One of my followers recently shared problems with a stalled career shift. Late thirties, and thirteen unhappy years in sales/marketing, led to career re-appraisal and a subsequent return to university to gain a Finance MBA. Job search bogged down and job interviews stalling out when faced with, “why the change from Marketing to Finance?”
This is a case where the diagnosed problem, articulated as, “no job offers because of inability to answer questions like this,” is more likely to stem from a combination of factors. Here is how I answered the question and how you might approach similar challenges in your own career shift:
A common misconception is that you just haven’t yet latched onto a slick way to justify your career shift. However, getting a new career direction off the blocks and heading along the right track will take more than one snappy answer to a tough interview question. Try these six steps to overcoming obstacles to a career shift.
Step #1. Understand the target job. Your job interviews will multiply and your performance will improve with greater understanding of the function your target job is there to fulfill.
No job is added to the payroll for the love of mankind, it exists to solve problems and contribute to the bottom line. Understand the job’s real-world deliverables: the problems it is there both to avoid and to solve, the small role that job plays in contributing to the bottom line and as part of a specific department, and you begin to understand what employers look for when they hire people for this job.
To achieve this understanding, you will want to complete my Critical Target Job Deconstruction exercise so that you understand how employers prioritize the needs of your target job and the words they use to express these priorities.
Step #2. Get the inside scoop on the job. Increase your grasp of the target job by talking to people who are doing this job successfully today. You want to understand the target job in terms of
- Major responsibilities and critical deliverables
- Education and desirable skill sets
- What problems in the job is there to solve?
- What problems are there to prevent?
- Typical day to day challenges?
- Who does this job interact with?
- What are those interactions?
- The business processes of the new industry/profession & commonalities with your current professional experience
Talk with people working in your target job’s department, ideally people doing this same job and whenever possible with people who have already made a similar career shift successfully.
When talking with people who share your transitional background explain your need for practical advice in making the career shift. You will seek answers to the questions we’ve already discussed plus:
- How has your (marketing/sales) background paid off in (finance)?
- How has your (marketing/sales) background helped you, as a (finance) professional, be more effective in your job?
- What insight has your (marketing) background provided that makes you a more fully rounded (finance) professional?
- Why do you think this background of (marketing and finance) is beneficial to the new job and to an employer?
You’ll also want to:
- Get in touch with Career Services at your university and find out how you can connect with graduates in your target field
- Check out the university alumni association for members with similar degrees and/or work history
- Check out your professional association membership directory/databases for people in the target job
- Join online networking sites and search for members in the target job and where possible those who made similar transitions
Learn from your network contacts how the target job contributes to the bottom line of the company. Most jobs contribute in one of three ways: they make $ for the company, they save $ for the company and/or they increase productivity for the company. With Finance or Marketing, or any other profession for that matter, it always comes down to productivity; it’s just that the expression of that productivity will differ depending on the professional context of the job.
Step #3. Those who succeed. You need to recognize the professional behaviors most admired in your new profession. As you’ll see in Chapter Twenty of Knock ’em Dead 2011, The Ultimate Job Search Guide there are certain desirable professional behaviors that are common to successful people in all professions. Your networking contacts will help you identify the desirable professional behaviors that dominate in the day-to-day activities of the new target job; then you can identify examples of you applying these behaviors in your career to date. Find out
- Who is successful and why?
- Who fails and why?
Step #4. Re-think your resume. Lack of success so far in your job search will almost certainly be traced in part to the orientation of your resume. Most resumes are simple recitations of what you have done in life, and they don’t work in today’s database environment. You need a resume that focuses on the skills you bring to the new target job.
The most productive resumes start with a clear focus on that target job, and then look backwards into your work history pulling out those experiences and accomplishments that best position you for that target job.
Step #5. Re-think job search tactics. Your job search plan of attack could also be contributing to your problems. If you are going about your job search in a limited way, relying on job and resume postings, you probably aren’t generating enough interview experience for your presentation skills to really shine. You will want to re-tool your job search plan of attack with a careful reading of Knock ’em Dead 2011, The Ultimate Job Search Guide, which will help you institute a practical plan of attack and ace your job interviews.
Step #6. Putting it all together. The answers to all the questions posed here are jigsaw puzzle pieces, that put together, will give you a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in the target job. This knowledge will help you build bridges that connect your past experience with your new direction. Because you don’t have a track record in the target job, a clearly visible grasp of the job’s deliverables is critical information for an employer deciding in your favor.
When you go through these steps, you are going to know that target job inside out, what it takes to succeed and why your current background can bring a wider frame of reference and distinct benefits to the new job.
Winning a job offer will not depend on the answer to any one question, it will depend on your grasp of the target job’s deliverables, why you can deliver on them and how well you express this in your resume and in your interview performances.
50% of the success of any project in life is in the preparation, do your homework and then go out there and knock ’em dead!
Join Martin every week to learn more about writing a killer resume, getting more job interviews and turning job interviews into job offers at his free weekly webcast, Mondays at noon central. Details: http://my.knockemdead.com