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Changing your job function or industry requires careful planning and research. The challenges multiply when you are trying to do both at the same time.
In 2010, I quit my job as a poverty campaign co-ordinator at a non-profit and enrolled in a full-time MBA at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business in the US. This became a two-year transformational process that culminated in my current role as associate product manager at McCormick, a US-based flavour and food company.
The challenges for career switchers
When you have been working in one profession for a while, it can be difficult for recruiters to picture you in a different role. For example, one problem I faced is that many people in the corporate world believe that people who work for non-profit organisations do not care about the financial bottom line. Here are some tips that I learnt to overcome people’s misperceptions and to change my career.
Highlight relevant skills and mind your language
It is essential to point out transferable skills, using the terminology or language of your desired industry. To address the previously mentioned misconception about non-profit financial literacy, I explained to recruiters that in my former role, I was responsible for creating a budget by soliciting grants and then allocating that budget appropriately to create maximum impact, in a similar fashion to that of a brand manager with his or her brand’s budget.
Further, since budgets and resources were very limited, I had to manage my budget effectively so it would stretch further. When I spoke about leading a national coalition of organisations as proof of my experience in managing groups and motivating people who did not report to me, I would describe this as akin to “leading cross-functional teams” – one of the key phrases of my current job description.
Never underestimate the power of an informational interview
To learn more about your targeted career destination and its ‘language,’ seek informational interviews with employers and those working in your potential dream job. This is especially important for career switchers trying to explore their options.
I did hundreds of informational interviews during my time at business school. Most of these conversations lasted 20 or 25 minutes over the phone, but whenever possible I met the person face-to-face because they were far less likely to forget me that way.
I ended every informational interview with the same question: “Can you think of anyone else with whom I should speak?” Half of the time they said yes! Speaking to more individuals helps you build a network that you can turn to for assistance when you are ready to start applying for jobs.
Tailor your CV or resume
Career changers need to take a critical look at their resumes, which might tell the wrong story. My own bullet points portrayed me as a “non-profit woman” – not the image I wanted to bring in a corporate interview. As I recrafted my resume, I had to cut loose some accomplishments that were personally meaningful, but did not contribute to my profile as a brand marketer or product manager.
An effective and easy trick is to copy and paste the job description of your dream job to create a word cloud on, for example, Wordle, and note what key words appear. Then do the same to your CV or resume. Compare the word clouds and note the similarities and differences. Do you look like an ideal candidate for this role? This proved to be an eye opener for me.
Fill the gaps in your profile
The next step is to identify vulnerabilities in your skills and knowledge and do something about the missing experience. This is why the MBA internship is so valuable – it gives you an opportunity to add the relevant competencies and buzzwords to your resume.
I knew my targeted industry was food, so I found a part-time internship during the school year with a small organic food company, which led to a full-time summer internship with a large consumer packaged goods group – Campbell Soup Company. When I was at Campbell, I gained skills and knowledge – including data analysis techniques to assess the performance of a product in the marketplace – that are highly relevant for my role now.
Do not panic if the right offer does not come quickly. Many parts of the hiring process fall outside your control, but you should respond to setbacks with grace. Nobody will fail to be impressed by a sincere thank you after a rejection.
By the time the right opportunity opened for me at McCormick, I was not a random person applying off the street. I had multiple interactions with people who worked there and knew a great deal about the company culture. And that got my resume on top of the stack.
Becky Eisen is an associate product manager at McCormick & Company, the US-based food group.