Career Changers for the Win, Alex

How many different jobs did your parents have?

Your parents probably worked three to five jobs in one or two fields during their entire careers. Even if they switched careers more than twice, the roles they held were often closely related, if your folks were typical of their generation. Like cars on an assembly line, each job prepared a worker for the next promotion in an orchestrated script that was the career ladder. This was the reason for the advice that a resume should be “no more than one page” until you had more than a decade of work experience.

Today, a two-page resume is considered standard for most early-career professionals. It’s not unusual for a person with only 10 years of work experience to acquire that experience working in two or three different fields. Some people hold multiple part-time jobs in different industries simultaneously and can end up with a career that looks like a patchwork quilt. Career changers are a growing segment of those seeking employment, and this trend will only continue.

Here’s a hypothetical example. An individual may start out at the level of administrative support in a small business, grow into a project coordinator position at a marketing agency while creating websites as a side hustle, then move to a program management role in the fundraising communications department of a university. Each job involved a unique combination of tasks and each focused on a distinctly different industry.

This type of career path is actually a great way to gain valuable experience while learning about different fields, but it leads to a challenge that many of my clients grapple with. If you’ve worked in disparate fields doing substantially different tasks, how do you frame your experience into a coherent narrative when you’re beginning a job search?

How do you tell your story if you’ve worked in varied jobs?

Strategy: Talk about resources, not tasks.

Looking at the example above, a person’s titles may have been administrative assistant, project coordinator, web designer, and program manager. Those titles focus on the tasks involved in each role. When you itemize the tasks required of each position, there may be very little tying them together. It may look to a hiring manager that a candidate was just jumping from one job to another whenever the new job looked interesting, hopping along from role to role without deliberate thought.

Described in terms of information and resources, however, this seemingly disjointed career path makes much more sense:

  • Facilitated the flow of information (administrative assistant)

  • Directed the flow of information and resources (project coordinator)

  • Packaged information and resources for consumers (web designer)

  • Gathered information and used it to allocate resources (program manager)

When framed this way, there is a logical progression to the roles that involves increasing levels of resource management and greater discretion in the decision-making process. The side hustle of web design fits neatly into this narrative, rather than looking like a diversion along the path.

Incorporating an overarching narrative into your job search helps refine your resume and cover letter, your interview responses, and even your networking strategy. Once you can tell your story coherently, many aspects of the job search fall into place easily.

Telling your story in a cogent, compelling way is the most important step in a career change. Give it a try, and be sure to let me know how it goes!

You might enjoy another blog post related to this topic, What’s Your Story?

If you might find it helpful to work with a coach to help you articulate your career narrative, drop me a note! You can sign up for my email list as well, and I'd be grateful if you followed me on Twitter.

Photo: A Volkswagen assembly line in 1960 at Wolfsburg, Roger Wollstadt, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0