Saturday, July 30, 2005

Making Career Changes: How easy will your career change be?

If you're among those considering making career changes, understanding the basic dynamics behind the relative ease or difficulty of the type of career change you are considering is important.

Here's the hierarchy of ease of making a career change:

1. The easiest career change to accomplish is one where your career change is to the same job title in the same industry.

2. More difficult to accomplish is a career change to a different job title in the same industry or to the same job title in a different industry.

3. Significantly more difficult is making a career change to a different job title in a different industry.

Understanding why this hierarchy is true builds on my discussion of understanding the primary driver behind the hiring process in a previous post. (You can listen to my podcast on this topic if you prefer.) Bottom line, the hiring process is driven by avoidance of risk.

The least risk to an employer is hiring someone who has demonstrated that they can do the job by having done the job in the same industry as the employer's. That provides the most proof that the person being considered can do the job. That's why most position descriptions include a requirement that applicants have some number of years of experience doing the same type of work in the same industry.

A notch higher on the risk profile for the employer is hiring someone who has done the same job in another industry or who has done a different job in the same industry. Either introduces a whole new concept of uncertainty about whether the person can satisfactorily do the job and the chance that a hiring mistake will be made.

From the employer's perspective, that risk rises to almost impossible to overcome levels when they consider someone who wants to change to a new job title in a new industry. The employer has a difficult time finding the level of proof that the individual can do the job that they need to be comfortable with the hiring decision.

Strategies for Career Changes to a Different Job Title and/or Industry

1. If you want to make a career change to a position having a different job title in a different industry, consider doing so in two steps, rather than one. First obtain a position and experience with either the desired different job title or desired different industry, because that is much easier to accomplish. Later, take the next step to achieve the other change.

2. Provide as much proof as you can to demonstrate that you can perform well in the new job title or new industry. You will need to translate your past experience and expertise to the new title or industry so that the potential employer can readily see it as proof. Don't expect them to do it. Your resume should be specifically tailored to provide this proof. Also, you will need to develop stories you can tell about times when you demonstrated these abilities.

3. Generally, you will need to go around HR departments to be considered. HR has a responsibility to protect the company from making hiring mistakes, and part of that is to prevent unqualified applicants from getting in the door. To help in this duty, they put up "qualifications" like specific experience that will be used to screen you out. You will need to get your information in front of decision makers in a way that they can see your qualifications and over-ride the process set up to protect them.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

What Drives the Employment Process?

This entry is a Podcast. To listen, just click the icon "Play Podcast."

Show Notes:

Host: Jim Hughes, Christian Life Coach

The employment process is driven by minimizing risk that the employer will make a mistake in hiring. Click here for a further discussion of this subject.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Advice If You're Considering Moving to Real Estate

Here's a good article with some good advice and cautions if you're thinking about a career change to become a real estate agent just because the real estate market is hot. I know a number of people who have made that jump during the past few years. A few are making it, several are struggling, and several more are leaving it to go back to their former careers.

Career Change Example: Teacher to Builder

Here's and interesting story about a teacher who became a builder. It includes some good points to consider if you are thinking about a career change.

Internet: Friend AND Foe of Job Seekers

The Internet has made major changes to job seeking during the last decade. Some of these changes are good, and some of them bad. Some uses of the Internet for job seeking, whether just changing jobs or changing careers, are effective. Some are disappointingly ineffective. Some are effective uses of your time and energy. Some are distractions at best, and harmful to successful completion of your job search at worst.

If you haven't read my previous post, which explains that mitigating risk is the primary driver in the hiring process, you might want to do so as it provides a foundation for understanding why much of what is available via the Internet is ineffective.

First, let's deal with what doesn't work well.

