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Confidence key when changing careers

Occupation transitioning more than just upgrading education

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Have you ever been in the situation where you've started to second guess yourself and rethink your career? Have you been asking yourself, "What am I doing here?" or, "What's wrong with me?" These thoughts and questions often reflect a sense of career unease and are usually a sign that personal job satisfaction has either slowly or abruptly come to an end.

Yet, job satisfaction is critical to one's self-esteem and self-confidence, so when your feelings of accomplishment begin to wane, it's time to seriously think about where you are in your career. Sometimes this simply means you need to add new tasks or challenges to your current job. On the other hand, it sometimes means you need to change jobs within your organization or change employers altogether in order to seek out new challenges and opportunities.

Seeking new opportunities might also mean investigating a totally different industry sector. However, one of the many questions that will arise is how to strategically reposition yourself as a viable candidate in a totally different industry sector. Keep in mind in a job search, you are the "product," so, if you want to move to a different industry sector, you have to look and act the part. To put this in a more colloquial terms, fitting into a new industry sector opportunity will require you to "walk like a duck, talk like a duck and act like a duck" the industry leaders will recognize.

In my view, this challenge can be overcome by understanding the new industry challenges, examining your transferable skills, and determining just how you can contribute. As well, you need to be well versed in the new industry vocabulary so that you can "talk" their language. Finally, your resume needs to reflect a linkage to the new industry sector and effectively presents you as an attractive candidate.

The first step is to study the industry sector in which you have an interest. What are the challenges and opportunities within this sector? What companies and organizations exist in this sector and which ones are of interest to you? Determine if there are any associations related to the industry sectors. If so, acquire their websites and read a series of newsletters. Quickly acquaint yourself with the culture of the industry sector, the nature of various activities, the language of the industry and its challenges and opportunities. In particular, watch for acronyms that are common to the industry which you will need to understand.

The second step to changing industry sectors is to identify and examine your core key transferable skill sets. This requires that you identify the tasks you engaged in, how you did each task and what skills were used. Make yourself a chart and review every single job task in every single job you have held. Also, do the same analysis for your volunteer roles. As you continue with your list of skills, you will see patterns emerge. Once you have these patterns, you will note they can be renamed in a more generic fashion. Some of the common patterns include communication skills, strategic planning, human resource management and teamwork. It is these generic skill groupings that transfer across industry sectors.

Next, take time to determine if you already have personal and professional contacts within the new industry sector. Reach out and set up meetings, inquire about the challenges and opportunities, ask for advice and additional referrals. Identify any associations that you could join and determine various networking and social activities that occur within the industry and begin to attend them. This will assist you in beginning to feel comfortable within this new environment and you will also meet people who could help with your transition

As you begin to understand the new industry sector and have confirmed your transferable skills, now is the time to revitalize your resume. Be sure to use a skills-based resume in order to highlight what you can do and what you have accomplished rather than highlighting the name of your former employer. In fact, page one should be all about your skills! Page two should demonstrate your accomplishments.

When drafting the statements about your accomplishments, take out any reference to your former employer and substitute more generic words or phrases. This allows the reader to envision potential contributions to their company. Once again, this strategy helps to focus on you as the candidate rather than on where you gained your experience.

Once all of these technical issues are addressed, you will need to prepare for the interview. Focus your attention on those transferable skills and prepare to speak on at least three accomplishments for every skill you offer. One of the key questions you may be asked will relate to why you left or are wishing to leave your current job. Be sure to focus on the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for you in the new industry.

In some cases, you might also have upgraded your education and are applying for a completely different occupation and job. Your fear then might be that your old job classification will be a detriment to your new goal. In that case, I suggest discussing your new education in a cover letter and ensuring that your new skills are listed first and foremost in your skills-based resume.

If you are indeed not only changing industry sectors but also your occupation, you may have to consider and accept the accompanying financial implications. Typically, I suggest that a senior manager consider a $10,000 increase or a drop in their pay depending on the length of time it will take for you to contribute at a high productivity level.

For those who are totally changing an occupation especially at a more junior level, you might well be offered a starting level wage. However, keep in mind that with your experience, you may have the opportunity to move quickly within the new organization. In other words, you'll find that within two to three years, your income will have increased to your satisfaction.

Finally, another key to a successful career transition to a new industry and/or occupation is to consistently demonstrate personal self-confidence. This means that you need to really know who you are, what you are good at, what you like to do and feel secure in understanding the rationale for leaving your current occupation. On the other hand, be sure you are not simply running away from a difficult situation.

Look confident, act confident and speak confidently and you will be successful in securing your new role.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, MEd. Is president of Legacy Bowes Group and president of Career Partners International, Manitoba. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 A1

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