How to Make the Leap
Today, the average American worker will change careers three times. Career longevity is no longer the norm.
Meanwhile, the notion that a change in career is perfectly acceptable, even admirable, is supported by the publicity afforded a long list of well-known career-changers. Arnold Schwarzenegger goes from body-builder to Terminator to Governator. Harrison Ford leaves carpentry for acting.
Seeing all that upheaval, job seekers might think that potential employers will take a career change in stride. But those employers sometimes turn out to be skeptics.
Career Change Superstars
We hear of famous career-changers and their stories are likely to mislead anyone looking for an actual job. Martha Stewart, for example, started as a model and then became a stockbroker. When she left all that behind, she started a business.
Although she probably had her own doubts and fears, Martha was spared one fundamental concern: She didn’t have to worry about explaining herself in a job interview.
For career-changers who have to interview, employers will ask about your change of heart. That’s why you need to look at things through employers’ eyes.
First, make it clear that you have chosen this new path out of enthusiasm, that this was a supremely conscious choice and not a last resort.
Think of the specific elements that attracted you to the new field, but, if possible, don’t stop there. Try to find similar elements that attracted you to the specific company you are trying to join. Make sure that those elements are part of your interview presentation.
Keep away from an overdose of negativity. Clearly, you were not sublimely content in your previous field, or you would never have considered a change, but negativity should not be the tone you set in the interview.
Emphasize the positive aspects of your new career, not the drawbacks of the old. Your goal is to show the employer why you are here now, not why you left an unsatisfactory job.
To that end, it’s worth noting that jobs, however different they may seem, tend to rely on the same skills. Emphasize those transferable skills. Organizational abilities, leadership, teamwork and time management are skills that play their parts in almost every workplace. Make your strengths the focus of the interview.
If changing careers is not enough of an interview challenge, remember that the interviewer will consider other aspects of the workplace that may be different from your previous employment. The career change itself may be an obstacle, but other big changes can compound the difficulty.
If your previous work was at a boutique firm with a local presence and you’re interviewing with a multinational whose workforce numbers in the thousands, interviewers will wonder if you can make the adjustment. That’s not the kind of question you want to leave them with.
If, career change aside, you are trying to move into a very different environment, be prepared to deal with the issue in the interview. Be aware of the kinds of adjustments that an interviewer will be likely to see as part of your transition. Don’t leave him wondering if you really see the whole picture.
Consider your career change through an employer’s skeptical eye. If you can anticipate the concerns, you’ll know how to prepare for the interview.