Here’s How You Get Past the Fear of a Career Change
The MPW Insiders 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 Anne Gordon, senior vice president of marketing, media and communications for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Thinking about changing jobs is frightening. Changing careers often requires a real leap of faith – and not just by you but by those closest to you who can only imagine you as one thing professionally.
But you need to be fearless. Find the courage to simply think about change. Start there.
Work your way through all the fears that start with: I am lucky enough to have a job and I should stick with it. Push past the next wave of: Are you crazy? And dive right into: No one will hire me and I will be homeless.
Done? OK, now that you have these out of the way, focus on this: You can be the one to dictate your own course.
Don’t let the changing tides of your current industry sweep you in a direction that is not right for you. Evolution is key to remaining successful in life and in business; but evolve in a way that plays to your strengths, and doesn’t leave you on unstable footing. My best advice for anyone looking to make a career shift would be to assess, arm yourself, and finally, act.
Take a critical look at your industry. What were the qualities that initially drew you to your current profession? If those qualities are no longer present in your position, think about what other industries share those qualities.
Also, assess your own strengths. This is the most important element of all because people tend to do this in a simplistic way noting their facility with basic skills – Adobe Photoshop, for instance – instead of looking at what is behind that technical skillset. For instance, being a wonder with Photoshop might well be an indicator that you have an eye for telling stories with images.
What skills do you possess that make you invaluable to your industry? Do any of those skills fit into other industries? Do you have skills and potential that are currently untapped in your present position? It’s possible that your skillset is appropriate for your current industry, but not your specific position. Delve into the possibilities of changing paths in that way, as well as a more dramatic industry change.
In this planning period, take stock of the ways in which your skillset and experience could help you to leverage yourself as a candidate for a new opportunity, and how your unique background provides an outsider’s perspective to an organization.
Now that you have a good understanding of the marketplace and where you fit in, you will need to learn to present your skills and experience so that they fit into a more specific position or organization.
I was a journalist for 25 years, mostly at newspapers. I became the managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer just as the industry was really beginning to retract. When I decided to leave the industry after many years and explore other ways to contribute to my community and to my family, I understood that the drive, the talents and the skills that brought me to this point were valuable commodities. But, I had to explain them in the context of other industries, other ways of seeing the world.
I recognized that the ability to tell a story to an audience by drawing on many different elements of information was a critical skill in all industries. Relationships that I had formed in my prior role at the newspaper were important in helping me open doors to other opportunities. My ability to anticipate a new trend or a move by business leaders by studying the evidence became my most important skillset, a skill that was time tested by decades of work as a journalist. I told that story to potential employers as I began to move away from daily journalism. And a door opened.
Arming yourself with a well thought out plan for how your unique set of skills will be an asset to an organization is imperative for anyone who is changing careers. Knowing how to market yourself, and set yourself apart from your competition, is a necessary step to success.
Once you have evaluated the marketplace and developed a narrative of how best you will fit into your new field or position, it is time to act. Whether you are applying for a new position within your current company, or diverging from your current field altogether, forging a new career path for yourself can be daunting. Do not second-guess your decisions, and remain fearless in your pursuits.