Career Transitions: My playbook for finding a new job

After 5 and ½ years at the same company I decided to change careers. This was not something that happened overnight, but was a process and exercise that ran over the course of many months. While it’s still very early, I feel confident and excited about the transition.

Over the past few weeks, friends and colleagues have reached out as they too are thinking about transitions. As a career coach who works with professionals who are undertaking their own job transitions, the process gave me a chance to practice what I had been preaching, and I wanted to share what and how I did it.

 I realized I had done what I wanted to do

First, I realized I had gotten enough experience as a consultant.

When I first joined my company out of college, my goal was to learn and get as many experiences and skills that would help me be successful for a long career. After 5.5 years, I realized I had done enough, and felt comfortable walking away knowing that I had gotten what I wanted out of the experience.

To get there, I took a pen and paper and wrote down all the things I had worked on over the years. It made me appreciate what my company had given me but also showed me that while there is always more to learn there really wasn’t much left on my “Must Do” list. This gave me the confidence that it was the right time to start searching for my next gig.

I looked at the path in front of me, and realized I wanted something different

A piece of advice I was given early on in my career was if you want to how long to stay here, look at the person 1 or 2 levels above you and ask yourself if you would want their job and their life?

I did this exercise, and realized the answer was “No.”

Advancing as a consultant and eventually becoming Partner at a consulting firm is a fantastic career, but it was for someone else, not for me. I realized after asking myself this question and talking to individuals in those roles that while their aspirations and goals aligned to those roles, mine didn’t.

I reflected on critical questions, and developed my “future state job description”

Once I realized I was ready for a change, I started my journey with a self-reflection process to find answers to some critical questions. The key questions I wanted to answer were:

  • What are my personal and professional priorities?
  • What are my strengths and unique skills, and how do I want to use them in my next job?
  • Where do I do my best work, and what are the critical characteristics of a job that I need to do my best work work?
  • Who are the types of people I want to work with, and what are the characteristics of these people?
  • How will my job and career fit within my vision and goals for my life?

 

I’ll admit, some of these are deep cuts when it comes to questions. They are not necessarily questions that one might ponder on a day-to-day basis, but they were important to me in getting clear on what I wanted out of my job and my career.

The goal here is not to copy my questions, but to find ones of your own that when you answer and reflect on them, will give you some clarity and ideas.

The good news is that while this did come from reflection I also got a bit of help from my friends and colleagues. In addition to answering questions on my own, I reached out to friends, colleagues, and peers from all walks of life and had them answer a 360 degree survey feedback to get objective feedback of what others thought of my strengths as well as their ideas on my career outcomes. This was an incredibly valuable exercise that gave me feedback that I used to pressure test my own views of my strengths. It also gave me ideas about what types of jobs or roles might be a good fit.

Lastly, I began to craft my future state job description. This was similar to any job description, but in my own aspirational mindset. The future state job description included aspects I discovered out of looking at my strengths and obtaining feedback from peers, and was something I used later on when I started evaluating job opportunities.

I got clear on my priorities, personally and professionally

One of the reasons that initially prompted me to leave was because I felt like my priorities were not necessarily aligned to how I was spending my time. It was a hypothesis, but to know for sure, I actually went ahead and laid out my priorities.

Professionally, it meant things like:

  • A company whose mission and values aligned with my mission and values
  • A function/role that leveraged my strengths and expertise
  • A manager who I respected first as a person, and who had a track record of developing her employees
  • Colleagues who were supportive, hard-working, and inclusive

Personally, it meant:

  • Time and resources to invest in my health, wellness and well-being
  • Time to invest in my personal relationships
  • Work-life balance that would allow me to spend time with friends and family
  • Flexibility arrangements so I could fly back or work remotely from the east coast

 

As I progressed further in the process, I began evaluating potential jobs against these values to see where there was and wasn’t fit.

