Changing Careers – Where Do I Start?

6 Aug

A reader writes:

Hello Dave,
Since graduating college four years ago, I have worked as an aide for a state legislator. My duties primarily include casework, reviewing bills, letter/press release writing, and general administrative work. As time goes on, I am increasingly learning the public sector is not where I want to be. For the past year, I have been looking to change careers. I have been applying for analyst and human resource positions within various industries, primarily in finance and media, because I find those fields interesting.

My question is – how do I get my foot in the door with an industry I do not have any direct experience in? I feel my skill set qualifies me for many of these entry or second level positions, but am not getting the response I’m hoping for. How do I get HR people to notice me?

Thanks for reaching out. Your question is a tough one, and one that people in a variety of fields are struggling with. Unfortunately there’s no easy answer – the kind of career shift that you’re looking for tends to rely on luck (being in the right place at the right time.) Fortunately, there are ways to create your own luck to give yourself the best shot at success.

  1. Make sure that you’re not just spraying your one resume format out to every junior-level HR job you see. That’s the kiss of death. Make sure that the jobs you’re applying for have some relation to your skills, and make sure that you’re highlighting those relations on the customized resume that you’re sending to each one.
  2. Network. I know that it can be a scary word, but when you break it down it’s really not that bad. Do some research on LinkedIn or individual company directories, and find a handful of people who are doing the jobs that you want to do in your area. Email them, explain your situation (just like you did with me) and ask them if they’d be up for a brief meeting so that you can get some more insight into their industry, background and career path. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee at a local place, or to meet with them at their place of business if that’s more convenient. These networking meetings accomplish two things – they give you access to information that could help you get the job you want, and they get you on the radar of the people who are doing what you want to do. If one of these people gets promoted or leaves a job, wouldn’t it be great if they said “hey – I know someone really smart and insightful who would be great for my replacement”?
  3. Explore temporary work. Register with some temp agencies in your area, and when you meet with the recruiter tell him/her what you’re looking for. They just might have some temp assignments for you in an entry level or admin role within an HR department. If they do, this is your big chance to make a great impression. When on a temp assignment, take the time to get to know the people around you a little bit. Always try to go above and beyond, and make sure that you’re not shy about expressing your interest in the field. I owe my career to a temp assignment that I had when I was ready to transition out of acting and into the corporate world, so I can say with absolute certainly that this can be a successful means to an end.

Are any of these guaranteed to get you where you want to be? Of course not. But there are no guarantees in life, so these are as good are you’re going to get (at least from me.) I’ve always been a firm believer in two things: roll with the punches and create your own luck. If you’re smart, diligent, and if you’re the kind of person that others genuinely want to work with, the opportunities will come in time. Just make sure that you’re stacking the deck in your favor.

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this site? Send an email to HR.Dave1@gmail.com.

Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below – it’s a conversation, not a lecture.

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