Changing Careers – Where Do I Start?

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.

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


33,000 Career Experts Can’t Be Wrong(?)

I got an email the other day making the claim that “33,000 recruiters can’t be wrong.” The email wanted me to buy whatever it was that the company was selling (OK, the email didn’t want that. Emails are inanimate objects and don’t actually want anything. But I digress.) The first thought that popped into my head was “just how many recruiters are there, anyway?” As it turns out, I have no idea. I lost interest in the Google results long before I was able to make a real go at finding out. What I did uncover was that according to one person’s research, in 2009, there were over 1,000,000 recruiters registered on Linkedin. To my thinking, if there are one million recruiters slinking about then there must be at least a bajillion so-called career experts out there hawking their wares. The internet and social media have made it increasingly easy for anyone with a domain name and a dream to become an “expert” in his or her respective field. And while there are a lot of really smart people out there giving career advice, there are a definitely some others who, well, let’s just say there are some others.

Throughout the days after I received it, I became increasingly obsessed with the title of that little semi-spammy email. Just because a lot of people think the same thing doesn’t make them right, right? If we always went with the majority viewpoint minorities still wouldn’t have the right to vote, the Earth would still be flat, and the Backstreet Boys would still be together. No, friends, just because lots of people agree on something doesn’t mean it’s right. Especially for your career. With that in mind, here are three pieces of advice that at least 33,000 career experts (please don’t ask me to list them) agree on and that you can feel free to disregard.

  1. You’ll never get a job by traditional methods. This is utter fallacy, and the fact that so many out there are furthering this preposterous idea pains me. Physically. Like the splinter-under-your-fingernail kind of pain. Recruiters would love nothing more than to post a job and have a ton of qualified people apply. Do you know why? It means that they don’t have to spend as much time looking between the couch cushions for good candidates and can spend more time getting to know business needs, screening candidates, developing in-depth, job specific behavioral interview questions and generally adding more value to their organizations. So tomorrow, do a recruiter a favor. Apply online to a job that fits your qualifications.
  2. You need to stand out to get noticed in your job search. In my time as a recruiter and as a hiring manager I’ve gotten resumes on rainbow paper, thank-you card envelopes filled with glitter, a shoe, a magic 8-ball and more gimmicks than I can shake a stick at. Some of them were interesting; some of them were obnoxious (think glitter.) But none of them have gotten anyone a job. Know what gets you a job? The right qualifications, good presentation skills, and timing. Period. If you can articulate the right information in writing and in person, have a little bit of luck, and are actually one of the best qualified people for the job, you have a great chance of landing it.
  3. The resume is dead. Poppycock. Horse feathers. Nonsense. Every day someone new is trying to live out his or her get-rich-quick scheme by telling you that the resume is out-dated and instead you should make a video/social/virtual resume, a visual CV, an infographic, whatever. Well I have news, folks. The resume is alive and well, and won’t be replaced any time soon with any other product. That’s right – you heard it here. That said, in certain cases it makes sense to supplement your resume with other materials – if you’re a marketing pro, you might want to put together a marketing pitch about hiring you. If you’re a video producer, go ahead and put together a sizzle reel. If you’re a designer, make something cool that speaks to your unique awesomeness. But if you’re not in a creative field and you don’t want to be the butt of a long-running joke between the recruiter and hiring manager, don’t get too cute. People in the recruitment process want resumes. Give the people what they want.

Disclaimer #1: Just because these statements don’t hold true for the vast majority of us doesn’t mean that they’re for everyone. If you think you’re in the minority and that these gems don’t apply to you, drop me a line and I’ll tell you if I agree.

Disclaimer #2: I absolutely include myself in the “domain name and a dream” category. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding whether I’m full of it: I’m not a professional career expert or coach, so I don’t have a thing to sell you. I’m just a guy with a pretty good track record in HR, Recruitment and Management who likes to write. Nobody can decide what’s best for you, because in the end you’re the one who’s responsible for the decisions you make, the career you pursue, and the glitter with which you stuff the envelope.