1. Internet sites that promise to match job seekers with employers don't work well. In fact, for people who rely on these sites as their only strategy to find a job, about 5 people in 100 actually find a job. If you're in IT, finance, or medical fields, the success rate is higher, around 10%. If you're in any other field, the success rate is generally less than 1 in 100. (Source: 2005 edition of What Color is Your Parachute)
  • These sites do list real jobs, and that information is valuable in itself. But these sites also receive an incredible number of resumes and responses. While the logic behind these sites seems to have so much promise, they often simply fail to make the promised matches.
  • Nearly everyone I have worked with who has posted to these sites hears from people wanting to talk to them about jobs not related to the positions they apply for -- what I call positions with low barriers to entry. These are generally sales positions of one type or another where the company will provide you training while you allow your trainer to work all of your friends and family to sell them your product. These operations use the Internet sites as an ongoing source of lead generation disguised as jobs.
  • Only 15-25% of all open positions are ever advertised anywhere. If you rely on positions listed on the internet, you are restricting yourself to only a small portion of these positions, and ignoring most of the available postions!
These sites are good places for research. They provide information on positions that are being listed and companies that are hiring. They also have abundant information on writing resumes and other job searching skills. Use them primarily as research sites.

2. Electronic submission of resumes has become almost standard operating procedure for employers of any size, but also is very inefficient.
  • This practice started with the promise that software could help scan resumes and pick out the most promising candidates for human review. The fact is, the software doesn't work very well, especially if you don't very carefully tailor your resume for what the software is looking for.
  • Further, the databases that handle the resumes continue to get larger and larger as the number of resumes build. It's estimated that there are now millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of resumes in these databases. Finding anything meaningful is suspect.
  • Additionally, it is intimidating for humans on the hiring end to sift through all the data these systems spit out, so if other options for finding people to fill the positions appear, they take them.
You may have to submit your resume to a company using an online system, but if so follow up by sending a physical resume by mail and by email -- or even better, have a contact inside the company hand it to the hiring manager (not HR).

Now let's cover what is good about using the Internet for job searching.

1. The Internet is an amazing tool for doing research on companies and positions.
  • Most organizations of any size provide information on open positions within their organization on their web sites. You can find out a lot about what types of needs a company has just by studying their web site.
  • You can often find out who the decision makers who will decide who gets interviews and utimately the job by doing some Internet research. Many job postings will provide the title of the person the position will report to, or the name of the organization within the company. You can then do a Google search and often find the name and even the contact information you need to present yourself to the decision maker. This is extremely valuable information. (If this doesn't work for a given situation, go to your local library and enlist the help of a librarian -- they have access to subscription sources that may provide the information. Alternatively, put out the word in your network that you need a contact inside that company.)
  • You can learn a lot about the company and whether that is an organization you would fit into and like to work for. Start with a Google search, and don't forget to do a Technorati search -- no telling what is out there on blogs of people who work for that company.
2. The Internet is a valuable source of advice and tips and techniques for job seekers and those interested in making career changes.
  • Monster, Career Builder, and other matching sites all have abundant and helpful information of this type.
  • Many universities and state and federal sites are good sources of employment information, including interest and career testing.
  • Many career coaches and career counselors post good information on career selection and career change.
The Bottom Line
  • Use the Internet for research on positions, companies, to get contact information, and to get career advice, tips, etc.
  • Minimize reliance on Internet sites for finding you a job. One professional recruiter suggests that you spend no more than 5% of your time and energy on the Internet for your job search.

The Employer's Perspective: Minimize Risk in Hiring

It's important to understand the employers' perspective while you're doing your job search or making your career change.

While ultimately the employer's goal is to fill the position, their decision making is all about minimizing risk. A whole system and set of practices has grown up around risk avoidance in making employment decisions. Understanding this can give you a significant advantage in finding the job you want.

Simply stated, the major risk is that the employer will hire someone who can't or won't do the job in a satisfactory way, and then the employer will be in a position of having to either live with an unsatisfactory employee or go through the pain of having to fire the new employee. No hiring manager wants to be in the position of having made the decision to hire someone that turns out to be a major mistake for the company.

There are several ways that employers try to avoid this risk. Employers follow a heirarchy that looks something like this:

1. They look to hire someone they know. Employers always prefer to fill positions from within because they know the person and they know something about the person's performance. In the minds of employers, this has the least risk because there is proof concerning the person's character and ability.

2. If they can't hire someone they know, they look to hire a person that someone they know and trust knows. This has the next least risk, because there is trusted testimony about the person's character and ability.

