A lot of people who start thinking of career change can become overwhelmed by the mystery of it. Their experience is so focused on one area, that they can’t imagine the different routines, knowledge, and people that live outside of their domain.
Most importantly, they don’t know how to communicate their worth to someone who speaks a different kind of jargon.
What should I say? How do I show I’m “good enough?” Why would anyone even believe me??
Fortunately, it’s a lot easier than most people think. Through my 65+ jobs (among them a project manager, an investment advisor, a waiter, an internal auditor…), I’ve jumped between careers enough to discover that people are all the same, and it’s your message you need to worry about – not theirs.
So what have I learned?
Today we’ll take a look at some lessons I took away as a teacher (pun intended!), and see how they relate to career change. While I’ve taught both children and adult professionals, my biggest lessons came from teaching adults.
And what I learned as a teacher showed me that, when it comes to dealing with people, there is one over-arching rule you can never forget.
But before we get to the high-level stuff, let’s cover the 6 lessons!
1. Your sphere of control might not be so clear
We can put a whole bunch of people in a room and close the door. We can have virtually everyone sit down, facing one direction. We can put one person at the front of that room, deciding what everyone talks about. And finally, we can establish strict schedules that everyone has to follow to the minute.
Everything and everyone in their place, right?
And it can all be a waste of time.
Although it seems like the instructor is “controlling” everything, he is really just a guide through the environment. He puts out the information and hopes to inspire learning, but he doesn’t have any direct control over his students’ brains.
When you decide to change careers, you can’t expect the whole job market to take notice. There are a million people out there, playing by the same rules. If you’re applying to a specific job, there will be dozens or hundreds of applicants using the same criteria, following the same time lines.
You just need to do your thing. Re-purpose your experience to suit your new career. Be strategic about where to direct your efforts. Attack your job search with vigor.
Do everything within your control, but don’t knock yourself for what’s outside of your control.
You can’t force people to learn, you can only deliver the message.
2. The delivery of the message matters
Of course, how you present that message really makes a difference. It didn’t matter how interesting I thought the course material was: that information had to be presented with the audience in mind.
Which meant that I had to mix up the message and delivery in order to keep my students’ attention. (And keep them awake!)
I couldn’t just talk and talk, nor could I just hand out binders. I had to use various media in a complementary sense. No redundancy – they all had to work together.
So absolutely design and format your resume so that it presents a good package for your experience – but don’t stop there. Get in touch with people who might want to help you in a more casual setting.
And of course, prepare for your interview.
Be expected to tell your story in many different ways, and recognize that they all serve one grand purpose – one message – but need to be used in their own unique ways.
3. People often don’t know their own expectations…
It’s funny that children have far shorter attention spans than adults, but it can be a heck of a lot more difficult keeping adults’ attention in class.
Why? Because so many of them are just going for “training.” Their boss said they could have some money to spend on learning, and they found a course that was the most easily defended. Or it was the closest. Or the cheapest. Or the one that fit in with their vacation schedule.
So many adult learners don’t even know what they want to get out of a class, that they’re almost robotic in attendance.
Lots of companies hire out of routine. They use the same posters or screening criteria that they’ve always used. Why? Because they’ve always used them!
These companies might not even know what they truly want. They just want an employee that is the most easily defended. Or the closest. Or the cheapest. Or the one whose interview fits in with their vacation schedule.
You have to pick your spots and focus your efforts in your job search. You can’t hope that only increasing the volume of applications will solve the problem. With some companies, you just have to walk away from the process.
4. …But you can often find out
Of course, those adult students were in front of me: a closed audience in my classroom. I could have just written them off, but not only are students supposed to be there to learn, but the teacher is there to ensure that they’ve actually taught something!
We can’t guarantee people will learn, but we can try. And I’ve found that if people can see that you have a message and that you’re trying to communicate, they will automatically increase their reception.
Maybe an employer is just hiring through a check-box process, and maybe you find that you actually checked all the right boxes. So you’re sitting in front of them for an interview, but they don’t seem all that interested.
This is where knowing how to sell your talents comes in. They might realize the experience they thought you had was actually in a different faculty, but that’s okay too: you’ve practiced your speech about your career change, and your message is strong.
They might not have known what kind of employee they really wanted, but if someone gives you a chance, you can show them what they need.
5. More involvement = better participation
Sometimes, when the material is particularly dense and technical, and there are tons of things to go over in a limited amount of time, the most natural inclination for the instructor is to talk.
And get through all of that material as thoroughly as possible so that the whole class can have a wonderful, well-informed conversation after the lesson.
The problem is: no one was paying attention! Unless you engage people, you become white noise.
In an interview, or in talking with your references or network, definitely try out some sales pitches. But remember why we call it an “elevator speech” and not a “train ride speech.”
We introduce an idea, then back away for questions. Then we answer the questions, and posit another point. And exchange more questions and answers.
What does all of this sound like?
Something people in the old country used to call “a conversation.”
No long-winded speeches, please.
6. Sometimes you don’t have anything to say until you start talking
The first time I taught a course, I was struck by how sparse the materials were. A whole bunch of PowerPoint slides, each with only a few minimalist bullets.
And then I looked at the manual to see that, nope there were no secrets: I had to use those truncated phrases to stretch out three days’ worth of instruction.
So I came up with some additional stories, and scribbled some notes about the main things I wanted to cover. But it all added up to a heck of a lot of nothing.
Until I just went ahead and delivered it. Not only did I find ways to elaborate, but students asked questions, which led to in-depth conversations that were probably more valuable than the materials themselves.
While I always tell my clients to prepare for interviews, you can’t pretend that you’ll know how every conversation will go. You need to be able to describe who you are and what you can do – and after that, be open to not knowing where the conversation will go.
That’s not to say that you should fly by the seat of your pants, but you should know going in that a lot of it is beyond your control. Practice what you can control, adapt to what you can’t.
In the end, there is an obvious theme running through my teaching lessons that you probably already guessed: good communication is not only critical, it’s a two-way street!
You can’t just present your experience and hope for the best. People won’t get on board unless they hear your value, understand it, and appreciate why they need it.
Fortunately, by addressing this from the outset, your job to get a new job becomes that much easier.
So go get it!
Which one of your jobs has stayed in your memories the longest? What was it that impacted you? Tell us in the comments below!