How to Change Careers: A Hop, a Skip and a Jump

Published: Mar 14, 2013

 Interviewing       Job Search       Networking       
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The New York Times recently reported on a shifting dynamic in how companies are finding employees: a significantly higher reliance on internal referrals, and a further retreat from applications submitted through online job boards such as and the like. That's a troubling development for job-seekers who either don't have a professional network in place, or have a network that's deteriorated due to long- term unemployment.

It also raises a critical question of strategy, especially for those who are seeking to change careers into a new industry; when you already have a job or other time commitments, it can be a challenge to focus your efforts in the most efficient manner possible. How, then, does someone who doesn't already have contacts in their desired industry position themselves to make that jump?

There are the traditional methods, which provide some level of access to the desired networks: informational interviews, industry groups, alumni networks, and so.. While those are certainly possibilities that ought to be explored , there is also the potential for them to be saturated because they are traditional. Those methods also rely on building relationships from scratch in situations where you're not getting any current benefit. While that may be necessary, expending uncompensated effort now for significantly deferred gain can be a source of stress and frustration. 

Intermediate Steps

A different method, especially for those looking for a jump into a completely different industry, is to take an intermediate job. This certainly requires more patience, as it is a long-term strategy, but it allows you to begin building skills relevant to your target industry as well as hopefully begin developing networks therein. As noted in the Times article, at many firms applicants who are internally referred are known as "high touch" candidates for the recruiting team, and get considerably more specific attention focused on their application packages, as well as more personal contact. Both of these measures permit more chances to make a positive impression and develop a recruiter's interest. What's more, an intermediate job is a chance to partially reinvent oneself and take on responsibilities that are more in line with future goals.

Another benefit of this method is that it allows people to get experience that can lead to a reordering of priorities, which itself can lead to a reevaluation of the end target of their career change path. From my own experience, when I went back to college to complete my undergraduate degree, I was fixated on switching into finance (an admittedly ambitious goal, especially given the state of the economy at the time). Spending some time at an internet startup post-graduation, however, had me performing job responsibilities that made me reconsider what sort of role was most appropriate to my temperament and interests. As a result, I shifted my attention towards the consulting industry, and after several years of having no success breaking into finance, I was able to find a job in a consulting firm within nine months. 

Of course, individual experiences will differ based on their particular circumstances, but when trying to effect a significant career change, it's a good idea to bring both a long-term goal as well as willingness to shift that strategy as changing circumstances and preferences warrant. Don't ever accept that you're locked into a single path. The options for change may come with limitations, but they're there. 

--Carter Boe

Carter Boe took a bartending job after leaving the Navy to pay the bills while going to college, and a decade later, looked around and realized to his surprise that he was still working in restaurants. He joined the ranks of adult students, graduated from Northwestern in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and a minor in Mathematics, and is now a management consultant for a large firm. He writes about non-traditional/adult students, career change, and other assorted randomness.