Seven Radical Steps for Career Changers

Raise your hand if "Get a New Job" is at the top of your list of New Year's resolutions. Whether you're currently "spending more time with your family," or toughing out another year in a company you would have surely fled in a better economy, you're probably wondering what you can do in 2010 to improve your chances in a brutal market.

Nick Corcodilos, aka the "Ask the Headhunter" guy, recently published a new book chock full of tips for the thorniest of job-hunting problems: "How Do I Change Careers?"

Nick09-L2Unlike job hunters roaming the turf of a familiar industry, career changers face even more daunting hurdles. They typically don't have a network of industry friends, they don't have a resume stuffed with industry-specific accomplishments, and they often face the dismal prospect of having to jog down a few notches in the corporate hierarchy to make up for lack of experience.

If those hurdles aren't enough, they're often going about the process in all the wrong ways, says Corcodilos. "They're all victims of brainwashing about what it means to look for a job," he says. "The current wisdom says to crank up your network, polish your resume and get it out there. It's all oriented to having you get your documents out there, in the hope that somebody will figure out what to do with you."

That's all wrong, Corcodilos says. Instead, job seekers should practice reverse psychology. Enough about you! What about the person who needs to fill the job?

"The notion of building your personal brand is pure bunk," he says. It's a narcissistic view of how you get ahead. It's about feeling the employer's pain. If you want to pull off a career change, you need to give hiring managers a specific business plan as to why they should allow you into the organization."

Here is Nick's radical plan for devising a more fruitful job search.

Step 1: Give yourself the freedom to explore. Forget that you're looking for a job. First, you have to figure out where you want to go. We're talking "blue sky" here. So head to the library, an old school but shockingly useful treasure trove of helpful information. Forget the Internet. Too focused, too virtual. Right now, you need to roam the periodicals section, allowing yourself the luxury of following wherever your interest takes you. After you're done reading In Touch and Rolling Stone, sidle on over to the trade publications and start nosing around. Gather up a few publications that interest you, and see if you can find any patterns. Jot down notes on stories that generate a spark. Start drilling down into specific companies, taking notes on their business prospects, their revenue, their problems, their successes. And start taking names. The people mentioned in stories about a company are typically their movers and shakers. You'll need them for Step 2.

Step 2: Armed with information about four or five—no more!—companies where you think you would enjoy working, pick up the phone or ferret out an email to get in touch with the people on your list. Don't ask for an informational interview! They'll drop you like a hot potato! Instead, come up with some thought-provoking question that might inspire the person on the other end of your missive to engage. Ask them what they're reading these days that influences their work, ask about an industry issue. The point is to establish a connection, get a little more information, and see if this industry is actually one that would be a good fit.

Step 3: Simultaneously, you should be figuring out how to meet more people in the industry you've targeted. What are the events, training programs, blogs, online communities, and organizations that attract these folks? If you can connect with some of them via friends, all the better. Just remember: The key is to talk shop with them not belabor them with your career aspirations. Ask for advice and insight—not job leads.

Step 4: If, after all this researching and chatting, you're still keen on the new industry, you need to figure out how your current skills map to a future employer's needs. Figure out the work function you're most interested in and the skills it requires. What are you missing? Do you need more education or training? Is that a deal breaker? You may have to trade income and status for a chance to learn the ropes.

Step 5: If you're now as up-to-speed as you're ever likely to be, it's time to get serious. With a grasp of the problems and challenges your prospective employer is facing, you're now ready to draft a business plan for the job you want. This doesn't have to be too detailed. You're not expected to know the nitty gritty of the company's balance sheet. The goal is to demonstrate you've been thinking about THAT COMPANY's specific problems, and what you could do to help them.

Step 6: Using the contacts you've developed, try to find a manager who might hear you out. This is NOT about answering a posted job listing. This is about all those jobs that never get posted—or don't even exist until you've shown that they should create a job just for you.

Step 7: Now, for the tricky part. Let's say you've impressed the hiring manager with your creativity and pluck. but you still don't have the background that the other folks on his or her team have. Time to negotiate! Point out your relevant skills and suggest that if you meet a certain number of milestones toward new skills in a certain amount of time, you can revisit the compensation question. Changing careers often incurs costs, but you should treat it as an investment.

The market is admittedly tough, Corcodilos concedes, but "good companies are still looking for good people who can help them make a profit." Why shouldn't it be you?

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  • Paul Copcutt

    If there was a different phrase (other than personal branding) would it sit better with you Nick? After all, much of what you are saying, I have to agree with Leonard, any good career coach or counsellor should be offering - hardly radical, more like common sense for the new world of job search.
    And with so many employers now using the web to check you out, not even a mention of leveraging the likes of LinkedIn to ferret out those contacts - maybe that is radical.
    Personal branding, career marketing or whatever label you would like to attach to this approach is here to stay and it is certainly not just about firing up networks and polishing resumes. Headhunters were using reverse candidate marketing years ago, perhaps what they are not so in favour of is the candidate doing it for themselves?
    Just my toonies worth.

  • Bruce Barnett

    I tried to send a note about correcting the book title to "How CAN I Change Careers?" but couldn't get that to work so I am submitting this suggestion as a comment.
    Thanks for your blog!

  • Rachael Donaldson

    Some good advice, mostly as a refresh for those back in the job market. And Nick, as a Brand Professional, I have to tell you--if you're getting press hits and edit in places like FC you should really think about upgrading and updating your website. It's a hot mess which probably doesn't portray the personal Brand you're after.

  • Leonard Lang

    A lot of good points--but mostly what any coach or employment counselor would tell you. Building a brand or writing a resume or networking is ALWAYS about figuring out how to solve someone else's problems and not a "narcissistic" exercise as stated here. Anybody just talking about their great skills hasn't bothered to check in with any book, article, blog, Twitter career expert, etc etc as no one suggests that.

    On a more specific front: Come up with some thought-provoking question that might inspire the person on the other end of your missive to engage. Asking a clever question is a possibility (probably best in LinkedIn or Twitter job group) but hardly a grabber for most people. I am finding my coaching clients changing careers are not being "dropped like a hot potato" as suggested here, but getting enormously helpful results from informational interviews--everything from how to market services to a particular group to most meaningful coursework to lots of new contacts. Still a top way to get the inside story and connection.

    Leonard Lang

  • Anonymous

    Lovely insightful advise, except dear Nick, pick up the phone?? Seriously is this 1989? Is it just me, or is calling is SO way back in the past and a cardinal sin that employers will drop you like a hot potato for? What strange industries are you involved in?

  • Joseph Allan

    Lovely insightful advise, except dear Nick, pick up the phone?? Seriously is this 1989? Is it just me, or is calling is SO way back in the past and a cardinal sin that employers will drop you like a hot potato for? What strange industries are you involved in?