times, a toxic workplace stays with you for a long time, much like pollution of the ocean. It takes time to clean that all out.
  • Organize your social media to highlight your value and what you bring to the table.

Ultimately, this is amazing advice. Much of it was brought to you by folks who went through similar situations as you! I’d like to add, based on my own experiences switching careers:

  • Do not go into it thinking it will be quick! It took me over a year to finally find a place to take a shot on my skills (I didn’t have their industry experience). Be patient, as hard as that is when you need to shed toxicity.
  • Don’t forget your value. Don’t convince yourself that you are not what you lack. You are what you are, and that has value!
  • Get used to rejection, but don’t take it personally. Every rejection is a redirection. Easier said than done, but you will end up where you need to be!
  • Don’t settle. Sometimes, you need to be OUT. If that is the case, do it. If you can wait, then ensure you’re getting in with the right folks.
  • Don’t neglect your mental health. Do what you do that gives you life – cooking, reading, exercising, vegging out(within reason). This is needed more than we like to admit.

For those looking to change careers, do it! Life is short. It’s brutishly short. Why use the limited amount of time we have hating your existence. The only person we need to answer to every single day is the person in the mirror. If the Great Resignation has taught me anything, it’s that making that person feel better will make your life (and the people in it) that much better.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Published by Paul LaLonde

Husband. Father. Passionate about HR, helping people, and doing the right thing. Also, heavy metal, craft beer, and general nerd things! #SHRM19Blogger. Find me on Twitter at @HRPaul49 and LinkedIn. Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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