Rachelle Canter, PhD, president of RJC Associates in San Francisco and author of Make the Right Career Move: 28 Critical Insights and Strategies to Land Your Dream Job, says the cardinal rule of career change is “not whether you can do the job; it’s whether someone will hire you to do the job.” That means you have to convince prospective employers (or lenders or investors, depending on your approach) not only that you want to change professions but also that you’re capable of doing so.
Building bridges, as mentioned in step two, can help with that. But so, too, can rethinking your experience and, especially, rethinking how you present that experience on your résumé. Canter says not to focus on chronological experience at various jobs but instead to show quantifiable accomplishments. “You may have sold soap suds in the past,” she says, “but a track record of hitting or exceeding sales quotas will be relevant and powerful to prospective employers.”
Catherine Breet-Byers, chief stripe changer at Arbez, Inc., a job-placement firm in Eagan, Minnesota, tells me something similar. She says soft skills, such as leadership and project-management ability, are easily transferable from one industry to another. But communicating how they transfer is the key, and professional résumé writers can help with that process. “Understand what the new industry is looking for,” Breet-Byers says, “and explain, in a language they can understand, how your skills are transferable.”
Sylvia Acevedo knows something about explaining things in different languages. She’s a former engineer who worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before reinventing herself. First, she built a bridge by getting hired as an engineer for high-tech firms like IBM. After that, she moved out of engineering and into more traditional business for Silicon Valley firms. During the tech bust around 2000, she career jumped again and became an entrepreneur. Acevedo now owns CommuniCard, a consulting firm based in Austin, Texas, that makes translation products to help businesses communicate with workers who are new to English.
“You have to be grounded in the languages different institutions use,” she says. “While your company might call something a request for proposal, [a company in another industry] might call it something different. You have to know those key phrases.”