Six Tips for Making a Successful Career Change, with Laurie Erdman

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 232:

Six Tips for Making a Successful Career Change, with Laurie Edrman

Airdate: February 26, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

Most of us will change careers several times. Our guest today says you can make your next career change easier and faster by taking six steps.

Joining us to talk about this is Laurie Erdman. She’s a human resources consultant at Cambia Health Solutions. She writes regularly on LinkedIn about human performance and how to navigate change.

Laurie joins us today in the Mac’s List studio.

Before we talk about your six steps, Laurie, tell me this, how common is it today for people to change careers?

Laurie Erdman:

Well, it’s been a while since I looked at the statistics but what we know is that people, particularly the younger generation, but I think that even the older generations are changing careers multiple times. A half-dozen or more changes in a lifetime of careers is not unheard of these days.

Mac Prichard:

Why do people do it, Laurie?

Laurie Erdman:

I think there is…part of it started with, maybe, employers not being as loyal to employees with large layoffs and things years ago, and it’s just kind of spawned where people are looking for, maybe a salary increase, it could be different challenges, they might have hit a glass ceiling or there’s nowhere to grow in their organization so they move on or decide to pursue something that they loved in college and went a more conservative route on their career, so now they want to try it out. Lots of reasons.

Mac Prichard:

Why not choose just to move up in your profession? Why change fields entirely?

Laurie Erdman:

Well, I think we make our career decision, usually, starting in high school, and we decide what our major’s going to be and then that leads us to our first career decision. And we don’t always make the best decisions when we’re in high school. And so we might get lucky and go, “Oh yeah, that was a career for me.” And stay in that career, but most of us these days have realized, there are other opportunities, and there are so many more new jobs and different types of jobs that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

I think people are just…they realize there’s a lot more opportunity out there, and it could be for more money or just to follow a passion.

Mac Prichard:

What’s the biggest obstacle you see people face when they want to change careers?

Laurie Erdman:

I think it is their own thinking, really, is where the biggest obstacle is. Thinking, “Well, I want to do that but I don’t have the right education, I don’t have the right experience, so I can’t get that job.” And then they feel stuck and at that point, they probably don’t take action, and that is the biggest challenge is, I see people getting over that and starting to take the action and put the mental chatter aside.

Mac Prichard:

I know many of the tips you’re about to share deal just with that challenge, so why don’t we jump into it?

Laurie Erdman:

Okay.

Mac Prichard:

Your first tip, Laurie, is to know what you want, and why is this important?

Laurie Erdman:

Well, I think it’s come up in many of your other podcasts. People talk about, when you’re going to search for a new job, you want to be able to tell people what you’re looking for. And so knowing what you want and having that clarity and being able to articulate that to people so that they can help you is critical for any job search and career change, and so that’s the place to start. Having that clarity is not always easy, I mean, I think a lot of people these days are…the term I’ve heard is multi-passionate, and they’ve got a lot of passions and things that they want to follow after and so it’s picking that right one that you want to go with, and so knowing that and just committing to that.

Knowing that maybe in 5 years, you change your mind and you can go a different direction, but having that clarity for this job search and this career change is critical to have. Finding job ads as well as finding people to talk to.

Mac Prichard:

Getting clarity is such a challenge. I see many job seekers struggle with it and I certainly did earlier in my career as well. How do you see people who are passionate about several different occupations sort that out? What do they do?

Laurie Erdman:

Yes, so one of the things I always ask people that I’m talking to or coaching is, I say, “Think of the time that you were, in your career, most energized and then start to really piece that, whether it was a specific position or a specific project or whatever it may be, and start to really analyze what it was about that situation that you really loved.”

That, I think, is a really good place for people to start to see where…to give them direction and get that clarity. That it may be, “Oh, it’s not project management that I like so much but it was the fact that I was collaborating with people, so what are other options that I could get that collaboration because I really don’t like the minutia of project management.”

Really starting to dig into those situations and then pursuing each one of those with research and informational interviews to get greater clarity to understand what it is that you…is going to really bring the energy and passion for you.

Mac Prichard:

What advice would you give to someone who’s at the start of their career, who might not have that kind of professional experience that you just described?

