TopResume's career advice expert tackles how to successfully make a career change.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in our latest edition of #OfficeHours, presented by TopResume! You asked some great questions on how to make a career change, and it was a pleasure to share my job-search advice and career tips.

Below is a link to the video from our Live Chat, along with a summary of my tips for making a career change, and my responses to your questions on switching jobs. For more career advice and information about upcoming events, please like us on Facebook and sign up for our free, weekly newsletter.

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#OfficeHours Live Chat: Changing Careers

How to successfully change careers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average professional changes jobs 10 to 15 times over the course of his or her career, and it seems as though this number will only continue to increase. For some of you, that idea may be terrifying. But for those who are feeling stuck and ready to make a change, it’s nice to know you're not alone.

Now, you just have to figure out what you want to do and how to get there. Easy, right? Let’s start by going over a few exercises that will help you identify the right career move.

Job exercises to find your dream job

Below are three exercises that will help you identify the right job opportunity for your career path.

Nine Lives

Imagine that you have nine lives. In each of those lives, you must work. You're not going to marry rich, win the lottery, or suddenly receive a ton of money in somebody's will. Every job has equal prestige. However much money you need to make to be happy, you're making it. Whatever skills or experience you need to do that job, you have it.

Now, what job would you hold in each of those nine lives?

The idea behind all the conditions is that they eliminate your knee-jerk objections to the jobs that truly interest you. In other words, it takes away the need to say “but.”

  • “I’d love to be a doctor, but I can’t afford to go to medical school at this point in my life.”

  • “I want to be a ski patroller, but the pay isn’t enough to support my family’s lifestyle.”

  • “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a country singer, but I don’t have raw talent required to be successful.”

Ignore the “but” that immediately pops into your mind and write down the nine jobs that truly interest you, no matter how unrealistic you believe they are. If you’re having trouble thinking of nine separate careers, think back to your childhood. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Do any of those dreams still resonate with you today?

Once you have your list, take a step back and give it a good look. While many of these careers may not be realistic options today, they can help you identify important themes, such as a love of art, the need for autonomy, or an entrepreneurial spirit, that will guide you towards your new career path. Remember, the types of jobs that didn’t make the list can be just as telling as the ones that did.

Billboard Top Hits

Think back over the course of your life and ask yourself, “What accomplishments am I most proud of? What things have I done that I really get excited to share with people?" Make a list of the top five to 10 proudest moments.

This list can include things you achieved at work, while you were in school, and in your personal life. An accomplishment can be very small, but as long as it's important to you, that's what matters. Then, boil that list down to the top three to five proudest moments.

Once you have that list, consider why those moments are so important to you.

  • What was your motivation behind that project or activity?

  • How did you get involved in the first place? Did you raise your hand for the assignment or were you assigned the work?

  • What was the focus on the work? What skills were you using?

  • What was the environment like? Was it collaborative with tons of communication or where you working independently?

  • Were you leading the group or were you working in a team?

Think about every aspect of those top three to five moments. That's why I call them the billboard top hits. Just write down everything you can think of about those situations, particularly why it made you so happy. What were you proud of?

Use this information to help you better understand what you’re great at and passionate about. Again, you’re looking for themes among these moments that will help you define the perfect job opportunity or career path.

The Nitty Gritty

Take out a piece of paper and make a list of every role you've held. It can be volunteer positions, it can be internships. It can be paid, non-paid work. Short-term, permanent, full-time, part-time. You get the idea.

Make a list of everything you've done, and then put two columns next to that. In the first column, write in nitty-gritty detail what you enjoyed about that role — your boss, the work environment, the people you worked with, the industry, the job you were doing, the commute (or lack thereof), or the compensation. Be as specific as possible. Then, in the second column, describe in nitty-gritty detail what you did not like about each position.

Similar to the Nine Lives exercise, take a step back and look for themes among your notes that will clue you into what types of jobs and companies are best for you and which aren’t. For instance, if you wrote down that you hated all your bosses, perhaps it’s a sign that you’re better off working on your own as a freelancer or consultant or exploring entrepreneurial roles.

Related: Ask Amanda: How Do I Find My Dream Job?

The goal of all three of these exercises is to identify your ideal career situation, including the values of the organization or project that you want to guide your work, the skills you want to leverage most in your role, and the work environment that best suits your work style and personality. Then, use this information to explore alternative career paths.

