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How to make a career change without leaving your current company

Making a lateral move to a different department or function can allow you to explore a new opportunity without having to start over completely.

How to make a career change without leaving your current company
[Source illustration: urfinguss/iStock]

While a good number of people participating in the Great Resignation are seeking flexibility, many employees are leaving due to general unhappiness with their job. The physical distance from the office provided a lot of us time with time reflect on what we really want and what’s important. For many, the answer is a career change.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people who quit their jobs in July 2021 was 5.8 million and the number of people who were hired was 6.7 million. While people are leaving jobs, more are starting new ones. Among the ranks is Stephany Foster, senior vice president and head of human resources at the molecular diagnostics firm QIAGEN. She recently transitioned from being global head of internal auditing to a new role as head of human resources.

“I had been expanding and doing other things in my role, including working on our company’s diversity and inclusion initiative,” she says. “I worked closely with the then-head of HR and the CEO, and I really enjoyed the experience. I mentioned to the head of HR that if there ever was opportunity to transition into HR, I’d like to try something new.”

Shortly after the conversation, the role of vice president of compensation and benefits opened. “It combined my background numbers with my interest in HR,” says Foster, who took the lateral move. “It allowed me to transition into HR.”

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The Importance of Staying Where You Are

It’s natural to think a big career change requires a company change, too. But for anyone thinking of transitioning into a different function or department, Foster recommends looking for an opportunity is with the company you know—and the one that knows you.

“I had been at QIAGEN a long time,” she says. “No other company will give the opportunity that your own company will.”

One of the skillsets that employees often undervalue is company knowledge, says Foster. “They overlook the fact that companies need to build up a person with company knowledge when they come on board,” she says. “For this reason, companies are often open to department changes.”

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Choosing people from within the company’s other departments also helps with silos. “Cross company moves breaks them down and improves communication,” says Foster.

Be Patient

Foster recommends being vocal about your desire to move. In addition to talking to the head of HR, she told her own manager that she was interested in doing something different and was looking for other opportunities within company.

“Networking within your company is important,” she says. “Put your name out there. You never know who might resign the next day. It takes patience, and the move has to be right fit for you and the company.”

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As head of HR, Foster sees the benefit of making your wishes known from the company’s perspective. “When somebody resigns, we have to find someone to bring in to fill the opening,” she says. “We may not think of someone from a different department unless they put their name out there. When you let people know, you could be thought of as a potential fit.”

Gather Related Experience

If your career change is a big leap, such as going from finance to human resources, Foster recommends gaining experience by taking on an extra project or initiative in the area in which you’re hoping to transition. This helps you build your skillset, as well as your network. And it can help you identify potential opportunities for you and your company by being in the right place at the right time.

Foster volunteered to be part of her company’s diversity and inclusion initiative. You can seek similar opportunities. For example, if you want to go from finance to marketing, you could volunteer to write posts for the company’s internal newsletter about taking advantage of the organization’s financial benefits. Or if you want to move from operations to sales, you can volunteer to hold workshops with the sales team to help them understand the ins and outs of your company’s product line.

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Rethink the Career Ladder

By staying with your current company, you’ll have a greater chance of making a lateral move or at least one that doesn’t require you to take something entry level.

“Think of your career path as a jungle gym,” says Foster. “Sometimes you have to go backwards a bit to go forwards. Your career is not a perfect line like the monkey bars. It can help to view your transition this way. I took a lateral move to do something different and eventually moved into the head of HR role.”

In some cases, you may need to take a pay cut, cautions Foster. “Know it may not always be an upward projection, but it could eventually put you where you want to be,” she says.

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Moving into a new role sometimes requires looking at it as a long game.

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