Laurie Erdman:

Yeah, I think, another suggestion I have is, look at, where do you spend your time already? What kind of books do you read? What publications or social media threads do you spend the most time with? And start to look there and then start to dig deeper into those subjects, and even if you don’t have experience, you probably know where you’re spending your time. It’s a good place to start.

Mac Prichard:

How much time typically, do you see people spend to get this clarity? Is it something that you do with a set of exercises or a couple of sessions with a coach? Or are we talking about weeks or even months of time?

Laurie Erdman:

I think it varies by the person. I’ve spent time with 25-years olds who it takes months and 50-year olds who it takes one session with a couple of exercises. And so, I think it varies but I think it’s key to have patience in the process. So, it’s going to vary from one coaching session or a journaling exercise to maybe a couple of months of interviewing people and whatnot, so be patient with the process.

Mac Prichard:

Your second tip for a career change is to tell your story; tell us more about this, Laurie. Why does that matter?

Laurie Erdman:

First of all, I think that as humans, we love stories and when you’re out there and trying to get clarity and know where you’re headed, it helps to know your own story. And when you do get that clarity and you start looking for jobs, particularly jobs that are not completely aligned with what you’ve done in the past, then what you want to make sure is you know that thread of the story that connects to your last 3 positions, and why this new position and this new career makes sense, and what your past can bring to this new role.

Mac Prichard:

Why does it matter to an employer to hear that story? I’m thinking, for example, there might be somebody who’s done very different things, an employer might look at that resume and wonder, “Why does this person want to be here?” Can storytelling help with that?

Laurie Erdman:

Absolutely. When you are applying for a job, it is your job as the applicant to communicate to that employer how your varied experience is hugely valuable to solving the problem they need solved. It is incumbent upon you to tell that story and help them connect the dots because sometimes your resume doesn’t always do that. But make sure as much as possible to connect those dots and have some kind of common thread that you’re stating. Whether it’s in that header on the resume and certainly in the cover letter. Tell that story that connects the dots so that the employer can see it.

Mac Prichard:

One of the most common questions I get from job seekers is, “How do I show that my skills are transferable to a new industry, or how do I address the fact that my education was in a completely different field but does matter in this new sector that I want to move into?”

How can storytelling help with those challenges?

Laurie Erdman:

My experience is employers think they’re unique, that they’re the only ones who have this specific problem, whatever it is, and by telling those stories, they start to realize, “Oh, other industries or other jobs have some of those same challenges.”

So, I think that’s the first piece. And wanting to…if you can…what I like to do and have people do is make sure that when you’re describing your accomplishments on a resume, try to use similar language that’s used in the industry and in that specific company.

Try to massage that language so it’s actually relevant to that industry that you’re going into or the job that you are going into. Don’t use the kind of jargon from your past career. Try to massage it into, you know, truthfully, of course, but massage it into a way that actually resonates with the new industry or new role you’re trying to go into.

Mac Prichard:

Are there common mistakes you see people make in telling their story when they’re trying to switch careers?

Laurie Erdman:

That’s a good question. I think, not knowing the employer and the industry that you’re going into and the jargon that they use, the challenges that they’re facing. I think it’s incredibly important to weave that into your cover letters, your resumes, you know, every single bullet. Looking at those on your resume and making sure that they accurately reflect what the problems are of the employer that you’re seeking employment from. And that’s the biggest mistake that I see is folks not doing that. Just kind of leaving their canned skill sets and accomplishments, without really connecting it to the problems the employer’s trying to solve.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, we’re going to take a quick break, Laurie. When we come back I want to continue our conversation about career change and your six tips that you see people take who make successful career changes.

One of Laurie’s six tips today is to tell your own story. When you do it well, employers will understand why you’re ready to change careers.

And even if you’re not changing careers, hiring managers still want to know what you can do for them. That’s why you can expect lots of behavioral questions in any job interview.

Do you know how to answer these questions well? We’ve got a free guide that can help.

Go to macslist.org/questions. You’ll get a copy of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

The purpose of a behavioral interview is to get examples of how you’ve handled the challenges an employer faces today.

And that means you need to have stories ready that show what you’ve done for your past bosses.

