Ep 8- How to Make a Successful Career Transition Without Starting Over

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Are you a fan of the TV show “Friends?” If so, you may be familiar with my all-time favourite scene.

I’ve been referring to this scene for the past 15 months. In the scene Ross, Rachel, and Chandler are trying to carry a sofa up a set of stairs. Ross is continually shouting at Rachel and Chandler to, “Pivot! Pivot!”

I’m always reminded of this scene because in the last year we’ve heard the expression “pivot” countless times. Employees have been pivoting their jobs and careers as a result of redundancies. Lots of businesses are pivoting their operations in order to survive.

“Unprecedented” was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2020, but I would venture to guess that pivot probably made the top 10 list.

I am working with a lot of clients right now who are looking to pivot their careers. The vast majority are looking to change industries, not just looking for other job opportunities in their current industry.

Showcasing Expertise When Changing Industries

If you want a job in a different industry, how do you sell yourself to employers? If you’re transitioning into an unrelated field, you can’t claim expertise in that area.

These days, expertise is largely an outdated concept.

There are some professions (i.e. law or medicine) where people spend a lot of time studying and therefore they are held hostage by their student loans to remain in those fields long term.

Over the past year I’ve spoken to at least 1000 people about their desire to make a career pivot. They are all concerned about how to showcase their expertise without a track record in a new field.

Don’t Confuse Desired Education with Required Education

At least half of these individuals have asked me the same question: Do I need to go back to university and get a graduate degree? In some cases, high school graduates have asked if they need to get a Bachelor’s.

There are some jobs that require a certificate, diploma or degree to meet the minimum qualifications. But most job postings list desired qualifications. Don’t confuse Desired and Required Education!

The 10,000 Hour Rule

Typically, it is the related experience which is most important. And developing experience takes time.

Several years ago, Malcolm Gladwell published his best-selling book, “Outliers.” One of the chapters in the book was called “The 10,000 Hour Rule.”

The 10,000 hour rule states that it takes 10,000 hours of intense, deliberate practice to master a skill.

The average number of hours a full-time employee works each year is between 1,800 and 2,000 hours.

Using the 10,000 hour rule it would take someone five years to really become an “expert” in their job.

In episode 7, we discussed that only 30% of employees remain in a given role for five years or more.

Can anybody really become an expert? No, probably not. Certainly not before obtaining a new job in a different industry.

But building your skillset does not have to take 10,000 hours.

How to Build Expertise

If you’re looking to quickly build some expertise in a new field here are a few ways you can do it:

  1. Bite-sized experiences. This may be in the form of volunteering for a limited amount of time or perhaps shadowing someone in your field of interest. Get creative in doing this.

I had a new law graduate come to me after obtaining her degree. She was struggling to get interviews with law firms because she didn’t have any work experience in a law firm. She was passionate about immigration law because her parents had been refugees.

We decided to get creative in helping her build up her resume to showcase she had some skill and knowledge about working with immigrants and refugee legal services. She got in touch with a high school specifically for new immigrants to Australia.

She began volunteering at this high school helping refugee families with limited English skills fill out the paperwork necessary to get their visas processed.

She built up her skillset and experience, but also met a few refugee and immigration lawyers. Between the experience and the contacts, she got a job offer and is doing exactly what she wants.

2. Find a Mentor. Find someone to emulate and study what they do.

I used to work with a speechwriter. He was excellent at his job and worked for some high-ranking politicians. But he wanted to transition from speechwriting and to become a press secretary.

Since he worked for a politician he knew the politician’s press secretary. He spent as much time as he possibly could following the press secretary around. He observed what she did, evaluated what he liked, and determines what he would have done differently if he was in the role.

He made his intentions known to the press secretary and developed a mentor-mentee relationship with her over the course of several months. This paid off because over time she started to trust him. This enabled him to ask her for advice and get her to share some of her golden nuggets of information she had learned over several decades in these types of positions.

His efforts took time to pay off, but they did pay off. It took him over a year to find a press secretary position that suited his needs and ambitions.

He was able to get the position he wanted and was much better prepared having spent so much time shadowing and interacting with the press secretary who became his mentor.

Determine New Skillsets to Develop

If you are looking to make a career pivot, don’t rush to enrol in some sort of degree or certificate programme. Investigate the type of position you want to obtain and figure out which skills you need to build in order to make yourself marketable.

Then consider pursuing short term volunteer experiences to build your skillset, study what the experts do, and see if you can form a relationship with someone you can shadow and learn their trade secrets. It’s unlikely you’ll learn all their secrets, but chances are you can pick up a few.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Episode 7- Job Hopping Can Be Good, Bad, and Sometimes a Little Ugly