Have you gotten bad career advice? Good advice? Advice that has you at a loss over whether it’s good or it sucks? Leave a comment below or email me at and we’ll see if we can get it sorted out.

How To Ask For a Raise – And How Not To

I shall now tell you your desire. Wait, don’t say it… I can get this…

You want a raise!

Know how I knew that? Because everyone wants a raise. You’re about as unique in this desire as you are in liking cake. So now that the cat’s out of the bag and we all know that I’m no psychic, what shall we do about getting you this raise that you seek? When it comes to milking more money out of your employer, there’s sadly no magic bullet. We’re at the mercy of budgets, emotions, parity, revenue forecasts, the economy, and a host of other factors.

Mostly, there are three things that are going to influence whether you get a raise. Before I get into what those things are, let’s take a minute to talk about what will NOT be factors. Just to be clear – this list is of things not to bring up when you’re asking for more money. Ever.

  1. What you need. Honestly, as much as I care from a human perspective about your kids’ college fund, your sick parents, your student loans and the new home you just moved into, from a management perspective I couldn’t care less. You’re not going to see more money because you have more outside obligations, distractions, and questionable spending choices. Your ability to get a raise is about how much your employer needs you, not how much you need money.
  2. How much your co-worker makes. If your co-worker makes more money than you do for the same job, chances are that at least one of two things is true. Either s/he is a better negotiator than you, or s/he adds more perceived value to the company than you do. Either way, don’t bring it up. It may in fact be true that you’re underpaid compared to cubicle-dweller next door, but if you use that as a bargaining tactic it will fail. The only thing you’ll succeed in doing is making yourself look like a child.
  3. How long you’ve been there. Because in case you’re not doing an amazing job, the last thing you want to do is to remind your boss just how long you’ve been scraping by. And besides, we’re not paid for loyalty. We’re paid to produce.

So that’s what not to talk about when asking for a raise. But with that in mind what, exactly, should that conversation be about? Well I’m here to tell you. I’ve been involved in this conversation from every vantage point – I’ve asked for raises, I’ve been asked for raises, I’ve coached people on how to ask for raises, I’ve coached managers on how to respond to people asking for raises – so I’ve seen this work and I’ve seen it fail disastrously. The difference is usually preparation.

  • First, think about your timing. Is the company experiencing layoffs? Is your boss stressed about his/her budget? Are share values in your company dropping faster than really fast-dropping things? If so, do everyone a favor and hold off. You’ll do yourself more harm than good by asking.
  • Second, make an appointment to speak to your boss. Don’t try to catch him/her on the fly; don’t grab him/her coming out of the bathroom or the elevator. Get on the calendar. This is a serious conversation with serious potential outcomes. Treat it with respect.
  • Third, know your case before you start. Just like in a job interview or a presidential debate, you need to have your talking points in order. Trying to do this on the fly is not your ideal strategy.
  • Fourth, know what you’re asking for – have that number in mind that you think is a fair compensation for what you bring to the table.
  • Last, know what you’re prepared to do if the answer comes back negative. Are you making a request or an ultimatum? Are you prepared to stay and continue to give 100% if you don’t get what you’re asking for, or are you prepared to start looking for your next job?

As we’ve gone over, when asking for a raise there is a multitude of things not to talk about (I only listed three, but the list can easily be expanded to include such topics as your new haircut, Coke vs. Pepsi, and what you dug out from between your teeth last night), but there is only one thing that you should in fact talk about. That thing is simply why you deserve more money. Not why do you want it, but why should you get it. What have you done to earn it? Have you taken on additional responsibilities outside the scope of your job description? Have you had some great wins that resulted in the company making and/or saving money? Have you consistently been recognized for outstanding performance? Have you become the resident expert in your field? Is the company truly better off for having you there?

