Take a Leap: Tips for Changing Your Career

Change is hard, but making a career change can be harder.

My dream job is to work in a rural African village doing community development and education alongside my wife, who is a nurse. At first, I really struggled making the leap to Africa in my mind and career, but now I’m slowly taking steps to my dream job.

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I earned a Masters of Social Work focused on International and Community Development, did an internship in Ghana, and thought I'd be set. Upon graduation, I was frustrated by the lack of job interviews related to international development. However, I ended up getting my first "real" job—as the communications and fund development manager for the Girl Scout Council in Indiana—through a former colleague at an undergraduate internship. Yes not my dream job, but a good step and a great example of how networking and keeping in touch with past co-workers can have great benefits!

Determine a Functional Strategy

When I lost my job at Girls Scouts because of a merger, I decided to refocus on my dream job. I looked for international and national program management opportunities. I went to job fairs and sent out tons of resumes, but I kept getting interview offers for fundraising positions. 

After nine months of searching and frustration, I applied and became an Americorps*VISTA. At the end of my year of service, I learned about a career-changing resource: A Functional Resume! has this to say about functional resumes:

Functional resumes rely on strategically grouping key skills into different categories to demonstrate a candidate's qualifications and expertise for a particular job. This skills-based focus allows you to emphasize your strengths and soft-pedal a flawed or absent employment record. 

My employment record was fine, just in the wrong job category. I had the program management skills, but needed to repackage it for hiring managers to easily connect the dots. I had to make it clear that my experience developing an eight-county marketing plan related to program management.

In 2008, I relocated to work as a VISTA volunteer coordinator in a middle school—where I was given a program to launch and run. I was so successful that they hired me on full-time. I repositioned myself as a program coordinator and now have three years of program management experience under my belt. 

Focus on the Story

Developing your story is essential if you want to switch job categories. When it comes time to move to the next phase towards my dream career, I'll make sure to focus on my story and not my job titles. Fredia Woolf atMission Connected says it like this:

Living your story is one thing; recreating it in the telling is another. When you create your resume and cover letter or when you prepare for an interview, you have to become a master story teller. As you re-imagine your work experiences and accomplishments, you are turning your life into art, if you like. Selecting events and finding just the right words that capture the essence of what you did to make a difference are key story-telling skills.  And, in these documents and interactions, you must convey a sense of your best self so your reader finds the story so interesting and intriguing that not only must more be known about you, but also that you must be hired.

I've already started carving out certain aspects of my story by telling people about the program I created and the systems we've used to make it successful. I'll be sure to paint this story into my next set of cover letters and resumes. 

Take a Leap!

My biggest advice for career changers is to take a leap! Moving 10 hours away from friends and family to do a year of Americorps*VISTA was a big risk, but one that has brought me great opportunities. It can be scary, but pursuing any goal or dream has some risk.

Being bold and stepping out often brings about great results. I love my job and we love Minneapolis. It isn't my dream job, but it is a clear step in the right direction. Leaping and risk taking doesn’t always work out quite as you hope, but as Soichiro Honda says: Success is 99% failure.

I hope my story of switching job roles is helpful for you as you consider your next career move. Do you have a similar story or tips for making the switch? 

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