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Career Changing in the Great Recession


  • Changing careers in this economy is tough. For some it is necessary, because their industry has vanished, and for others it is necessary because they simply don't want to do what they've done in the past. Although difficult, it can be accomplished in this economy.
  • The further you venture from your former career, the tougher it becomes. Moving from consumer products marketing to healthcare administration is a major leap; moving from engineering into technical sales is not as big a jump.

How to change careers is a book in itself, but I’ve been getting requests on how to change careers in this economy, so here are some of the basics.

Bear in mind that changing careers in this economy is far more challenging than in a normal or high-burning economy. At the executive level, employers normally try to hire people who have experience doing the same or similar job in their industry. That doesn’t mean that you can’t change careers now, but it will be far easier for you to stick within your industry, unless your industry has completely tanked and you have no choice but to look outside of it.

The more radical the change, the more difficult career changing becomes. The closer you aim to what you’ve been doing in the past, the easier it will be. Moving from being the VP/Merchandising for a retailer into healthcare marketing is a major career change.  Moving from being the VP/Sales at a company that manufactures electronic automotive components into a senior sales management position with a manufacturer making electronic subsystems is a less drastic career change. Your past experience will be far more relevant if you bring some expertise that is valuable, besides your innate leadership skills and ability to learn quickly (which almost all career changers tell potential employers, and which employers have heard so many times that it long ago stopped being believable). 

Is changing industries considered a career change? Yes and no. Moving from being the CFO of a manufacturer to becoming the CFO of a hospital is tough – the CFO oversees healthcare reimbursement at a hospital, which is a complex and specialized field, foreign to anything a CFO in any other industry has done. Moving from being the CFO of a manufacturer to being the CFO of a distributor is not as significant a change, and a place where you’re far more likely to be successful.

Do you start at the bottom of the ladder? Unless you’re entering an entirely new profession that requires certification and training, such as nursing or public school teaching, you won’t get hired for an entry-level position. Sensible employers won’t expect someone with 22 years of construction project management experience to start over as a route sales rep reporting to a 27-year-old sales manager. They will assume that you won’t be manageable by someone at that level, and will leave as soon as a better job appears. If you can demonstrate strong business development experience in your project management positions, they may consider you for a sales management role, however.

Job hunting techniques differ when career changing. Recruiters aren't likely to be helpful. It's also unlikely that if you apply to an ad that your resume, with your non-traditional  background, will be pulled from the pile of 1000 applicants that ads are generating these days. Networking is the most effective technique, and direct mail works for some who are not attempting radical career jumps. (For more info on job hunting techniques for career changers, click here.)

Resumes used by career changers should differ from those staying in their industry/field, but not as much as you think (never go to the functional resume because you're career changing). Use a longer summary (but no more than 2/3 of a page), and change the language on your resume to put it into the language of your intended new industry. (For more on resumes for career changers, click here.)

Be wary of organizations that repeatedly hire career changers. This is by no means an absolute rule, but take a hard look at the organization that wants to hire you if you are changing careers. How high is their turnover? Does your new boss seem rational? Some companies, particularly small companies run by entrepreneurs who have a tremendous technical or creative gift and have poor people and general business skills, hire strangely. I’ve seen companies that have a habit of hiring people they meet on the golf course or someone their brother-in-law sent their way, or turn the checkbook over to convicted embezzlers who they think have reformed. These companies make one hiring mistake after another. If it makes no sense that they are hiring you, or if the place is filled with people who have made radical career changes and haven’t been there long, you’ll probably be getting yourself into a loony bin from which you’ll either get fired or run for your life.




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