The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to change career paths? is written by Jill Larsen, SVP of strategic talent acquisition, people planning and services HR at Cisco.
Over the 20+ years I’ve worked in HR and talent acquisition, I’ve met countless individuals seeking a career change. For nearly every one of these people, the process appeared daunting. Making the leap to a new career is a decision that introduces vulnerability and takes us out of our comfort zone. The fear of the unknown often prevents people from identifying their passion and pursuing a new career path. Some people hold on to the mindset that, “you pick one career path and stick with it.” But the reality is that many of today’s career options didn’t exist even five years ago as the world of technology is evolving so rapidly.
In my experience, identifying and focusing on your strengths and skills is always a good starting point when considering a new career. When you hear people say they love what they do, many times it’s because their career choice aligns to both their strengths and passion. There are many paths and options available to us; we’re not stuck in one career. In fact, as the future of work evolves, those “career changers” will be sought after because they possess the ability to adapt in the face of a rapidly evolving world. If you’re considering a career change, keep in mind these four perspectives:
The workplace is evolving
In the future, it may become easier than ever to change career paths. Work is becoming more fluid to align with employees’ strengths. Companies are beginning to acknowledge the strengths of an individual by introducing flexible projects, stretch assignments, and different approaches to aligning strengths and skills to bodies of work. You can expect to see more companies embracing flexible work models because it allows them to attract different types of talent, even if only on a project basis. It also allows career changers to take on projects and work that lets them ‘try out’ their new career path. In fact, I believe that today’s job hierarchy, ‘contractor vs. full-time’ and a multi-step career path may become obsolete as the workplace evolves.
Skills and strengths can be transferrable
When changing careers, your expertise (whether 20 years in HR or 15 years in sales) is not always relevant. What does matter is what you’re able to do – solve complex problems, set expectations effectively, craft and execute strategies. If we keep our attention focused on those abilities, then the range of options and disciplines we can participate in expands dramatically. One of the best places to start is to ask people who know you what you are good at. It may seem silly, but those closest to you are much more objective about your strengths than you are.
Take educated risks and network
Changing careers is scary. In many cases, we believe that we can’t afford to make a mistake especially if your family is depending on your income and success. This can create emotional hurdles that are difficult to overcome. When this happens, start networking. Make connections in the areas that interest you and learn about their paths. With social media today, it is easier than ever to make and keep these connections.
Non-traditional paths to your career goals exist
If you still find that your fear of the unknown is limiting your willingness to make the leap, then take baby steps. Non-profits or volunteer opportunities may give you chances to ‘try before you buy.’ Many online courses (via Coursera or EdX) are available that include ‘cohort’ opportunities to do a capstone type project to immerse yourself in the work firsthand without quitting your day job. If you’ve seen the movie, The Intern, you also know that it’s never too late to try something new.