I removed the fear of finding the “perfect job”

I turned 30 last week, which means unless I win the lottery, I’m going to be working for awhile. This isn’t going to be my last job, so even if it’s not perfect, or even if it doesn’t turn out how I want it, I’ll be looking for a new one in the future anyway!

Yes, I still wanted a good job, and wasn’t going to take any random one, but I felt as long as it hit what I thought my priorities and values were I would be fine. This took the pressure off of trying to find the perfect one.

 

During the process, I made sure I did the dirty work

I trusted the process and did the dirty work to make sure I ended up in a job that I wanted. This meant identifying and researching companies and roles that I might be interested in.

It meant setting up conversations with people who worked at companies that I was interested in, or asking people in my network for favors to make connections.

It meant prepping for each interview by reading articles, analyst reports, or the social media feeds of people I was interviewing with, and figuring out how to sound like the best version of myself every single time I talked with an employee.

I developed a process, or playbook for how I wanted to approach every company I interviewed at, and did my best to execute against it. You can’t replace hustle, but making sure you are hustling for the right things is critical. 

I built a team to lean on

For most of my professional career, I’ve prided myself on being someone that others could count on and go to for advice. In the job search, I had to rely on others, a lot.

Over the years, I’ve spent time building my network, and investing in relationships. I am a big fan of the book Give and Take, and I aspire to be a Giver. I was humbled by the support from those who I reached out to throughout this process.

Whether it was classmates from undergrad or business school who went out of their way to follow up recruiters. Former colleagues who reached out to hiring managers to pound the table for my candidacy, or my roommate, who would patiently listen and play psychologist as I blabbed or complained about the search while we watched football and ate ice cream, or my family who would always pick up the phone no matter the time of day, the support I got when I leaned on others was both humbling and inspiring. I wouldn’t have gotten here without this team.

Upon finding my next job, the months of reflection, research, interviewing and navigating through the highs and lows gave me a greater appreciation for the feelings and emotions that many of my clients have shared with me over the years. During the process, there were moments of frustration, doubt, or fear, but landing in a job that I feel aligns with my both my personal and professional interests gives me a sense of excitement and confidence about the direction of my career, and made the effort and work that I put in over the past few months meaningful and worthwhile.

 

Not sure what kind of job you want next? Try these techniques

Finding the next job can be a challenging process, and what often holds people up is not knowing what they want to do. As a career coach, I work through these issues with clients all the time, and rely on a number of techniques to help them identify the right job paths. Here are some of the most popular ones I use with my clients.

LinkedIn Mapping

My friend Jeremy has a great technique which I’ll call LinkedIn mapping. Basically, start with your college, find people you are interested in, and look at what they are doing and the path they took to get there. If it is appealing to you, then perhaps you can learn something from it if you want to take that path. Furthermore, since you share a commonality (your school) it is also a great reason to reach out to them for an informational interview.

Lookalike Mapping

Another way to figure out your options is to see what people who are similar to you have gone on to do after leaving your company, or a company similar to yours.

  • Someone in the exact same role as you
  • Someone in a similar role at a different company
  • Someone who has the same background as you (ex: education, work experience)

I suggest using your connections or LinkedIn to find map these out. If you can, talk to them to understand what motivated them to find the new role and company they have, what other options or alternatives they considered, and what challenges or roadblocks they encountered.

Recommended Jobs

Another way to do this is to look at Jobs You May Be INterested in On LinkedIn. LinkedIn uses some machine learning and AI techniques to recommend you jobs based on your experience as well as jobs you tend to browse and view. To do this

While you are at it, create a jobs notification to send to your email address so you can be notified about future job postings that are relevant. Also consider doing the same when you set up profiles on Indeed and Glassdoor.

Let The Jobs Come to You

One way to figure out what you are worth and what value you bring is to see who wants to talk to you. You can do this by working with a headhunter/recruiting firm who can help place you into roles. Additionally, you can also use LinkedIn’s I’m looking feature, which when turned on, makes it known to recruiters that you are open to being contacted for a role. Pro Tip:Before you do this I would make sure to check the privacy settings.