3. If neither of these avenues fill the need, then employers look to hire someone that can present proof of their character and ability. This proof generally takes the form of a proven track record. The potential employees have completed the educational and training programs that have been shown to produce people with the right abilities, they have a number of years of satisfactory performance in a similar position with another company that offers proof that they can do the job, and they can give specific examples of times they have effectively done the tasks that the position requires. The hiring process that most employers follow is designed to gather this proof -- and to quickly eliminate any applicant whose information suggests that they might not meet one or more of the criteria.

Understanding the employer perspective makes understanding why some job search strategies are effective and why other strategies are not straightforward.

1. Strategies that rely on submitting resumes through internet search engines and matching services, responses to want ads and professional journal ads, mailing resumes at random, and using employment and search firms are statistically the least effective ways to find a job. They all present the most risk to the employer, and entail the most work for the employer in trying to develop some level of proof that the applicant will be a satisfactory employee. These are the strategies for which employers have set up an intricate set of screening stages which are all aimed at determining why an applicant is NOT qualified for a position. Experienced resume screeners spend less than 15 SECONDS looking at a resume before making a decision -- and that decision is made with a bias of eliminating the applicant from consideration.

2. Strategies that include the testimony of someone who the employer knows and trusts produce much higher success. This is why networking is so valuable. Just having someone inside the company hand your resume to the hiring manager makes all the difference in the world, even if they don't have first hand knowledge of your work.

3. Strategies in which you make personal contact with the employer at your initiative are even more successful -- because then the employer has a level of first-hand knowledge about you. (It's interesting that the employer's feeling of risk goes down as your perceived level of personal risk increases! It feels personally less risky to toss resumes over the wall than to have to risk rejection by making calls and personal visits.)

Summary? Effective job search strategies require personal interaction with the employer and the presentation of proof that you can do the job.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Great Resource

This entry is a Podcast. To listen, just click the icon "Play Podcast."

Introduction to Making Career Changes and discussion of What Color is Your Parachute.

Host: Jim Hughes, Christian Life Coach

Link to What Color is Your Parachute

Faith and Job Loss

When our career or job leaves us, we think something went wrong with our faith. We ask questions like,
  • "Why has God allowed this to happen to me when I'm one of the good ones -- one of his followers who is active in serving him and his church?"
  • "Why haven't my prayers for daily provision, stability in my life, and protection from job loss been answered?"
  • "What's wrong with me that God has sent this time of struggle?"
We're like the people who asked Jesus, "Is this man's blindness because of sins of his parents or because of his sins?" We seek direct cause and effect for losses we suffer in life. We want to think that when something bad happens to us that it's because God is angry with us -- because that's the way humans behave.

In fact, we've constructed a reverse theology that's built on this very logic. It's basic tenet is that God won't allow bad things to happen to his followers if they are faithful in obeying him and if they are faithful in praying for his protection and provision. That's a comfortable theology to live with, but it's false. It's simply not in agreement with what the Bible relates to us about God.

The Bible is full of accounts of good people suffering loss. Rather than a book about people who love God never having problems -- never suffering losses of health, loved ones, home, and livelihood -- the Bible gives us example after example of people who have suffered terrible loss and hardship persevering and overcoming through God's power and accomplishment and provision.

We are amazed at their continuing trust in God after what has happened to them. Job is a perfect example. Job is described as a man who loved God and was a great example to all of one who followed God. Yet God allowed Job to lose his means of livelihood, his family, and even his health. How did Job respond? He continued to trust God. In fact, the Bible says Job maintained his integrity. And when all was said and done, God blessed Job many fold, restoring what had been lost and more.

Life according to the Bible is not about never suffering loss and having to endure hardship. It is about maintaining absolute trust in God when you to suffer loss and difficulty in life, and that God will get you through it, not by your own power, but through his power and accomplishment.

That's the true faith perspective to have when your job or career leaves you. So you need a new set of questions:
  • "What is God going to teach me about trusting him through this loss?"
  • "What can I learn about worshipping him and serving him when things are not going the way I want them to?"
  • "Where is God leading me through this experience?"
  • "How will God's power and accomplishments be shown through my difficulties?"

