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The 3 Steps for Making a Career Change

Change is a good thing.

Here’s the thing about careers: We expect a lot out of them. We expect them to pay for our livelihood, make us happy, challenge us, make us look good at dinner parties, and, well, I think you get the point. Careers and career paths are no longer linear for a lot of reasons and, for the most part, that’s a great thing. It means we get to reap certain benefits. More freedom. More control over our work. The ability to shift directions if/when we feel unhappy where we are. But the reality is that many of us are drowning in thoughts like “What do I want to do with my life?” or “I really want to go work in X industry, but I have no real experience so I’ll never be able to land a job doing that.”

Too often, we write off the idea of transitioning careers before we’ve even tried because we think it can’t happen without starting over in an entry-level role. Add to that the fact that most of us are used to instant gratification in all areas our lives (I’m looking at you, Netflix, Postmates, Amazon Prime...) and we get even more frustrated thinking about how much time and work it will take.

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. I know. I transitioned from an admin job at a large university to working as a recruiter at Hulu with no prior recruiting experience. I also know because I was a recruiter that reviewed resumes, interviewed candidates, and worked with hiring managers. And lastly, I know because I had a recent client transition from fitness instructor to account manager for a large advertising agency with no prior advertising experience using this strategy. Here’s how you can follow our lead and finally make that career change you’ve been dreaming of.

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So many people start their job search by focusing on applying for specific jobs, but looking at overall companies to determine whether they’re a fit for your lifestyle and career goals will better serve you in the end. And since you’ll probably want to change positions or departments at some point, it’s important to find a great company so you can more easily try new careers without having to launch a job search or start over every time you want to try something new. (Here’s a free worksheet to help identify what your career ideals are.) Even Forbes is noticing that more companies that prefer to promote from within rather than hire from the outside.

Think about what companies you interact with daily online, the products you’re obsessed with, or the organizations or companies you think are changing an industry. Or maybe your goal is to target companies that offer perks/benefits that you really value like unlimited vacation, work from home days, or leadership training. Compare the companies you love to what your career ideals are. For me, I wanted to work for a tech company that was reshaping how people interacted and I wanted a flexible work schedule. I also needed a job in Los Angeles because I couldn’t relocate. Hulu jumped to the top of my list. 

Action Item: Put together a list of ten to 15 companies that you’re interested in and want to learn more about.

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Since your new strategy is to target a company that aligns with our life and career goals rather than a job, you’ll want to narrow down you list of 15 companies to five or fewer. In order to do that, you’ll need to learn which companies offer what you value. For example, if you value working for a company that offers stock options, which ones on your list do that? Or do you value being able to work at a company that allows employees to cross-train with other departments so they have exposure to other work functions? Compare your career ideals list to what companies offer by reading about the company on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or even Career Contessa’s company profiles. Most companies are also creating very robust careers pages to tell you more about what they offer.

Action Item: Narrow down your list to five companies and write out everything you’ve learned about the company and why it aligns with your life and career goals. 

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So far I’ve been detailing the exact strategy I used to identify Hulu as one of my target companies. Now I’ll share how I decided to pursue a role in recruiting. First, see which department most closely matches either what you’re currently doing or want to do in the future. For me, that was the Talent and Organization Team within Hulu. I knew this because my favorite part of my admin job was the 5% of my time that I got to spend working with the recruiting team. So, which department do you think most closely aligns with what you’re interested in doing?

Next, start building relationships and learning from the people who already do the job you want via informational interviews. For example, if you know you want to work in the marketing department at your target company but don’t know which role is the right one for you, you need to start having one-on-one informational interviews with employees in the marketing department until you can narrow down a more specific job you want to pursue. Having informational interviews with employees at your target companies gives you a risk-free opportunity to make sure the company is a good fit, what skills are required for the role (and where you may need to bridge the skills gap on your resume), and an opportunity for a referral into a role. True story: Hulu hired someone I had an informational interview with to fill my role when I left, so never underestimate them. 

And don’t be afraid of reaching out to strangers. I had 30 informational interviews with recruiters I contacted via LinkedIn in order to help me ensure that recruiting was the direction I wanted to take my career, but I probably reached out to 70 people altogether. If one person says no, don’t let that stop you. Companies love to hire people who are super passionate about their organization and informational interviews with employees is a great way to show that off.

Action Item: Set up five informational interviews with people at your target company and/or within the specific department or role you want to pursue. Here are some free email templates you can use to help jumpstart your informational interview requests and here’s a free networking tracker to help you stay organized.

Once you’ve had a few informational interviews, you should have a lot more clarity around where you want to focus your job search energy. You’ll know which companies to focus on so you’re not just “spraying and praying” your resume, a.k.a., submitting your resume everywhere and praying a recruiter will see it, and you’ll have more clarity around how you’ll get your foot in the door at that company. If you're looking for more guidance, I also teach an online course, The New Job Search Strategy, with downloadable templates, worksheets, etc. 

Changing jobs is possible but only if you’re willing to get creative with your strategy.

Looking for more career advice? Check out past Career Contessa articles here.

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