I just cohosted a Reddit AMA and a lot of questions were about career changes. Here's some practical advice on making the move successfully.

 I just cohosted a Reddit AMA and a lot of questions were about career changes. Here's some practical advice on making the move successfully.

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woman home reflecting thinking Think it through.

  • I cohosted a Reddit AMA Tuesday. A lot of people asked questions about career transitions.
  • Career changes have become common during the pandemic recession, where many professionals have been forced to look for work in new industries. Other folks are seizing the opportunities for remote and flexible work that the pandemic has created.
  • Here’s the best career-transition advice I’ve heard, like never change your industry and your function at the same time and always tap your existing network.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

I cohosted a Reddit AMA for the first time on Tuesday.

“AMA” stands for “Ask me Anything” and the process is simple: Users type their questions into the forum and the hosts type back. I was there along with workplace strategist and “Rituals Roadmap” author Erica Keswin to answer questions about managing your career in a recession. (Mercifully, there was no video, or else I would have been seen scowling at some of the trickier – but important!  – dilemmas people wrote about.)

One theme I noticed coming up again and again: career transitions. Specifically, people wanted to know how to apply their skills and knowledge in a field or function where they don’t have direct experience.

“What would you say is the best route for moving to a similar role in a different field?” asked one user. “Do you have any good tips for trying to make a career change to a completely different field?” asked another.

It’s normal to be confused about the process – or even the first step – of changing careers.

But those concerns have taken on extra relevance during the pandemic recession, when many professionals have been forced to look for work in new industries. Now we’re about to herald a new year, which is a natural time to start fresh.

I’ve interviewed a range of executives and career coaches who’ve shared with me some effective strategies for pivoting over the years. Here are a couple points that stick with me. I think they might stick with you. 

Don’t change industry and function at the same time

This advice comes from Keswin, my AMA cohost, herself. Keswin told me it can be logistically challenging to do a career 180, even if you feel you’re ready for it. So start by changing your industry, which is the broader field you work in, then your job function, the narrower role you fill. Or do the opposite.

Here’s an example. Say you currently hold a finance role in the fashion industry. Keswin recommends that you consider either staying in fashion and moving to the role you’d prefer or staying in a finance role and moving to the industry you’d prefer. Once you have some experience with either a new role or new industry, you can think about making a bigger switch.

Yes, this process takes longer. But it also, in Keswin’s experience, yields a much higher success rate.

Tap your network

You’ve probably done much of the legwork involved in a career change already.

Marketing and strategy consultant Dorie Clark (she’s also an adjunct professor and an author) put it simply on an old episode of the Art of Charm podcast. “If you have been following one particular path and if you’ve become pretty successful at it,” Clark said, “the good news is that gives you a lot of social capital that you can leverage to be able to access those universes,” or fields you want to explore.

For example, you probably know a lot of people in your industry – consider emailing those people to let them know you’re looking around. Clark recommends asking some of the folks who are most different from you, “Hey, who do you know that I should meet?”

Remember: It won’t take much effort for them to connect you, and people generally like to feel helpful. “You’re actually giving people a bit of purpose” when you ask for a favor like this, said consultant and advisor Daisy Auger-Dominguez said on an episode of the Harvard Business Review’s Women at Work podcast.

You can network your way through a career shift. Asking for help helps accelerate the process.

Have a back up plan

When I spoke to Dan Shapero, LinkedIn’s chief business officer, about his transition from sales to technology, he told me about the “tour of duty” he went on. For several months before officially changing roles, Shapero worked as an individual contributor on different LinkedIn products.

But a critical part of Shapero’s transition was knowing what he’d do if it didn’t work out. That should be part of your process, too.

In Shapero’s case, he’d already found a replacement for his old position, so he couldn’t go back to that role. Instead, he knew he’d have to find a similar job at a different company or at LinkedIn, if a position was available.

Thinking things through in advance can help you feel more empowered to try something new. The psychological preparation “was helpful in allowing me to relax,” Shapero said.

If you’re planning a switch from, say, accounting to marketing, figure out what you’ll do if it turns out you’re not very good at marketing or if you don’t get any of the roles you apply for. Are there other companies that would hire you as an accountant, at least until you’re ready to try switching again? Knowing you have a fallback can make it easier to go for what you really want, since the worst that can happen is you’ll still be an accountant.

Think broadly about your options

You may have already targeted the job, employer, or type of work you want. But don’t box yourself in.

As the vice president of practice strategy at talent-mobility firm Randstad RiseSmart, Lindsay Witcher helps workers who have been laid off and are looking for something new. Her advice applies to people who still have a job, too.

Witcher, who used to be a career coach for RiseSmart, said the first question she asks is, “How do we look at your skills and your background and transition that, and think creatively about how you can work in a different industry using those same skills in a way maybe you didn’t think of?”

Start the process by listing the skills you used every day in your previous job, along with relevant accomplishments. That will help you think beyond specific job titles and consider how you might add value in any job context, even without direct experience. Don’t underestimate how much you have to offer a prospective employer.

Bottom line: The success of your career change does depend on the market, specifically whether there are new opportunities available. But your approach to the transition matters, too. If you do things systematically and thoughtfully, you’ll have a better shot at landing your dream job.

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