A quick note

Everyone’s career is truly unique, and while looking at the paths of people who have gone before you is a really great technique you should make sure that you are trying to find a path that aligns to your own goals and objectives, and not someone else’s. My advice is to use this to help give you a spectrum of what is out there, and to use it as a guide to help you identify your unique path. Some if it may overlap with others, but some of it will be unique to you, and I do believe that you’ll be happiest and most fulfilled when you’re doing what is best for you.

What Star Candidates do differently in their Job Search

As a career coach, I work with diverse types of candidates who are looking to make career transitions. Recently, I’ve had a number of candidates who I have the pleasure to work with who in addition to being incredibly motivated and hard-working, are also incredibly qualified, and in demand because of their skills and experiences.

As some context, these candidates tend to have one more of the following:

  • Undergraduate or Graduate degrees from prestigious universities
  • Degrees in rigorous education programs (ex: Engineering)
  • Name brand/blue chip companies on their resume
  • Competencies and Experiences within in-demand skillsets or roles
  • Superior and consistent high performance and demonstrated results
  • Social Capital and a good network

As a result of being sought after and having in-demand qualities/experiences, these candidates A) tend to abide by a different application process, and B) also do things a bit differently in their job search. As a result of this, the work I do with them tends to be allocated on different strategies and tactics than the average job search.

For those people out there who are highly qualified and who have skills and experiences that are in demand, I wanted to share some of the strategies and tactics that I see some of these candidates doing in their job search that tend to be helpful.

Work The Network

This one is self-explanatory, and something that all candidates should do,  but if you’re a highly skilled employee chances are you’ll have a good network to help you connect with people and land your next job. Use the network as best as you can to find job opportunities, informational interviews or anything else that you need.

How to Do this:

  • Leveraging 2nd degree connections to help you get connected to someone you want to have an informational interview with
  • Finding people who work at a company that you are targeting but used to work at your company
  • Finding people who have already made a transition from the role you had to a role you desire to have
  • Finding people who used to work at your company in your role who recently made a transition

Attend Company Specific Career Events

Many blue chip companies will have networking events, or open houses that are invite only. If you can find a way to score an invite it’s a great way to learn about the company and the specific departments as well as get in contact with recruiters and hiring managers. To do this, talk to people in your network at companies you are interested in so you can learn about these events, as they generally are not made widely public. As an example, a candidate I just worked with was invited to a women’s event at a tech company, and recently just accepted a job offer to start working there, all because she got connected to a recruiter and hiring manager at that event.

Get in Touch with the recruiter

Recruiters hold the keys to the kingdom when it comes to making it through the candidate screening process. The key is to build relationships with them so that you can stand out amongst all the applicants that come through the job posting. Additionally, since 70% of job postings that are filled never make it to the general public, knowing a recruiter can be really helpful.

When a job is posted – They can get your resume in front of a recruiter who then can offer you a phone screen or potentially even a first round interview. For example, someone I am working with saw a job posted on a company’s website and asked sent it to her friend who was able to email the hiring manager and recruiter to make a referral. From there, the recruiter reached out to the candidate directly to setup a phone screen.

When a job isn’t posted – They can speak to you, get a sense of your background, send you a few postings available and offer to keep your resume on file if something comes up. Generally, recruiters are regularly meeting with teams to find out about their hiring needs, so they can often tell you about things that are not posted but will be soon, or, they can even help create a role for you if they know your background. This is why it’s so critical to build relationships with a recruiter.

How to do this: If you know what kind of role you are looking for at a specific company, get someone in your network to introduce you to the recruiter who is hiring for that role. Ex:If you want to do Product Marketing at Google, get your friends at Google to refer you to the Google PMM recruiter.

Another option is to search for recruiters on Linkedin. Some, (not all) will mark in their profiles their email address and that they are open to being contacted either on Linkedin or via email. I would not recommend cold emails to people who don’t mark this, but if they do, then it’s fair game.

