Complacency is one of the greatest enemies of the mature worker. If you aren’t growing in your role, learning new skills, open to new and better ways of doing things, you can be sure that someone else around you will be. Often people who are caught unaware by a redundancy recognize, too late to save their job, that they have not proactively adapted within their role or have not been attuned to the politics of what was happening around them.
Conversely, people who want to change their career direction are often so focused on escaping from their current situation and what they DON’T want that they overlook the important point of recognizing what it is that they do want to do.
Tony Robbins, the famous motivational speaker and coach, always asks the question, “What do you REALLY want?” It’s a deceptively simple question. Are you REALLY sure what you want from this next phase of your career? Take the time to consider what makes you happy with work, what you have enjoyed and disliked during your working life, and what gives you genuine satisfaction.
For some people, this is the time when they seek the help of a trained professional career counsellor or coach, while others consult their family and friends.
Family and friends, with the best intentions in the world, are not always the best people to help you through a career crisis. They know you in a different context, and they also have pre-formed ideas about what you are good at and “should” do. When someone tells you “You should do…” – RUN!
Their perspective reflects what they would choose to do in your circumstances. That does NOT mean it is the right thing for you to do. They are seeing you through their eyes, their values and their perspective of what you bring to the world, but no-one knows you as deeply as you know yourself.
Appreciate that they are genuinely trying to help you to see your situation more clearly and they mean well, but also realize that this is entirely your decision, to meet your specific and unique needs, wants, dreams, talents, skills and experience.
Here are five important strategies (eight really but several of them are variations of the same strategy) you should consider when preparing for your change of career direction. If you have kept up to date with the current employment market then some of these comments will seem trite to you, but you’d be surprised how many people ruin their chances for the employment they want by not being well prepared.
1. Know your personal preferences
When I’m working with clients one of the first things we do is establish their unique criteria for work to be purposeful, pleasant and satisfying. That criteria then becomes the basis from which we analyze occupational ideas that they have had or jobs that are advertised.
Give yourself about 30 minutes and work through this exercise.
Jot down all the jobs you have had, paid and unpaid, throughout your life. This may even include work that you did many years ago, or in a voluntary capacity. Many great clues can lie in the jobs you do when you don't have to do them, or the jobs you did when you were a young traveller or student. You can start by asking yourself, “What did I really enjoy about this job? What did I dislike about this job?”
Do not include only the obvious things such as the sort of work you were doing, but also the environment, the type of people you worked with, the management style of your boss/es, the level of stress, the hours of work, and the office culture.
Do this for each job you have had, and soon you will end up with a fairly long list of preferences. Within that list there will be some patterns emerging. Recognize your patterns because in them lies the secret to the work that will be right for you.
You will notice that this list doesn’t involve occupational titles, just your preferences for all the factors that make work pleasant for you.
2. Read job ads from an employer's perspective
Obviously, employers are looking for the best person for their job. Therefore they will not spend time on applicants who do not obviously meet their requirements. So you need to become familiar with your local job market advertisements, the language, keywords used frequently, and how to read job ads to find out what they REALLY want.
Employers usually describe their preferred candidate profile in their job postings, but usually what they are really looking for is not directly stated. You need to learn how to read between the lines.
I suggest to clients that having a pen and a couple of highlighters works well at this stage of your job search. With the pen, underline the key words, those that really make you understand what the employer is looking for. Then use one colour to highlight the areas which match your qualifications and interests, and a different colour to highlight the selection criteria which match your achievements. If a large amount of the advertisement is coloured then it is worth putting in an application. If much of the highlighted area overlapped, that’s even better.
Of course sometimes the language used in selection criteria is subjective. When an employer is looking for a ‘dynamic’ person, what exactly does that mean? It may be code for ‘young’ or ‘good looking’ because discrimination legislation makes stating requirements that are discriminatory illegal in most countries. It could be that they want a dynamic personality who won’t be downtrodden by other more negative members of staff. Then again, they may simply want a strong vibrant person on staff for the energy and fun they will bring to the team.
