Career is an interesting word. Originating in the 1500s, from European and Latin languages; a career (n.) meant a racecourse, or running a course. Career used as a verb, meant to charge at tournament or advance rapidly. With the coming of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, the word evolved to its current meaning. Today, we use career to describe a profession; or a job you’ve been doing for an extent of time. Our understanding of the word career today pertains to a long term, steady progression in work life. Yet, when it comes to our careers, the origins of rapid advancement and charging into tournament still haunt us.
This may be part of the reason why it is so important to have goals connected to your career. Goals serve as a target for your journey. Goals come in all shapes and sizes. From day-dreaming about winning the Best Employee award, to imagining yourself at the summit of Everest, people dream. While goals vary immensely, one scale all goals sit highly on is “Ability to Achieve.” Winning the award and reaching the summit of Everest are within your reach, regardless of your inhibitions, as long as you follow effective goal-setting strategies. Specific goals may change as you progress in your career, or experience setbacks, but understanding of the racecourse you are running is vital.
Planning to change your career?
Maybe you’ve made the conscious decision to change careers. Or, maybe your career changed without you having a say in the matter. Either way, you are going to be heading down a different road. Before you change lanes or turn onto a different highway all together, pause. Now’s the time to step back, reevaluate where you want to be and take stock of your talents that are apt to get you there.
Take Stock of “You”
Who are you? What do you love? How do you spend your time? Are you happy spending your time that way?
The only way forward is to know where you’ve been. Engaging in an inventory of your interests, values, motivations, time and resources will give you a baseline of where you want to project yourself. If you have a goal in place that does not reflect who you are, is that goal worth pursuing? No.
Work from “Big” to “Small”
An example: You’re a Retail Sales Assistant, who wants to become an Office Manager. You’ve reflected on your financial, social, creative, public-serving, and values-oriented self, and who you would like to be moving forward. Now, in those terms, start big:
“I am a Retail Sales Assistant who will become an Office Manager for a Fortune-500 company in the travel industry.”
And work small:
- I will up-skill my qualifications to become an administrative assistant.
- I will gain experience by accepting entry-level administrative work, while continually up-skilling and building my professional network in administration and travel-industry circles.
- I will learn how to manage other individuals, in order to become an Office Manager.
And keep going, until you have the smallest increments:
- I will hone my skills and prepare for my professional career by learning courses and by networking with individuals at travel companies where I would like to work.
- Once I get a role as an administrative assistant, with any organization, I will progress through the ranks until I am prepared for leadership.
- I will then turn my focus to my target organizations, and start applying to higher-end administrative roles.
- Once I get a role at my target company, I will progress to Office Manager.
Envisioning and working towards the plan is the next step on your career path and goal achievement. One way to envision your plan is to make a Career Goals Log. In the first row make the following columns: Goal Name, Want to Achieve in x Months,Want to Achieve in Next x/y/etc. Years, Core Skills, Core Skills I want to Develop, Learning/Training Path, and Comments/Follow Up. In this document you’ll have an organized way of laying out your short and long term goals for your career. Some of these headings might need clarification so we will go over them here using the retail sales assistant example. Your spreadsheet should look something like this: Career Goals Log
Under the Comments/Follow Up heading you can include things like the name and date of a leadership seminar you took, or the date you started job shadowing your supervisor and any feedback or advice he/she has for you with regard to your career path. Remember that this is a living document so add comments whenever you can!
Once you have a visual representation of your goals you’ll want to identify your strengths and weaknesses and begin working towards the core objectives and skills you listed. If you’re a pro at customer service and restocking items try to focus on one or two things daily that you consider a weakness, like sales or cash handling. This will help bring out the “career coach” in you and take you from where you are to where you want to be.
Switching careers can feel overwhelming
With the thousands of potential issues that could arise and dozens of fires that might need to be put out, just the thought of jumping into a new career entirely can feel overwhelming. The transition alone can feel tough, let alone the steps you need to take to make that transition a reality.
Let’s think of this anecdotally — Meet Jessica Jones.
Jessica is sick of standing all day, scanning barcodes, and stocking shelves. While her friends laugh away at a stand-up comedy downtown, she’s working the closing shift (again).
Working in retail wasn’t what Jessica had in mind when she declared her college major: philosophy. But, the job market is tough for millennials with non-technical degrees. Bad news, Jessica. You’re stuck unless you go back to college.
Jessica is probably qualified for a number of positions that pay more and offer a more comfortable work environment. One of these is administrative assistant.
Administrative assistants are essential to keeping offices running, serving as clearinghouses for their departments. AAs are in charge of written communications, schedule coordination, and presentation prep. Most AAs work for teams, such as Human Resources and Marketing, but sometimes work for individual executives.
Let’s look at the numbers.
In her retail position, Jessica is probably earning in the neighborhood of $9-13 per hour. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median full-time salary for retail salespeople in the USA is $22,186. Meanwhile, the median full-time salary for administrative assistants and secretaries is $39,624.