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 NLT)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Career Change is a Spiritual Journey

Major transitions in our lives, especially those that involve loss, tend to be spiritual journeys. That's one reason I'm attracted to working with people making career changes.

In our culture, career provides a big part of the fuel for our identity -- for who we are. While I think it's a horrible practice -- and a habit I'm working hard to break -- our first question when meeting someone new is almost always, "So, what do you do?" It's like we think that if we can get that answer, then we can understand who they are and neatly file them away in a category.

It's an ingrained part of our culture. We tend to value people by what they do -- by what their career is. And we tend to value ourselves in the same way. If we can put a label on what someone pays us to do, we tend to feel better about ourselves. It becomes a big part of who we are.

When we suffer loss in the career aspect of our lives through job loss -- from being fired, being laid off in a downsizing or reorganization, or being early retired -- we are suddenly faced with having to rethink the question, "Who am I?"

Maybe for the first time we dread having to answer the question, "What do you do?" Having to answer, "Well, I was a __________, but now I'm between jobs" can be a dreaded moment. A major basis for our self esteem has been lost.

We come to some conclusions that we might not have faced without job loss.
  • We recognize that we are not really in control of our own destinies. Even though we've done the best we could and done everything we knew how to do, we've ended up losing our jobs.
  • We understand how important career success has become to our feeling of self worth, to our identity as a person. We know that this should not be what governs our self worth, and begin to re-evaluate.
  • We feel a deep need to connect to a God who loves us no matter what, and who will provide us guidance and meet our needs during this time of loss and crisis.
Again and again as I've worked with people who have suffered job loss, I've seen evidence of spiritual growth.
  • Prayer lives become stronger.
  • Reliance on God's provision, rather than on effectiveness of their own efforts, grows.
  • Time spent in Bible study and meditation increases.
  • Knowledge that their true worth comes from being God's child rises to pre-eminence in establishing their self-worth.
I don't think I've worked with anyone during the past three years who didn't express gratitude for the spiritual aspect of their journey.

Suffering job loss is difficult at best. Having it result in spiritual growth is such a good thing.

Your Local Librarian is Your Career Change Friend

In working with folks who are between jobs, and particularly those facing career change, I find that they often are unaware of what a great resource their local librarian can be in their job search. In an age of tons of bookstores and the ease of ordering both new and used books online, many of us have forgotten the benefits of public libraries.

First of all, most of the books that you will find helpful are on the shelves of your local library. All you have to do is walk in (you'll have to sign up to check them out unless you already have a card) and start browsing. And you'll find that it's a lot cheaper than picking up a handful at your local bookseller or online.

But probably more important, your local library has librarians -- people who are trained in doing research to help you find information you need. Here are a few things they can help you get that you might have a hard time obtaining on your own:
  • Information on the fastest growing businesses in your area.
  • Contact information (names, phone numbers, addresses, titles, etc.) of leaders and decision makers in local companies. This information allows you to target decision makers (rather that HR departments) with your information.
  • Local organizations that decision makers in companies that you are interested in are members of. This is valuable if you want to attend meetings or functions of those organizations in order to meet such people.
  • Career information that is in subscription-only databases.
One of the first stops in your job search or career change journey should be your local library.

And you'll make a great friend of a librarian when you enlist their help in doing some research -- that's what they love to do.

What Color is Your Parachute?

You'll find that as this blog develops, that I'll often refer to the book What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles. You'll find a link below where you can find more information about the book and buy it online if you like. A new edition is published annually. Primarily, the new editions provide updated statistics on job search strategies and have minor rearrangements of the content. But you'll find that older editions still have all of the basics, so if you have an older copy or want to pick one up at a used bookstore, that will work fine with you. Also, don't forget that there are copies in your local library along with lots of other books and materials that you will find extremely useful.

Here's the Amazon link to Parachute:

Sunday, July 24, 2005

When Your Career Leaves You

There are times when people are required to make career changes because their career leaves them.

Traditionally, we think of manufacturing jobs going away. We've seen entire manufacturing industries go away. Textiles was an early example. Steel is another good example. More recently it's been computer manufacturing.