That’s it. There’s nothing else to discuss. It’s easy to sell what you’re going to do, what you plan on over the next year. But you’re not being paid for the future – you’re being paid for what you’ve done, not what you may or may not do later. Highlight your successes, the ways in which you’re irreplaceable, the ways and times that you’ve made your boss’ life easier. Can’t think of any? Then you might want to think twice about asking for a raise. Because at the end of the day, all of us employees are products, and we’re all subject to the same principles of supply and demand. Would you pay more for the same quality product or service if you don’t have to? Neither would your employer. Keep that in mind when you’re building your case.

If you follow these guidelines, you are absolutely, positively 100% NOT guaranteed to get a raise. But if you’ve done a good job of requesting one, you’re very likely to have at least gained some additional respect in the eyes of your boss and to have started the wheels turning for the next time there’s money to spend.

Taking My Own Advice – The Job Search, Part 2

In the last installment of this piece I told you about all the things I had gotten wrong in my job search. As I said, it was a learning experience. Thankfully, however, I wasn’t wrong about everything. There were a few things that I had right.

What I knew I knew:

  1. One resume isn’t enough. True. Over the course of my job search, I had and used no fewer than 7 different versions of my resume. There were some that highlighted different aspects of my work (recruiting, management, digital experience, etc.) as appropriate to each company and job that I applied to. There were some that omitted certain unrelated job experience. There were purely chronological resumes and those in which I lumped together like experiences. Why do all this? One thing that I know for sure is that most hiring managers and recruiters don’t use a lot of imagination in their resume screening. They’re looking for almost spot-on experience and if they don’t see it in 30 seconds they’ll move on to the next resume. I got calls to interview based on each of the 7 versions, so I’m pretty sure I was on the right track.
  2. Not every job is the right job. True. As I mentioned earlier, I applied to about 25 positions throughout my job search. Perhaps a more important number is the jobs I didn’t apply to. I can’t say exactly, but I’d put the number of jobs that I decided not to pursue at close to 100. Why did I leave 100 seemingly appropriately leveled HR/Recruitment jobs on the table? Because they just weren’t right. They were jobs that were in industries I didn’t want to join, in companies that I had heard not-so-great things about, or just job descriptions that looked like they weren’t any fun. Managing a job search is a serious undertaking already – there’s no need to add to the workload by pursuing jobs you don’t even want. Besides, as a recruiter there’s nothing I hate more than calling a candidate who applied and that candidate saying “Wait, what job was that again?” That’s clearly someone who applied to too many positions. I don’t ever want to be that guy.
  3. There’s no such thing as too prepared. Interviews can be great if you let them be great. Know how to make that happen? Know everything you want to say and everything you want to ask. Have your talking points down to an art. A great achievement? No problem. A time you overcame an obstacle? Got it. Disagreement with a boss and how it was handled? Ready. Why I want to work for this company in this job? You betcha. In the dozens of interviews I had with several companies, I was almost never hit with a question I wasn’t ready to answer. It’s all about preparation. And it’s not enough to have your script memorized – you have to anticipate their script as well. Study that job description and customize your talking points to what they’re looking for. Does that job description stress project work? Get some good project stories together. Is it a management position? Be ready to talk about some times your management skills were challenged. A job description is so much more than just a job description; it’s a preview of the interview. The tone and the content can give you spectacular insight into what’s going to be asked of you once you’re sitting at that table. Don’t forget to use this valuable tool.

At the end of the day, I know I was one of the lucky ones. Not everyone has as much success or finds a great opportunity as quickly as I did. But as I’ve maintained since I can remember, half of luck is being lucky. The other half, you make for yourself.

Going forward, I’ve identified a new challenge that I’m excited to face. When I’m doling out advice or tips for getting a job, it’s easy to rely on the same answers I’ve been giving for years. They’re second nature to a point, and usually founded in some kind of experience. Now that I’m fresh out of my own career transition, however, it’s time to take another look at what I’m saying. Before I answer a question I need to make sure I still believe that my answer is true. Because there are some guns that I’m sticking to, and some that I’m turning in. And if I can keep them straight (which I’m pretty sure I can) then I know I can be a better recruiter, a better adviser, and a better coach than I’ve ever been. So thanks, life, for handing out those lemons. The lemonade really hit the spot.

