How to find a new career path with your current skills

Are you considering a switch in your career direction? Do you wonder what other careers might be suited for your education and experience? This week’s podcast is with Susan Basalla, Ph.D. and co-author of “So What are you going to do with that?” This book was written out of her own journey questioning what to do with a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Having decided not to pursue an academic career, she asked the question, “So what am I supposed to do now?” Due to a change in your employment situation or through recognizing that you need a change in the direction of your career, you may be asking the same question. The good news is that you are not in an unusual situation. Every year approximately 10% of professionals switch careers or sectors. While a large group of professionals transition every year, it seems like a very daunting task. I frequently get asked 2 key questions about this transition.

1. Is it possible to take my education and experience to an entirely different industry?

In my conversation with Susan, she shares a key thought on transitioning. “You need to get your head ready. The emotional and psychological issues leaving a career path creates internal and external challenges”. I couldn’t agree with her more. For many, this is what I call an identity issue – The “I AM”. We tend to create a story about our life through our career and educational choices. I am a teacher, I am an engineer, I am a lawyer, etc. We invest a lot of our time, energy and emotion in our career paths. Part of moving forward is to be willing to release our mindset and emotions from traditional thinking based upon our education and the logical career titles that evolve from this path. You need to interrupt this mindset and give yourself permission to consider alternative career choices based upon your education and experience.

Changing our path also has some external challenges with friends, family and the job market itself. Many of those closest around you may feel safer if you stay on the path you have chosen. Part of what you need to do is consider how to share your journey uncovering and exploring other possible career options with your background rather than abandoning the path that you originally chose. For employers, remember, there are many great examples where managers have promoted or moved employees into different career paths. Your choice to move in a new direction may seem like one giant leap from mankind when in reality, many other professionals have shown the ability to transition well into a new area or sector of the economy.

2. How can I find a different career that suits me better?

Susan shared in her book a wonderful principle, “Soul searching before job searching. There is no one size fits all approach to assessing your skills and career options that match. This takes a good toolset, time and expert support”. Many professionals have been frustrated by the results of basic career testing, and I don’t blame them. I am not talking about answering 100 questions and determining what color you are, or making a career decision based upon a 4 letter acronym. Some of those basic tools are great starting points, however, we are complex and we need toolsets that can help us understand strengths and passions in a more comprehensive way. We need to deal with our career like we deal with other important things in our lives. If that sounds like I am promoting services like ours, I am. Getting to really know yourself is the foundation to finding a different career path.

The second part of this journey in identifying a new path is to match your skills to a range of different career choices. Meet with a wide spectrum of people in your network and start the conversation with them about their career and educational choices. Ask lots of questions, be positive, open and curious about their industry and company. Think of this like you are going on a trip and getting to explore a part of the world without having to make the commitment to move there. You will be surprised what you discover. This part of the journey is the most exciting part, but also the part that many people struggle with. If you can push through your own internal barriers, you will be surprised how helpful and supportive most people are. Gathering this insight will really help in getting to some specific conclusions on possible options.

Finally, don’t underestimate the economy and your ability to move in an entirely different direction. As Susan said, “Strong, independent thinkers can’t help but carve out interesting careers.” Next week, I am going to share how to network and market yourself in a more comprehensive way. Personal marketing has never been more important, not only when you are considering a change in career paths, but also in tight job markets.