In the history of work, it’s a relatively novel phenomenon to have the opportunity to completely switch professional paths mid-career based primarily on our interests.
And, it will likely be an even shorter period of time before career switchers are the new normal. In fact, the market is already shifting in this respect. While retiring from an employer after a 30-year tenure used to be standard, now the average time in a role is 4.2 years. Further, employees who remain with a company for 10 or more years are viewed as less adaptable by hiring managers.
If this is surprising or if it’s been a while since you’ve changed jobs, you may be holding onto some old career management ideas that are impeding your path to success. Here are a few:
It’s too late to start on a new career path. When I hear this phrase from potential career switchers, usually it’s imagined barriers (rather than actual ones) that are holding the job seeker back. If you’re overly rigid and unwilling to make any sacrifices (e.g., stepping back a level), then this belief may stand, since you need to be flexible to make a major change. But, if you realize mid-career that you chose the wrong ladder when starting out, or your field no longer energizes you the way it once did, you likely have many more transferable skills than you realize and will have a lot of opportunities to re-brand your experience to fit a myriad of new career paths at any stage. It’s just a matter of putting in the time to clearly identify your goal, understand how your skills are valuable in today’s market, and build a network that can begin to open doors.
Without a college degree, my options are pretty limited. The pendulum tends to shift on this depending on the economy, but now more than ever, progressive companies are realizing that the skills they need most may not align with what is taught during the 4-years at a traditional university, especially in the tech industry and trades. Applied experience and concrete results will always trump classroom hours in the hiring process, so carefully weight what will be most valuable in your career trajectory, recognizing that you can always earn a degree part-time while employed, with the added benefit of your company potentially funding your education. Also, recognize that the opposite is also not true — a college degree won’t automatically land you a great job.
If I step back in level or salary, my resume will suffer. This is more often an excuse rather than a valid reason to stay put. The truth is, resumes are no longer dry historical accounts of your employment, but rather are career stories focused on demonstrating how your strengths solve your target audience’s pain points. This means you have a lot of latitude to share those accomplishments that contribute to your qualifications and leave out those that muddy the water. Making lateral moves to close skills gaps, taking a step back to get on the right career ladder or trying your hand at entrepreneurial pursuits aren’t career limiting, but rather career enhancing. They show you’ve reflected on your goal and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen.
It’s a numbers game, so I’m applying to a lot of jobs online. The internet is over-saturated, which means it’s really tough to stand out in a pile of 300 resumes, even if you have an impressive background. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) weed out 75% of applications before they reach human eyes (sometimes for silly reasons like formatting) and passive candidates (those who are not actively looking, but who have the skill set an employer is seeking) are on the rise. Scanning LinkedIn for ideal candidates often takes much less time and money than posting jobs and wading through hundreds of applications. Not to mention that many online jobs have already been designated for an internal candidate, have been impacted by a change inside the organization (hiring freeze, new priorities) or are stale leftovers from a job that no longer needs to be filled. This is why networking and referrals are consistently ranked as the top strategies for learning about new opportunities, so it’s worth it to invest your time building relationships.
I’ve included all of my diverse skills on my resume so the hiring manager can decide where I fit. We live in a Twitter world in terms of attention span today. Most people don’t read much further than the headline and prefer images to words. If you fail to capture a hiring manager’s eye quickly by showing how you can solve their problems, they will simply move on to the next application. They don’t have time or interest in analyzing your background and often have a large pile of targeted resumes, or even referrals, that focus on showing how they are hungry for the opportunity. It’s incumbent on you, the job seeker, to do the heavy lifting when it comes to proving you’re the best choice. So, don’t let the great stuff get lost in the okay stuff, or you may find yourself getting passed over.
Soft skills aren’t as critical as deep technical expertise. With robots taking over so many automatic and routine tasks, soft skills may be exactly what a company is looking for. Most roles are moving toward a hybrid format where both deep technical skills combined with strong people skills are critical to success. And many companies are reporting that they’re struggling to find qualified candidates who embody the soft skills they need such as an ability to influence people across functional lines, develop creative solutions to unexpected problems, demonstrate agility when the market shifts and communicate clearly with a variety of cultures. With the market changing at warp speed, employers are looking for candidates who can be highly adaptable, motivate and drive change, and function successfully within ambiguity. The robots are pretty well suited for the rest.
I’m looking at large brand name companies so I have job security. As someone whose career was unexpectedly sidetracked by the Enron scandal in the early 2000’s, I can promise you that it’s a mistake to rely on an employer for job security. It just doesn’t exist. No matter how skilled you are, how niche your expertise is, how much the CEO loves you, or how in demand you are today, all of that can change in one moment. Job security only lies within. It’s something you develop and carry with you by continuously reinventing yourself, building a strong brand and cultivating a diverse network.
While it can be uncomfortable to walk away from habits that have contributed to your success in the past and adopt new ways of approaching your career, every time you stretch the boundaries of your comfort zone, you’ll feel a little more empowered.