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this site? Send an email to

Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below.

Taking My Own Advice – The Job Search, Part 1

I’ve spent the bulk of my career filling jobs, telling companies whom they should hire and telling job seekers what to do to get hired. Recently, however, things took a turn. I found myself in the role of job seeker rather than adviser or hiring authority, and it was an eye-opening experience to say the least. At the end of the day, I had what I consider a successful job search. I got some good attention, had some surprising feedback, and landed an amazing position with an amazing company.

It’s been scary and exhilarating to go back to all of the advice I usually give, my stock answers and my core understanding about the job market, and see first-hand what I knew and what I didn’t. The results were mixed. Some of the beliefs that I previously held firmly were shaken to the core. Other philosophies I hold, I was glad to see, were proven to be well-founded.

What I thought I knew:

  1. There’s no such thing as too passionate. False. The most surprising piece of feedback I have ever received from a hiring manager was garnered well after I had been through the interview process and gotten down to the final two candidates. One of the reasons that I wasn’t chosen, I was informed, was that I came across as too eager for the job. My follow-up was too punctual, too carefully witty, too much of a sales job, and frankly came across as kind of stalker-y. It wasn’t like I was emailing every other day; I corresponded only when I was told I’d hear about next steps. My failing was that instead of a few sentences on how I was still interested and hoped to hear from them soon, I crafted treatises about the great things I would do in the role, the team I would create, how I would improve the company culture, the productivity, and basically transform the company into pure heaven. The lesson here? Less, apparently, is more.
  2. You can’t get a job by applying to postings. False. When I first decided it was time to start looking, I did what I have been telling people to do for years. I started working my network, which is quite robust in my industry and my function. I asked for and took informational interviews, got great referrals for open and posted positions within companies, participated in groups (both virtual and actual), asked for leads shamelessly, and everything else I could think of. But the single most successful avenue for me was none other than the blind job application. I submitted resumes to probably 25 posted positions over the course of my search, and out of those 25 submissions I was granted interviews with 12 companies. I’m no math whiz, but those seem like pretty good numbers to me. Some of the interviews were in my industry, some were in others. All called me after seeing my resume in response to their posted jobs. In fact, the position that I ended up accepting was a completely cold application to a job listing on Linkedin. The lesson? Networking is great, but don’t be fooled: when a company posts a job, odds are that they’re actually looking at who’s applying.
  3. Silence is deadly. False. In more than one of my interview processes, there were times that a company I felt was very interested would go completely radio silent on me. No calls, no emails, no responses to my emails, for weeks at a time. My assumption was that this meant they were no longer interested; they had found someone they liked better or were putting the position on hold – or something else that meant I wasn’t getting that job. So after what seemed like long enough, I dismissed these as dead ends. I stopped emailing and took them off my list of potential employers, figuring they weren’t going to call again. Wrong. After I had lost hope in more than a few opportunities, and even after I had accepted the position I now hold, companies I had all but forgotten about would reappear out of nowhere, asking if I was free to come back in next Wednesday to meet so-and-so. In one case, I received a call about 12 hours after submitting my resume, had a phone interview with the hiring manager, then nothing for a month. Finally I got a call from the hiring manager saying he was going to be in town the following week and was I available to meet. Not anymore. But as aggravating as it sometimes was, it was great to know that it really wasn’t me; it was them.

But how does it end? Did HR Dave decide to hang up his HR Dave-ness? Was he so wrong about everything that he ruined his career, lost his friends and joined the circus? Does he really think this melodrama is entertaining?

Want to see how it all goes? Click here for part two of this piece, where I say “I told you so.”