Example #1:

You find that you tend to gravitate toward the arts, but you can't draw to save your soul. However, whenever you get to crunch numbers and play in Excel sheets with pivot tables, you’re a happy camper. That's quite a random mix, I'll give you that. But how could you marry those two interests together? Is there a number-crunching job in a company or in an industry that you would enjoy? Perhaps an analyst role in digital marketing would do the trick.

Example #2:

You find yourself binge-watching TV shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy. And although you’re very drawn to the field of medicine, you have no desire to go back to school and become a doctor. However, there may be a way to leverage your existing sales and marketing experience to work at a pharma or biotech company.

The moral of the story is to look for creative ways to combine the skills you have with the things that you’re passionate about and you find to be meaningful.

Still not sure what career path is right for you? Click on the following link for more job-goal exercises.

How to conduct informational interviews for a career change

If you’re interested in a particular field or industry but have no idea how your skills may fit into that world or where you’d start, it’s time to give informational interviews a try.

The concept of the informational interview — also known as an informational conversation — was first introduced by Richard N. Bolles, author of the popular job-search book, What Color is Your Parachute?

The idea behind an informational interview is simple: You, the professional considering a career change, will set up meetings with people who work (1) at companies, (2) in industries, or (3) in fields that interest you in order to gather more information before choosing a particular career path.

Conducting informational interviews is one of the most underrated, yet very effective, networking techniques. It works well for anyone looking to make a career change or break into a new field, whether that person just graduated from college, is experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis, or is interested in an encore career later in life.

Start the process by running some advanced searches on your LinkedIn profile to find people in your existing network who work in areas you’re interested in learning about or who are connected to people who do. Also, make a list of the social butterflies in your circle of friends — author Malcolm Gladwell refers to them as connectors in his book, The Tipping Point — and see if they know anyone who works in a line of work that interests you. I also recommend looking for people who attended the same school as you, as those collegiate ties tend to be very beneficial when you’re looking for help and advice.

Then, reach out to each of these people to set up an informational interview. Here’s an example message you might send to a friend-of-a-friend if you haven’t been formally introduced:

Subject Line: Hello from [Mutual Connection]’s friend

Hi [New Contact],

Our mutual friend [friend’s name] recommended I reach out to you, as I’m exploring different career options and am very interested in learning more about the [field or industry]. From what [mutual friend] has shared, it sounds like you’ve had quite an amazing career [at a specific company or within a certain field]! I’d love to buy you a [beverage of choice] next week and learn more about your experience. Please let me know if you’d be open to meeting, or if you’d prefer to chat over the phone instead. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

[Your Name]

Remember, the goal of an informational interview is not to receive a job lead. Use this conversation, instead, to learn about your contact’s professional journey and how they got to where they are today, to gather more information about the industry or field that interests you, to discover how your skills could be applied to a role in that area, to understand which of your transferable skills should be played up on your resume, and to find out what skills you may need to develop in order to be considered a more attractive candidate.

Related: 8 Best Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview

How to change your resume for a career change

When you’re changing careers, there’s a good chance your resume will get shorter because you’re going to re-evaluate every role you’ve held and only highlight the information that supports your new job goal.

Based on what you’ve learned about your target field from your informational interviews, re-evaluate your work history. For each position you’ve held, consider what tasks you completed, skills you used or built, and results you created that employers in your new target industry will care about. In some cases, you’ll need to strip out the industry-specific terms from your previous career and “translate” your experience into terms your new field of interest will understand and appreciate. For instance, if you’re a sales professional with experience in the automobile industry and you’re trying to transition to a sales career in the beauty industry, talk about how you met or beat your sales quota using dollars or percentages rather than referencing how many cars you sold.

If you’re unsure what language is appropriate for your new career path, start digging into the websites and trade publications your networking connections suggested and look at sample job postings online to see what terms are being used. This exercise will also help you identify any skill gaps you’ll need to fill.

How to fill the skill gaps on your resume when you want to change careers

There are a number of ways in which you can bolster your marketable skills so you’re a more attractive job candidate for your career transition.

