In November of 2017, LinkedIn introduced a great new feature called ‘Career Advice’. They call the tool “lightweight mentorship” and it can connect you with people who can help you navigate questions you may have regarding specific fields, career progression, etc., or, if you choose to mentor, you can give back and help people who will benefit from your experience. You can read more here:
I signed up to see how the tool works and am pleased to say that I’ve had some great interactions and conversations with people about their career development. I’m not sure how the tech wizardry works to match people but I’m seeing some patterns in the questions so I figured this would be a great time to share my tips and suggestions on this subject matter. The majority of the inquiries I am seeing ask how to change careers or get that first job in your chosen field without any direct experience.
For the sake of this article, let’s establish that you’ve finished your schooling and now want to pursue your field (if not, think about getting education relative to your field of choice as a starting point). How do you get that foot in the door to prove you’ve got what it takes? You just need a chance and you’ll be amazing, but between lack of experience, applicant tracking software that stops you before you even get started and recruiters who will not even take your calls, how do you get that big break? Do not lose hope and do not despair, I am here to help!
Connect the Dots
You need to help the hiring managers and recruiters see how your experience and education will position you for success in the role, especially when you are changing careers or looking to get your first job in your chosen field. If your work experience does not align with the job you want, you need to reconsider your resume format. Many resumes are structured in a chronological manner to show your growth and progression over the years and the roles you’ve held. This format does not work if you are trying to transition. For this purpose, I would recommend a functional resume or combination of both. This will focus less on actual direct experience but instead on the skills and abilities you’ve got that are transferable. You can search samples on the internet and take a crack at revamping your details to showcase your skills.
Additionally, you need to utilize the cover letter differently when you are trying to help build a bridge between your actual experiences and the job duties in a new or different field. Don’t expect the recruiter or hiring manager to know that your experience as a volunteer camp coordinator means you are excellent at administrative duties, scheduling, leadership, customer service, etc. Explain it in the letter. You need to invest time in weaving the past together with your desired future. Build that bridge and they will cross it!
Pep up Your PR
You’ve built a great resume and look amazing on paper, now what? Look at your LinkedIn profile. What does it say about you? The format on LinkedIn pushes the structure to more of a traditional chronological order but you can finesse your profile to showcase your new educational knowledge and abilities. Utilize your headline to pop your passion for your field. Highlight relevant educational learning in your summary. Talk about your transferable skills. Get a business professional photo that mirrors what others in your field look like. Upload a cover photo that aligns with your new chosen field. Start looking like the professional you intend to be. Fake it until you make it! (And by fake it, I mean conduct yourself as if you already have the job. Don’t actually fake information or experiences. Really, don’t do that!)
“Currently Seeking Opportunities” is a no-go here. It feels desperate. On LinkedIn, you need to make yourself seem like a catch (because you are) – not that the people need to do something for you. It sounds like, “I need you to come to me with a job”. You are not passively sitting there and waiting, and if you are, that won’t actually work. Right or wrong, there is a perception or stigma that if you are out of work, there must be a reason. Instead, showcase how you are going to make their lives easier. Reframe your headline to tell employers and recruiters what you will bring to their workforce or organization.
You should also consider focusing your pursuits on LinkedIn to your chosen field. Make a goal to share at least one field-related article a week on LinkedIn. Post about your school, things you’ve learned, etc. Follow successful thought leaders in your new field to stay on top of trending information. The more (relevant) activity you produce, the more people will have you top of mind for opportunities that come up.
Want to make your LinkedIn pop? Here are some additional tips:
People Hire People
With a serious lack of actual experience in your field, you can safely assume that Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) is not your friend. That cold and impartial technology is designed to eliminate applicants down to a chosen few. It is looking for reasons to cut you out. Don’t lose hope! As the great Grant Larson once said, “People Hire People” (okay, he says it all the time, actually, and I’m not sure if he actually coined the phrase or if he heard it from someone else, but since I heard it from him, he gets my credit).
The best way to get a job is by connections. Networking really is a great strategy. Join relevant associations. Tell people how excited you are about this career change and see if they know anyone you should speak with. Start by reaching out to people in your new field to ask them for their advice on navigating a career in that area. Try the Career Advice light mentorship tool I mention above. Connect with people in your desired field through LinkedIn. Never ask them for a job directly, that seems needy (and rude) and most people won’t do a favour for someone they do not know. Asking them about their careers and for advice is a great way to get started. People love talking about themselves and are generally open to those kinds of meetings. Plan for the meeting to be brief and offer to buy them coffee. Be flexible with your time to align with their availability. Make it easy for them. Honestly, focus almost entirely on them and their career. Call it an information meeting and go in with a curious and inquiring mind. You can say you are looking for work if they ask about you but then turn the conversation back to them. They will remember you when it counts.
Want some networking tips? Read here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/work-your-network-michelle-dulmadge/
Walk the Walk
There are ways to build your actual experience. If you have taken schooling and had projects, you can use those examples or experiences when you are trying to help a hiring manager understand your knowledge and thought process. If your educational institution has a practicum or co-op program, you can speak about what you learned there – it doesn’t matter if you got paid or not, experience is experience. There a number of volunteer opportunities available that may need someone with your educational background. Not only would it give you a chance to use your skills but you may make some great contacts and get a glowing reference, plus you’ll feel valued for a job well done!
Talk the Talk
Once you get the interview, you need to study up on the skills and experiences required for the job. Make a list of what they are looking for and how you match those skills. Practice ways to talk about the fact that your skills and abilities are transferable. Although you do not have direct experience, what do you have that you feel would prepare you for the work? You’ve got to sell yourself in that interview. They need to walk away feeling like you will definitely help them and that they can work with you.
Keep it Real
It is also important to be realistic about your job search when you are changing careers. If you lack experience and are in a career change, your earning capacity will be lowered. You need to remember who your competition is for those roles. Unless your skills are incredibly transferable, you are probably not looking laterally in terms of compensation. If they are hiring, and have budget for an entry level accountant, the fact that you are a lawyer with a passion for numbers does not mean they are going to pay you at a lawyer salary. You may have been the best lawyer around but the pay rates will be competitive for the field and level you are transitioning into and not necessarily all the additional experiences that you bring with you (as amazing as those may be).
Be prepared to speak to salary when you get a call. If a recruiter asks you for your salary history, avoid the answer. This is not the time to brag about your previous earnings. The wrong answer may get you cut before you have a chance to dazzle them. The better answer would be that your previous salary and compensation information would not be relevant to what you are looking for now. If you can note a salary range for the job you are applying for, I would suggest this information as your salary expectations. Let the recruiter know that you are interested in the role and would assume that whatever they pay relative to the market would be sufficient. You can do your research online in advance of that call so you know what is reasonable. This is not an issue if you work in certain US States that forbid the question in the first place.
Get to Work
Remember that lucky breaks don’t actually come from luck. You need to work as hard at finding a job as you do at the actual job itself. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating that no one is going to fight as hard for you as you need to for yourself. Keep learning, keep networking, keep trying, and good luck!