Now, none of that means much without taking into account federal income tax, social security contributions, and all of those acronyms on our pay stubs. If we account for all of that plus a 5% state income tax, the annual salaries look more like this:
Retail Salesperson: $18,126
Administrative Assistant: $27,426
That’s a net (real life) difference of $9300. Nearly ten thousand dollars Jessica could put toward travel, paying off your her student loans, buying a car or saving for a house, or finally moving into her own apartment.
So, with nothing but retail experience and a liberal arts degree, how can Jessica get her resume past recruiters and HR to be considered for an administrative assistant position? It’ll take more than just reworking her resume, but it’s totally doable in 12 weeks.
Week 1: Upskill
Check this list of typical skills and duties of an administrative and executive assistant.
Which of these skills and programs can you add to your resume right now?
- Google Calendars
- Google Docs
- Google Sheets
- Google Slides
- Microsoft Excel
- Microsoft Outlook
- Microsoft Powerpoint
- Microsoft Word
- Typing Speed of 60+ WPM
A retail sales job doesn’t often involve much spreadsheet and calendar maintenance, so if you aren’t skilled in Outlook and Excel don’t worry. There are tons of online tutorials and courses to choose and start learning. Some of them are even free!
Week 3: Project
Now that you’ve learned these skills, offer to tackle projects outside your regular duties. Let your supervisor know you want to practice using these programs, and ask if he or she’d mind if you took on an additional responsibility–and promise you won’t let any of your current responsibilities slide.
Practice using Microsoft Excel or Google Docs by offering to help out with shift scheduling. Offer to create a Powerpoint or Google Slides presentation for the next product rollout. Replace displays and documents that contain proofreading errors, instead of laughing about them with your coworkers.
Your supervisor won’t play ball? Find ways to use these new applications and skills outside of work! Use spreadsheets to create beautiful charts to analyze your household spending habits and make better shopping choices. Try using Google Calendar or Outlook to maintain your work schedule, to-do lists, and appointments.
Week 9: Research
First, Jessica needs to take a good, hard look at her career and think about the skills that she’s developed and curated over the years. Those are her transferable skills, and that’s her ticket to writing the perfect, career-changing resume. As she makes a list of the skill set she’s gained, she should also start doing research on her new field. What are some of the keywords and key skills the hiring managers are looking for? Many AAs are required to be excellent communicators – both in written form and verbally—have strong experience in editing, up-to-date social media skills, and creative thinking skills.
With that research about her new field, and the transferable skills she’s identified that make her a perfect match, it’s time for her to think about other experiences that will benefit her on her new resume.
Week 10: Craft a Killer Resume
Updating and reworking your resume may seem the best step at this stage. But before you embark on that task, first do some introspective thinking in terms of your career. A career inventory of sorts. One way to do this is to use your resume as a guide for reflection. Pull out your current resume, review your current or past positions and for each ponder these five questions:
- Why did I choose to work in this position?
- What did I enjoy most about this job?
- What was I really good at while working here?
- Why did I leave this position?
- What did I learn from having this position?
Just as you are revamping your career, your resume deserves a revamp too. As a career changer, you need to give some thought to the type of resume that will work best for your situation. A chronological resume featuring your work history accomplishments in chronological order may work for you. A functional resume may help recruiters to focus on your accomplishments and transferable skills, rather than employment history. Leading with your strengths may mean you have a combination resume with a summary of skills and talents listed at the top.
The thoughts you collected doing the above exercise, will help you to rework and rebuild your resume that is future focused and pointed toward your new career goals. Structure your new resume to target the new opportunities you are seeking. Emphasize your transferable skills, relevant achievements and key qualifications that support your new objectives. Depending on how big of a career change you are making, study up on the new field, or new kind of position you are pursuing.
One of the best ways to kick-start your resume reinvention is to understand what hiring managers want from workers in the field or role you are pursuing. Check out online job portals to find jobs you’d love. Review job postings for your targeted position or industry. Take note of the experience they seek, keywords in the ad, required skills and expertise. Keep these words in mind as you build your new resume. It’s also time to craft a intriguing cover letter. Check out the below example and then work on your own, substituting your achievements and background.
Connect with people who are in the industry or already doing what you hope to do. Network within your targeted industry and let it be known you are looking for a new opportunity.
Week 12: Interview
Whichever resume type you choose, remember the ultimate goal of your resume is to open the door to actually talk to someone. When you land that interview, be prepared to talk about why you’re making the change. Relate your experiences to the position you seek and convey why you’re passionate about the choice made to make the change. Many times, employers will choose to hire the person with more will than work experience. You see, as a career changer, updating your resume can be much more than just rewriting it. It is part of your renaissance, your career reinvention.
If you’ve been continuously applying using the strategies above, you’ve probably had your first interview by now. Congratulations! Show ‘em what you’ve got.
Interested in a different career path? Explore job descriptions and up-skill yourself even if it means learning something new or going to school. Although some career changes may take more than 12 weeks, use the strategies outlined above to up-skill and market yourself to build the career you dreamed of.