Start by looking for classes, seminars, and other courses online and in-person. For example, you can learn a new skill for free or a low cost online using sites such as Udemy, Skillshare, edX, Coursera, and Lynda.com. These are really helpful if you need to learn a new tech skill in order to be competitive in the job market. General Assembly offers online and in-person classes in New York City for those interested in careers in design, marketing, technology, and data. The American Management Association® (AMA) offers seminars and other classes that focus on business, leadership, and analytical skills. For those of you seeking a career change later in life, the Plus 50 Initiative offers a wide variety of training opportunities. Also, Google “Encore Fellowships” for more information on education programs dedicated to re-careering. Many trade shows and industry-specific conferences offer workshops, certification programs, and other seminars that can help you build your network of relevant contacts and learn a valuable skill. Check out 10times.com to discover conference and trade shows around the world.

Explore skill-based volunteer (SBV) opportunities are a great way to build up a skill while helping a good cause. Skill-based volunteering programs match professionals with nonprofit organizations based on the volunteer’s skill set and the nonprofit’s needs. Visits sites like Catchafire, Taproot, the Corporation for National & Community Service, and Points of Flight to find a skills-based volunteer opportunity near you.

If you possess a skill that’s important for your career change but you don’t get to use it during your current job, consider taking on a freelance job or consulting opportunity that would allow you to put that relevant experience at the top of your resume.

Related: Changing Careers? 7 Changes to Make to Your Resume

Q1: How do I explain that I’m a good fit when I don’t have a traditional background for the role?

“When changing careers, how do you get over the hurdle of "not having the right background” for this role?" - Sean C.

Here at TopResume, we believe everyone has a story to tell, and we’re here to help you tell the best version of that story. A large part of that has to do with storytelling and marketing. The reason job seekers need a 360-degree view of their personal brands is because everyone wants to hear a story these days. Think about how can you tell that story. What about what you’ve done in the past has led you to this role and what skills have you picked up along the way? Look for opportunities where you can spin your story on its head to work for the role you want next.

For example, “This is what I learned about myself... what I’m great at and passionate about… and that is why I’m pursuing this type of position going forward…”

You also want to show how you are taking steps to become a better fit for the company, industry, and the role you’re targeting. Be aware of the skills the hiring managers are looking for and figure out how you can demonstrate how you’ve developed those skills in an unconventional way or that you’re actively acquiring those skills or that knowledge.

To show you’ve been active in their industry, your social media activities can come into play. For instance, if you’re trying to move into a creative role, your Instagram account, blog, or online portfolio can be used to demonstrate your relevant skills. If you’re trying to highlight your knowledge on a certain topic, you might share articles or publish your own using Linkedin.

Q2: How can I use my new degree to transition from retail to the corporate world?

“I have been a retail manager for over 18 years. I just received my MBA and I would like to change my career into the corporate world. Please advise how would I make the change into corporate America?” - Mark W.

If you had a steady retail management career at one or more companies, start by looking at the corporate job opportunities available within those organizations. It will be easier to transition to a corporate position at one of these companies (assuming you’ve been a model employee) since you already know something about the company and have relevant industry experience, which is always a plus. In addition, many large companies have internal job boards or career sites just for their employees, which means you’ll have an inside scoop on the job opportunities that open up. If those don’t work, look at your employer’s competitors because you have marketable industry experience in addition to your new credentials.

If you’re worried about moving into a corporate setting, leverage the career services offered at the institution where you earned your MBA. Take advantage of what they have to offer because (a) it’s free and (b) it’s part of their job to help you find a job.

Q3: How do I explain employment gaps during an interview?

“In an interview, how do you explain to a prospective employer why you took time off between jobs to pursue personal goals?” - Lem J.

Frankly, if the interviewer doesn’t ask you about your gap in employment, don’t bring it up. If you already landed the interview, this employment gap might not matter to them. After all, they invited you in for a job interview, right? Still, you should be prepared with some sort of answer, should they ask you about the gap. It’s all about how you spin your career story. Talk about what you did during that time off that helped you clarify your job goals going forward, build relevant skills, or gain experience that will make you a better fit for your new role. It’s better to take a little time to figure out what you truly want to do next than to jump from job opportunity to job opportunity without a good sense of your career path. Click on the following link for more tips on how to handle the employment gaps on your resume.

Want more information on how to successfully change careers? Click on the following links to access our entire #OfficeHours Live Chat video and read all of our articles on changing careers.

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