Reinventing Yourself – Changing Careers by Charmon Parker Williams, Ph.D.

Amidst restructurings, mergers, acquisitions, and global sourcing, many senior careerists now find themselves in the predicament of having to look for employment. Let’s face it, times can be a bit challenging. But there may be a silver lining in all of this. This can be a time for you to reflect on your life, your goals, and the dreams you have swept under the carpet – a time to revisit a change of careers. Are you with me? Let’s take a look at a few tips you will need to keep in mind.

Create a Vision

What is your fantasy career? Musician? Corporate raider? Supreme Court Justice? Back paddle a few strokes to reality. Now move up. This mental exercise will help you create a vision for your next career move from a list of the implausible and the plausible. It enables you to identify what you are passionate about. As you begin to revisit your dreams, you may find some that you have outgrown and others that you have a curiosity about. On your route to seeking a new career, you may find that there are other outlets for you to express some of these dreams.

Explore Opportunities

Talk to friends and friends of friends about what they are doing. Read career profiles of various individuals in magazines and other media. If it sounds like something you might want to do, then get more information on the subject. There are several career sites on the Web that provide this type of information.

What do you have to offer?

Conduct a self-assessment. This is a critical step in any career planning. Conduct an inventory of your strengths and areas for improvement. Think past your current or last job to talents you have demonstrated in other venues – the community, professional organizations, church, home, school, etc. List your strengths and how you have applied them. List any feedback you have received on development needs. You also should list the things you value, are interested in, and want to avoid. It might be revealing to take a personality inventory (e.g., Myers-Briggs) to get a sense of your temperament, style of communication, and how this meshes with various careers. There are numerous career planning assessment tools available. Descriptions of many of these (like the Strong Interest Inventory, which measures your interests in a broad range of occupations, work activities, leisure activities, and academic subjects) can be found at

What does your desired role require?

Next, identify the competencies required for the role you are interested in. You may need to do some research to complete this list. Speak to professionals in the role. Look up the job requirements in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (which provides descriptions of more than 12,000 job titles). Talk to executive recruiters, who specialize in filling these roles, about employers’ expectations. You can find executive search firms by specialty in the Kennedy Guide to Recruiting Firms and other directories.

Analyze the bridges and gaps.

Now look for the points of connection, as well as the gaps between where you are relative to where you need to be. When there is a significant difference between what you are doing now and what you would like to do, you will often find that your connection points are based on broad, transportable skills such as communication, problem solving, or knowledge of a particular industry. The gaps that surface may be based on more specialized areas, such as certification or educational requirements.

In your gap analysis, you may surface the need to go back to school. You may view this as a longer-term strategy, but it may actually help you connect with others in the field you are choosing. Professors may be able to provide you with leads. Alumni may have opportunities for internships. If you don’t think you have time to go to school, think again. Many universities offer weekend and online degree programs.

Write a detailed career action plan.

Write a strategy for how you will get from your current role to your desired role. This strategy should include short-term, long-term, and contingency plans. You may want to enlist the assistance of a career coach at this stage. Your plan should specify individuals or networks that can help you reach your goal. You should also spell out what you are willing and able to give up to reach your goal — for example, a 20 percent decrease in salary, a status/title change, etc.

“But I have no experience. Who’s going to hire me?”

Dip your foot in the pool or at least get it wet. In most cases, you would be absolutely right in your assumption that experience gets the job. But the job is not the only way to get the experience. You may be able to develop the skills you need in other settings while you are in your current position.

For example:

  • Volunteer your services to a community, civic, or social organization.
  • Conduct committee work within a professional organization.
  • Serve on a non-profit board of advisors or directors.

One tactic you may opt to use if your skill set is close but your experience level is off, is to negotiate a trial period with a potential employer in which they leverage your services for less than full salary. How much less will depend on your financial situation. “Try me out with less pay” should only be used if you believe you can come into an organization and quickly add value. Your manager and co-workers will be watching your every move.

Another tactic you will want to use to get your foot in the door is to make yourself visible in forums where professionals in your desired field congregate. This sends the subtle message that you are “one of them.” This includes joining professional organizations and attending conferences. It also includes arranging to make presentations in these forums on topics about which you are knowledgeable and can generalize to your audience’s interest. Writing for magazines or other publications that the target group reads is a related tactic.

Changing careers is a challenging endeavor that requires reflection, direction and persistence. Much of it breaks down to the fine art of networking, image building, and competence. The more your name is known in your desired arena, the higher the odds of you connecting with someone who is willing to give you that first chance.