Note: I’m a big believer that referrals are a good thing, but fall into the necessary but not sufficient category. Yes, they are better to have than not have, but they do not necessarily guarantee anything more than getting your resume read. So by all means, get them, but don’t expect it to land you the job.

Be Nice to recruiters

I’m a big believer in the notion that a little empathy goes a long way. To that end, thinking about what it’s like to be a recruiter is incredibly helpful into how you approach your interactions and communications with recruiters so that you can engage with them in the best possible way.

Each day, recruiters have lots of communications (voice, in-person, digital) with lots of different people. These can be short (intros’ and hellos) or long (interviews) and can span across candidates at all stages of the lifecycle. Moreover, recruiters get emails from candidates, hiring managers, employees looking to make referrals, and other recruiters.

A friend of mine who is a recruiter told me in a given day, she would schedule at least 10-12 20 minute phone conversations with candidates, and if they weren’t the first or last person they talked to they needed to really stand out because everyone else just blurs together.

So, here’s the key takeaway: Recruiters get a ton of communications from a ton of people and almost all of these people want something from them in some form or another. Additionally, they are on incredibly tight schedules and are usually juggling many things. Knowing this, think about how you want to communicate to them. Here are some of my tips

How to Do this:

    • Be warm but polite – Most (not all) recruiters are in this job because they either like to be around people or like engaging with people, at least in their day job. Feel free to engage them and to be friendly, but also be courteous and respectful
    • Acknowledge their time demands/constraints – Recruiters have tight time constraints, so be respectful of their time, and even call it out to demonstrate your empathy and understanding of the demands on their job. (ex: I appreciate you making time to chat, I know you must have a lot of people to talk to today..)
    • Be Concise – Recruiters don’t have a ton of time, so be concise and get to the point. If you can end early (without rushing) do so and give them time back in their day
    • Do the things other candidates won’t do that annoy recruiters – There’s a litany of things that candidates do that piss recruiters off (if you don’t believe me ask one) This ranges from forgetting to show up for a call, not knowing the basic details of the company, asking questions that could be answered by looking at the website, etc. Simply making sure you avoid these can actually make you stand out.
  • Follow up, but don’t be pushy – Be prompt in your communications and follow up if you don’t hear from them, but don’t be over the top.

Craft your own role

As I said previously, almost 70% of jobs that get filled never make it to the public job boards. While part of that is due to internal hiring, another chunk of that comes from candidates who get to know the company and work with a recruiter or hiring manager to create a role or identify a new one. Not everyone is going to be drawn to a job posting on a website. Additionally, not all open needs are made available on a job board. As such, if you can find a way to pitch your own role to a company you want you can find a job that fits your needs and fills the hiring needs of a company.

How to do this: It can’t be done everywhere, but, the keys to it start with relationships with recruiters and hiring managers. My advice is to find A) find a company you want to work for B) find a person at the company at a high enough level who you want to work for (ex: VP or higher) and get to know them really well over a period of time. When the time is right, talk to them about your interest in working there, and go from there. Additionally, this approach tends to also work well where there are less defined hiring processes or paths, such as a startup, so if you are looking at those it’s a good option. Also, one other benefit to this approach is that you don’t have to always go through the normal hiring process of submitting a cover letter and resume.

 

Know Your Salary Range

This is important, because most recruiters at some point are going to ask you about your salary history or at the very least your salary requirements. In some states, it’s illegal to ask job candidates about salary, but the way that many get around this is by asking what you are hoping to make moving forward. There’s a number of takes on how to respond to this, so check out this, this, and this. Having said that, I want to focus on how to determine your salary range.

First, I think a range is important because it helps mitigate any anchoring bias, and leaves the option open for flexibility. To determine your range, you’ll need to take into consideration the role you’re applying for, the companies willingness (and ability) to pay, your own requirements, and other forms and means of compensation available.

How to do this:

  • Job Boards – Most job boards (ex: Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed) now have salary estimates and ranges for many of their job postings
  • Salary Specific Resources – Places like Comparably and Payscale are good resources based off of crowdsourced data
  • People – In today’s day and age, it still is taboo for some people to talk about salary and compensation, but, it’s also the quickest way to finding it out.

