Career switching is a common occurrence for women re-entering the workforce. You’ve probably heard the statistic that the average working person will have 7 different careers in their lifetime. Women often make a conscious decision to return to the workforce in a field other than the one where they previously worked. Here are 7 tips for successfully approaching a career change as you re-enter the workforce after a career break.
1) See this as an opportunity to re-invent yourself
Approaching this career change with the attitude that you are going to make a fresh start in a new field is going to carry you through the inevitable tough times of a job search. Commit to putting in the hard work required to get a new job and sticking with it through the ups and downs. Not sure which direction to take your career in? Click here to check out 10 free career assessment tools.
2) Determine which skills you’ll need in your new field
The trick to being a successful career switcher comes down to two words: transferrable skills. If you can show that the skills you used in one job will transfer well to another job, you are on your way to having an effective pitch for why someone should hire you. Comb job postings and LinkedIn profiles of people who hold the job you’d like to fill. Do informational interviews to determine which skills you’ll need. Make a chart with 2 columns – in the first column list the skills mentioned most in job postings for the position you’d like to have. In the second column list an example of a time when you used that skill.
3) Get the skills you don’t have
Switching careers takes work. Chances are you are going to have to do some re-skilling. Look into a professional certification or an industry conference, take a class at a community college or online or attend a meet-up to acquire the skills you don’t yet have. The nice thing is that you know exactly what those skills are, thanks to the work you did charting the required skills for your new field. You can also get those skills by volunteering in your intended field.
4) Craft a compelling story around your skills
Everybody loves a good story. Take a project you worked on in which you used the skills listed in your chart (see #2) and turn it into a story. Set up the situation, the task that needed to be completed, the action you took and most importantly, the result you achieved – all while focusing on how your skills enabled you to accomplish something big. Then tie it all together by relating the skills you used to your intended field. Don’t be afraid to have a story around something you accomplished while on a career break. This can show that you used your time out of the paid workforce productively and never stopped achieving, even when you weren’t getting paid.
5) Join a professional group geared toward your new industry
This is a great way to learn what the insiders know, meet people in your new field and get the lingo down. Chances are they have educational events you can attend. Finding these organizations in your local area is as easy as doing a Google search. These organizations often need volunteers and have job-search groups, so get involved. Join a LinkedIn professional group and first monitor, then participate in the conversations happening there.
6) Find an internship or offer to do project work at a target company
Internships aren’t just for college kids anymore. This idea is catching on among women returning to work, according to iRelaunch’s Carol Fishman Cohen in this TED talk. Some industries may also be open to the idea of having you do project work. I had a friend who wanted to be a recruiter but balked at the idea of working for commission only for a trial period. This would have allowed her to learn the business without costing the company anything. She didn’t want to work for free, but 6 months later she was still looking for a job, hadn’t earned any money and still hadn’t learned the field of recruiting. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea after all!
7) Act like you’ve been there before
When you pull all of this together, it will help you act like you’ve been there before instead of seeming like an outsider trying to break into a new field. The funny thing about job searching is that recruiters want to hire people who have done the job before! If you don’t have direct experience in a field, you’ll have to prove that you possess the required skills and understand how to apply them to be successful in the role.
And here’s a bonus tip:
If you’re not getting the desired results from your job search, consider creating your own job. While I was looking for my return-to-the-workforce-full-time-job, I realized that there were a lot of other women out there facing the same challenges I was. I decided to do something to help all of us. I started Back to Business and in the process acquired skills that employers found attractive. I seized the opportunity to re-invent myself, developed a host of new skills that gave me a pretty convincing story to tell, met a ton of new people through the groups I joined and never missed a chance to learn something new. Ironically, just over a month before we launched our first conference I started a new full-time job that I love.
Keep at it. You’ll find a job that you love too and when you do, tell me about it on Facebook so I can congratulate you!