As we began to understand that in the U.S. we had moved from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, guess what? We learned that knowledge careers and jobs can go away as well. A lot of these jobs that have disappeared have been IT jobs, outsourced overseas. But others have just disappeared.

This may be the most difficult career change to navigate. These are typically career positions which have paid well with good benefits and have provided a degree of status. People have been recognized for their expertise and rewarded for it as well. When the need for that expertise goes away, it's really hard to chart a path forward.

Here are some of the obstacles that people whose careers have left them often encounter:

1. Your identity is heavily invested in the career niche you have been well rewarded for. That's who you are. Turning loose of that identity is extremely difficult for any of us. Because you have a hard time letting go, here's what usually happens:
  • You continue looking for a position just like the one you had, even though the evidence all tells us that there aren't any.
  • You slowly become convinced that you're unemployable. No one wants someone like you to do what you know how to do. Other factors such as age may creep into the equation.
  • When you can't be who you are (because you've allowed yourself to be defined by what you do), your self esteem takes a huge blow. The grief cycle, which all of us who lose jobs go through naturally because we have lost something, becomes prolonged and often more severe, particularly the anger and depression stages.
  • You reach a point where moving forward seems impossible.
Individuals in this situation also seem to generally choose job search strategies that statistically have low success rates.
  • Internet job sites (Monster, Career Builder, etc.)
  • Reading and responding to want ads in newspapers and professional journals.
  • Mailing out resumes (or submitting resumes online) in a random fashion.
  • Using headhunters (retained search firms).
These are all low success-rate strategies. We generally choose these strategies because they are something we can do that doesn't carry much personal risk of rejection. We can just toss information out there and maybe something good will happen. When these strategies don't result in a job, it just adds to our feelings of helplessness.

If this is your situation, there is hope, and there is a way out.

First, you have to recognize that your career has left you. It's not your fault. But it's happened. To move forward, you have to accept the facts.

Second, you need to recognize that you have skills, knowledge, and experience that is transferable to another career area. We all do. Sometimes our employments systems themselves help convince us this is not true. But you do have abilities that can lead you to a new career.

Future posts will provide help in moving forward, but if this is a position you find yourself in now, here are a couple of suggestions to help you get moving forward:
  • Read, and more importantly, do what the book What Color is Your Parachute? says. There's a reason it's the best selling book on getting a job ever written.
  • Go to your local unemployment agency and do some testing to better understand your potential career options. Many of these are also available on the internet, if you would prefer that option, and most colleges and universities also offer this type of testing.
  • Consider hiring a life coach or a career counselor.
Feel free to leave questions or comments on this post, and I'll address them in future posts.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Why People Change Careers

Changing careers is a major step, so most people won't change unless there is something really pushing them to do so. Here are some major reasons people make a career change:
  • They are fired from their current job. There can be all kinds of reasons for the firing, from poor performance to personality clashes.
  • They are laid off in a reduction in force. Their job has gone away. This is actually the most common reason I have seen in the last few years. Layoffs are common, and this one is one of the more recent to be announced. A person who is laid off may be able to find a similar position with another company, or they may have to make a significant career change to be employable -- i.e., that job with that company may have gone away, or most jobs of that type have gone away.
  • They have been pushed into retirement. The average first retirement age in America is around 57 , due to companies favoring offering early retirement as a way of reducing payroll. Many, maybe even most, are not ready not to work. They may be able to find a similar position in another company, may decide to consult, or may make a significant career change to do something they've always really wanted to do, even start their own business.
  • They dislike their job and decide to change careers to find increased job satisfaction, more income, better life balance, or any number of other goals.
  • They choose to retire to have a more balanced life, but want to work because they enjoy work and it's important to them.
  • They want to do something that makes a difference. It's not that they don't like their current career, but it's no longer focused on what's really important to them. Increasingly, we see people choosing this option and entering the nonprofit world, or becoming a teacher, or becoming a minister.
No matter why people make career changes, there are steps that all go through in making the transition. That's what this blog is about: how to change careers successfully.

Welcome to the "Making Career Changes" blog (with some planned podcasts as well)