Use the job boards and salary specific resources to get ballpark estimates and accept the fact that while it’s a great directional indicator it’s not perfect. Back that up with any actual data you can get with people to determine what the ranges are, and figure out the range for you.

 

Tailor Your Resume

It’s important to make sure your resume is up to date and relevant. A good resume is necessary but insufficient to landing a job, and ultimately tablestakes, so make sure to take the time to update yours. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your resume is tailored and relevant to the position you are applying for.

First, build a big resume bank, that has all the bullets you want on it. After that, start tailoring your resume to specific roles/functions. For instance, if you’re looking at Marketing roles at large companies and small companies, build a large company marketing resume and a small company marketing resume. To do this, take a job posting from a large company, evaluate the responsibilities and requirements, and then make sure that your bullets on your resume demonstrate as many of those responsibilities and requirements as possible.

Take on Microprojects to shore up weaknesses or blindspots

We all have blindspots and weaknesses – It’s a given and fact of life. Additionally, it’s hard to find the exact perfect candidate. But the good news is that with some self-awareness and planning we can proactively overcome any perceived weaknesses when applying to a new job. If you can walk into an interview already armed with information about potential weaknesses our interviewer might spot in our application and show them how we are overcoming them it’s going to make you a stronger candidate (and probably make you come off as even more impressive)

Weaknesses sometimes come in the form of a lack of skills or experiences needed for a specific role. If that is the case for you, if you can figure out what those skills or experiences that you’re lacking for a given role you can take on microprojects to build up competency in these areas. My friend Jeremy has a great post on how to do this, but they involve taking online classes, taking on mini projects for small businesses or entrepreneurs, or finding them in your current day job.

How to do this: First, identify any perceived weaknesses you might have for a given job or role you plan on applying for. As an example, let’s say you’re a consultant looking to transition into a Business Operations role but you haven’t done a lot of financial modeling, you can then take a class on financial modeling or work on a pro forma for a small business. Or, let’s say you want to move into product marketing but you haven’t had experiences with actually executing marketing campaigns. You can take a class on digital marketing campaigns or even take on a project running one for a non-profit. (Pro Tip: You can also use these skills to answer the “what’s your weakness question, and then talk about how you went to correct it!)

Prepare for Interviews

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, so all good candidates come prepared for any interview that comes their way. If you’re a qualified candidate you probably have some basic understanding of how to prepare for an interview (if you want a full guide, check out the one I made) so I’ll just leave a few more advanced tips that hopefully will put you over the top.

  • Practice Objection HandlingObjection handling is a sales technique used as a way to proactively address objections that someone might have to a sale. It can also be used during interviewing by identifying potential weakspots or areas of concern in your resume or body of work and coming up with responses of how you’ll address them. I wrote a more detailed post about it here, but the main process is 1) identify your weaknesses 2) write out how you’d respond to them 3) provide details on how you are working on them
  • Come prepared with questions to ask the interview – The last part of the interview is usually reserved for you to ask questions so make sure you come prepared with good ones. Here are some of my favorites
  • Find out how the interview process works – Every company has a different interview process and is essentially testing and looking for different things. Take the time to talk to people at the company you are interviewing at and to get a sense of what the process is and specifically what they are looking for. It can be very helpful to talk to someone who actually conducts interviews as they can give you insight into what they look for.
  • Match Skills and Experiences to Job Description Qualifications – Interviewers want to see two things, competency and warmth. Competency answers the question “Can they do this job?” One way to do this is to prove that you’ve done the things they are looking for and done them well. To prepare, take the skills and experiences you have, and start matching them against the skills and experiences in the job description. Practicing this will help you figure out how to talk about relevant experiences in the interview.

This list is not exhaustive nor definitive, but it’s a good starting point for any sought after candidate who is starting their job search. If you have any other suggestions or tips I welcome the feedback!