3. Look in all the places that jobs are advertised
You must broaden your search. The days of looking at job ads in a Saturday newspaper are long gone. In this digital age, internet and mobile technology are heavily used for job postings. Online sites offer thousands of jobs and such ads can come and go at any time. Online job boards usually enable you to set up job alerts enabling you to have jobs that meet your criteria emailed to you. You list the keywords related to the work you are after and each time a new ad appears in your field it appears in your inbox. The job ads find you. Hopefully, you are also starting to notice trends about where and when the jobs you are interested in are being advertised and the recruitment agencies that specialize in specific industries.
4. Use The Hidden Job Market
Be proactive! Are you aware that more than half of job vacancies are filled without job ads? This usually happens through internal appointments, people making their availability known to an organization they would like to work for, and through networking. Recruitment can be a painful and expensive process so if a good applicant is available, ready and willing to take the job, the recruitment process is often bypassed altogether.
4.1 Accessing the Hidden Job Market at your current job
Changing your job may be possible within your current organization. In fact this is one of the least disruptive ways to change career. You have all the advantages on your side. You know the ins-and-outs within the organization, and people there know you. However you need to let the right people know that you are seeking a change of position within the organization.
4.2. Accessing the hidden job market within your existing network
Networking is a timeless strategy where knowing a person can be to your advantage, indeed can open doors for you. Let’s say you want a career change, and you know someone from your sporting club, church, service club or neighborhood that works in that industry. You could approach that person and discuss your decision to change career. Just one connection that introduces you to the right people or tells you about possible opportunities within an organization could be pivotal to your career move.
Of course if you don’t know anyone in your proposed new field you need to spend time where they congregate so you can get to know them. Join an association, go to social functions, play a sport or anything that it takes to get to know people in any industry. Connections with people are often the key to successful career change. So, network – Connect with people.
4.3. Accessing the hidden job market by introducing yourself
Another alternative is to approach organisations and introduce yourself, in person or by telephone. There may not be a specific job which they are currently advertising but if a company gets an impressive résumé from you demonstrating all the attributes they are seeking within their business, and you have impressed them when you made contact with them, you could well be the person they call when a vacancy does arise.
However don’t waste your time and energy. Research any company you have considered contacting to make sure you would like to work for them and you suit their employment requirements. Don’t send your résumé as an accountant to a firm which sub-contracts their financial activities. However, if there are companies that particularly suit what you are looking for by all means make personal contact. Many managers will file a résumé they like and make contact if a job arises. It’s a win-win situation because the employer doesn’t have to advertise, and you have an advantage of them knowing about you if a position arises.
When I had small children, before I made my big career change, I decided on the spur of the moment (it must have been a bad day with the kids!) to send my résumé to every school in a five kilometre radius of our home seeking a job as a teacher librarian. I wanted a couple of days’ work each week but didn’t want to travel for more than 15 minutes as I didn’t want to be far from the child care centre. The very next morning at a nearby school the teacher librarian carried the Principal’s mail into her office as she arrived for a meeting to hand in her resignation. She discussed her pending resignation and left the office. The Principal opened the mail on her desk and there was a résumé from an experienced applicant – me! Good timing!
4.4 Accessing the hidden job market through LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a wonderful way to develop your network, to connect with people who may be able to assist you with information, to find out about jobs that are available, and to raise your profile for employers and recruiters. You are very welcome to download my guide LinkedIn: How To Crack The Hidden Job Market to assist you with this process.
5. Don't over-reach or use the scattergun approach
Only apply for those jobs for which you are well suited, qualified and genuinely interested. It seems harsh to tell you that you shouldn’t apply for some jobs, especially if you are feeling rather desperate for work. However if you are not suited to a particular job why apply for it? Don’t waste your time!
Always tailor your resume and cover letter for every application you are making. If it is worth applying it is worth making sure the application is the best it can be. If your application doesn’t show that you are appropriate for the job it will be rejected at the first read. You will have wasted time in making the application and a rejection can chip away at your self-esteem.
In summary it is vital that you prepare for any job search, particularly if it involves some element of career change…..a new industry or a different role in the same industry. You deserve to give yourself the best possible chance, so take the time to be fully prepared.