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this site? Send an email to

Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below.

“Overqualified?” How to Shift Careers and Get the Job Anyway

My latest reader question is one that comes up often, and one that’s definitely worth exploring. She writes:

“I graduated at the onset of the recession with several magazine internships under my belt and a promised job. Things fell through; I looked to PR to ride the wave. On the side, I’ve freelanced copiously, and developed my resume towards editorial jobs in every way possible. Now I’m told I’m over-qualified to be an Editorial Assistant almost everywhere I interview, but don’t have the full-time work experience necessary in magazines to be considered for anything higher up. I’m stuck in an in-between zone, and don’t know for sure if this “over-qualified” story is a ploy or the truth (though I make more than pretty much any EA, and have had much more responsibility, I am always clear about my willingness to start at the bottom). What’s a girl to do?”

When it comes to career, there are two universal truths:

  1. It is better to make a living doing something you like than doing something you don’t like.
  2. Regardless of universal truth #1, bills have to be paid.

These two truths frequently lead to career shifting, sometimes a year or two into a job and sometimes 20 or more years into a career. Career shifting can be extremely challenging when we find ourselves up against candidates whose resumes read like the descriptions of the jobs we’re going for. The reality that must be accepted is that, more often than not, you will have to start at square one with your new chosen career, usually taking a step backward in status and pay. Hiring managers and recruiters can get skittish around career shifters because we’re never quite sure what to make of them. I’ve had some very successful professionals who said they were ready to go from 6-figure incomes to entry-level wages, and I had to make a judgment call on whether I believed them.

So we throw around the term “overqualified”, which is really a misnomer. You’re not overqualified for the job – more likely you’re either underqualified or just plain old qualified. Overqualified is code for “we just don’t know what to do with you.” We’re not convinced that in 6 months you’ll still be happy with your choice, and the last thing we want to do is to have to fill the same position again when you decide you really can’t afford that pay cut after all.

So what’s a girl to do? First, be realistic with yourself and with the people making the hiring decisions. Research the workload and the salary range, and know for sure that you are willing and able to make it work. If you’re living on your own, you may need to consider a roommate situation. That shoe collection of yours? It may not see any growth for a while. I’ve been burned by candidates swearing up and down that they were ready to start their careers over again, and at the 11th hour they’ve balked at the salary/title/job description/something else. Fool me once; shame on me. Fool me twice; well you know the rest.

Once you’ve thoroughly assessed the situation and are 100% positive that you can and will live on less money and with less clout than you’re used to, it’s time to start over-communicating. I want to know that you have thought it out and you’re ready to make it happen. I want to know that if you get a job offer you’re not going to back out. I want to know that doing someone’s expense reports and eating ramen noodles sounds like your dream existance because you want it that badly. So although I’m usually anti-objective statement on your resume, this is a time to use one. And it should say “To find entry-level employment in the editorial department of a national magazine (edited to suit your specific career, obviously).” If you’re writing a cover letter, open with the statement that you’re looking for entry-level positions. Hammer the point home until I can’t hear the words entry-level without picturing your face.

When making a career shift, it can also be a time to take some creative chances that might work in your favor. In this specific situation, since you have directly relatable internships, you might want to experiment with removing from your resume all of your professional work experience since graduating, and don’t list years for your internships or your college graduation. Though some may see omitting dates as a gaffe, it might make you much less intimidating for recruiters who are looking at your resume. Try it – it truly couldn’t hurt. Then, once you get the interview, you can do a bit of explaining as to why you set your resume up that way. Frankly if I found out you’d put that much thought into it, I’d be pretty likely to take you seriously.

Career shifting is always scary and usually frustrating, but if navigated effectively it can be managed down from impossible to simply the next great challenge. Good luck – it’s a jungle out there!
Want to see how the story turns out for this reader? Here it is! (hint: it’s a happy ending.)

Have any career shift stories you’d like to share or questions you’d like answered? Leave comments below or email