I started my career in recruitment, it was more of a happy accident than anything planned. I was a fresh business major grad, didn’t really have much work experience and had no idea what a career is. I did love tech, so when the opportunity was there to join Microsoft as a recruiter I took it, even if I had no idea what recruitment was.
Fast forward, after 11 years in recruitment I knew I maximized my learning in the space and equally that my heart was no longer in it. I needed to find my “new thing”.
These are my tried and tested 10 steps to do a career switch.
- Do mini experiments to figure out your next role
It took me a good year to narrow down and be sure of my next domain. I was thinking chief of staff, diversity and inclusion, business manager, project management…and ultimately landed on accessibility as THE dream area.
To make sure I was focusing on the right things talked with multiple people doing each of those roles to get insights, overview of the skills they are using, day in the life and potential career path. I also “tested” my interest versus that area by bringing in projects in my day job or side hustle to assess how happy I would be doing that full time. For example, I developed an accessibility based project in my recruitment role focused on helping other recruiters develop accessible hiring practices and creating a culture of accessibility inclusion. I loved every second of it…so I knew this was right.
You can steal the framework I developed for myself: A quick framework to find your dream role in tech
- Expand your mentor list
Once I knew I wanted to switch to accessibility, I extended my mentor list to make sure I had people from that field. However, the trick is to make sure you don’t have mentors just from one area – mine have always been across different functions and even industry.
I identified the skills I wanted to grow and then matched those skills to people, focusing on expanding my network as much as possible.
Whenever I reach out to a mentor I always ask myself:
- Do our values align?
- Do they have the right experience?
- Will they have my best interest at heart?
- Will they challenge me and push me to grow?
3. Get a career coach
Coaches and mentors are not the same and they don’t perform the same function. The coach will focus on a particular goal or aim you have and provide subject matter expertise for that particular item, as well actionable techniques, feedback and act as an accountability stick (hey, it helps having somebody prompt and make sure you stay on track).
As a woman, I am well aware my male counterparts are more likely to invest into their careers and it pays off. I decided to invest in myself big time and work with a coach who helped me design my project plan, keep me accountable and help with the imposter syndrome and career anxiety I was feeling.
- Network, not magic
The biggest thing for a career change are people. When I transitioned people shared they thought it was luck, magic, a coincidence whatever. Nope, it was a purposeful goal with tangible actions and all about the people and network I made as a result.
Find ways in which networking works for you – online, through conferences and events, choose the environment that is right for you.
When reaching out to somebody for the first time, or even if you have a relationship with them, make sure your outreach cannot be ignored. Don’t do fuzzy, general messages and don’t go with the “let’s have a coffee chat” approach without clearly stating your agenda.
Here is my tried and tested outreach formula:
- Start the message with making it about them, not you. Less me, me, me and more them, them, them.
- Do it genuinely, and here are some ideas: Share something they did / say which impacted you positively and explain what that impact us
- Reference a piece of information they posted which you found valuable and share another article or source for the same topic which they might find of interest
- If they really enjoy a topic and post about a lot online, comment on it. For example if somebody has 20000 photos of otters on the Twitter chances are they really care about otters. Engage them on the topic.
You don't need to know a person to apply this framework, it works just as well on cold messaging. You can research a person's Twitter and LinkedIn and decode based on their professional networks what elements you can engage over.
- Once you opened the message about them, then you can bring it to you. Make it VERY specific. Explain you are in pursuit of "X" and you would like their input on "a", "b" and "c" related to X. Example: I am interested in switching my career to accessibility and would really appreciate your input on how you did the same switch and share more about my current strategies and ask for your feedback.
5. Gain experience
The dilemma of career switchers - how do you get the experience you need in order to switch to the new field of interest?
Some things you can try:
- Develop a side hustle or passion project in the area you want to switch to. April wanted to pivot from finance to SEO marketing. She started and grew from the ground up a website focused on easy home cooked recipes. Her focus – developing good content and SEO lead growth
- Volunteering – a lot of non-profits are always looking for people to help. Let’s say you want to be a web developer, have the skills, but don’t have the portfolio – do that for a non-profit needing the help.
- Stretch assignment or doing it part of your job – consider avenues to integrate the work in your day job or as a stretch assignment. When I was looking to move into accessibility, I pitched the idea (and plan) to the global talent acquisition team that I would be fostering an accessibility culture in our team.
- Teach it – this doesn’t have to be in a classroom setting, it can be online, sharing things on professional social media, conferences and more. In his studies Gomo identified a gap for his fellow colleagues, where the tech course books in his school were not written in an easy way to understand. He started creating his own, sharing them on campus and gaining massive popularity. He developed a brand of being the person who can explain tech content to people in a way that is approachable and friend. There is no surprise he landed an evangelism tech role after that.
- Learn from experts
Follow the experts in the field you are interested in and figure out what are the trends, what are the topics they are talking about, how are they getting their information, what events are they attending and more.
- Build your own knowledge
Each person is different and so is learning, but assess what is the “skills gap” to your desired role and make a plan on how to develop those skills through things like book, courses, additional education, learning by doing and more. Often times you will have a mixture of all of this and it’s important to have a learning plan with bite sized you wish to achieve per week.
- Re-create your professional and personal brand
Your personal brand is the best CV. It can open doors before roles even exist and trigger interest for potential recruiters and hiring managers.
You online presence is part of your personal brand, so think what you post, where you post it and how that contributes or can help you achieve your next career goal.
As I was planning for a switch to accessibility, I would post all about disability and accessibility on LinkedIn – I was slowly, but intentionally, changing my image from the “recruiter” to the “accessibility enthusiast”.
Additional resource: Seven tips to writing a perfect CV for a tech company
- Make a project plan
As the saying goes “goals without a plan are just dreams”. With the help of my coach and plenty of feedback from my mentors, I developed a 6 months career transition plan to include….everything: what I was learning, what I was doing to build skills, who I was networking with and how often, who I was engaging with and how often and so much more. Without it I certainly would have not achieved my goals and certainly not in the same period of time.
- Battle the imposter syndrome
I was no stranger to the hater inside screaming “I am not good enough”, “you will never achieve this”, “just give up and sit down”.
When that happens here are some strategies to quiet down that counterproductive voice inside.
Journaling exercise 1 (ask yourself and write down):
- Am I worried about anything? If yes, what am I worried about?
- Is it a valid concern? How likely is it to come to be?
- If valid, how can I prepare for that event taking place? What solutions can I put in place?
Journaling exercise 2 (ask yourself and write down):
If my best friend was feeling this way what would I say to them and what advice would I give them?
Activity 1: text-able tribe
If you have an accountability buddy / a group of people you highly trust and you know they are real, want the best for you and you can trust their advice then you can reach out to them for advice and have them “kick your behind” when fear gets in the way.