Career Coach: Orchestrate a successful career transition


(Mike Shapiro/For Capital Business)
June 3, 2012

Have you ever seen a job posting that looks like a great opportunity … if only you met the qualifications? It may not be exactly what you “do,” but don’t let fear, a lack of confidence, or the perception that you don’t possess the correct combination of necessary skills prevent you from applying for a position you think you would love.

Sometimes we get so caught up in technical job descriptions that we forget we have important skills that easily transfer from one position to another — be they leadership, strategic planning or communication skills. If your dream job opportunity presents itself, figure out if you’re right for the position and prove it.

Here are steps you can take to give yourself the confidence to move forward and apply:

Step 1: Do your research. Learn as much as you possibly can in the time you have about the position and the organization. Talk to others in the field and in that particular profession. Ask about the competitive landscape and best practices. This will help you get a clear idea of the position and the skills it will require.

Step 2: Seek out honest feedback. If you haven’t already, seek out people you trust and ask them to honestly and critically assess you, ideally multiple people. Ask them to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. Be sure they are willing to be very honest. You want someone who will tell you if they don’t think you are the right fit. There have to be some areas where you can improve. If they are totally complementary, they are not taking a critical enough look.

Often it helps to seek people in higher positions who are more advanced in their careers. I’ve found that as people get older and climb the ladder, they tend to be more honest and helpful. They had assistance and guidance from others on the way up and will often want to help you, too. And if they don’t think now is the right time for you to seize the new opportunity, they can often offer a road map to get you ready.

Step 3: Weigh the advice. Take the feedback you received and determine if your strengths and weaknesses align with the opportunity. For example, if my colleague tells me I’m a poor listener, I probably should avoid pursuing that sales job. You can use the advice to improve.

Step 4: Pinpoint your transferable skills. Take a hard look at your experience. Determine how what you’ve done in your career has prepared you for this opportunity. Seek input from a successful leader in the field you are pursuing. They can help you determine the most important skills in their field.

Step 5: Rewrite the résumé. Don’t even think about sending the same old résumé. Use your past experience to sell how you’d be a great fit for the position you want. For example, if you’ve spent 15 years in the public relations field but you want to lead a nonprofit, use your resume to showcase how your past successes have prepared you for this new challenge. On the surface, it might not look like it, but once you take all that experience and reposition it to fit the new opportunity, suddenly, you’re qualified. Specific accomplishments of which you’re particularly proud might not apply to the new position, but you can be more general to demonstrate that you’re a leader, an agenda setter and a strategist.

Step 6: Go for it! If you’ve done your homework and really prepared, you have little to lose. Even if you don’t get the position, people will now perceive you as a contender. They will see you differently, in a positive light. You still have your job, and most likely, you’ve opened some new doors. Keep looking for opportunities.

Ken White is an executive communication coach and assistant dean of marketing communications at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. He teaches in the Smith School’s MBA and executive education programs.

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