Learn how to tell your story. Go to maclist.org/questions.

Get your copy today of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Laurie Erdman. She’s a human resources consultant at Cambia Health Solutions.

Laurie, before the break we were talking about your six tips for successful career changes. Your third one is, you need to overcome your doubts. Doubt is a big problem for career changers, isn’t it?

Laurie Erdman:

It is because there is so much when you’re changing a career that you don’t know. You’re moving out of what’s probably a comfort zone and moving into an unknown, so it’s very easy to have thoughts of, “I don’t have the right skills, they won’t understand the value that I can bring or that my transferable skills can bring.” So there’s a lot of opportunity for doubt to muddy the process.

Mac Prichard:

How do you see the people you work with overcome those doubts?

Laurie Erdman:

I think it is really hearing yourself because…and we’ve probably all experienced this, when you’re talking to someone who’s in that career change process, and all we hear is negative. “Well, they’re not going to hire me.” Or, “I don’t know if I can do that.”

And being able to…actually the first step is being able to hear yourself with that negativity, that doubt, and then recognize that it’s a story that we’re telling ourselves. Because the reality is, as we talked about in the beginning, there are thousands or millions of career changers every year. So, a lot of people are doing this and recognizing, why can’t you be that one? It’s trying to spin the doubt into a positivity that, “Yeah, I can be one of those that does this.”

Mac Prichard:

How do you see people do that? I mean, I think anyone who’s carrying around those negative thoughts might feel that they can’t escape them, so how do you turn that into a positive? What steps do you see people take to do that?

Laurie Erdman:

Well, one of the things that I suggest to people is to keep a…as you’re in your current career, keep a journal of all of your successes every day, and notice what you’re good at, and celebrate that in some way. And then, as you’re going through this process, maybe it’s trying to set up a meeting for an informational interview to learn about your new career or make a connection.

Celebrate the wins you’re having, when that person agrees to meet you for coffee and talk about this career you’re interested in; celebrate that, right, and start to boost yourself up and recognize that everything, no matter how small it is, is a win that you’re taking in your process and if you stack up enough of those small, little wins, you’ll end up where you want to be.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend people celebrate those small wins? Should they buy themselves a cup of coffee? Should they talk to a job search buddy? What works?

Laurie Erdman:

Yeah, I think that’s a great question. It can be large or small, depends on your budget and your personality. It could be taking yourself, “I’m going to get myself a large coffee today.” Or taking a walk or getting a massage, but I recommend to people kind of having a menu. If this isn’t something that’s natural for you, to kind of have a menu of things that, “I don’t do these things for myself very often, so this is going to be my celebration list that I am going to use to remind myself, ‘I scheduled that informational interview today,’ or ‘I sent out that resume and it was all tailored to that position. I’m going to go celebrate with one of the things on my celebration list.’”

Mac Prichard:

Self-doubt during a career change is very natural, isn’t it?

Laurie Erdman:

It is and I mean, again, we’re moving from a comfort zone to our discomfort zone, and there’s a lot of unknown. And we’re going to hit places where people don’t believe we can make that change and that’s going to reinforce our self-doubt, and I think what we have to remember is, and there are a lot of examples out there, whether it’s Colonel Sanders, right? Great example, how many places did he take his special recipe and got rejected? It was hundreds.

If we can remember just every rejection or something negative that happened in our process, just chalk it up to, “That was one down. Let’s bring on the next opportunity.”

Mac Prichard:

The fourth of your six tips for a successful career change is to get help. What kind of help do you suggest people get?

Laurie Erdman:

Yeah, so there’s a couple, and you can use it and there’s several…and it can be, if the budget allows, having a coach, and maybe if you don’t have that budget, some coaches will do pro bono, but having a career coach can be very helpful. But that’s not always accessible for everybody, so I think getting a mentor or a friend that has navigated their own career changes. Talking to people who…I think part of that networking and informational interviewing that you would be doing in that career change process anyway, doesn’t have to be specific to the career you’re trying to make, it could also be meeting people who have been through career changes, and getting their advice about what they did, and any tips that they might have for you of navigating that process. And so, help can vary depending on what your available resources are.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend people find others who have made the career change that they want to make? What’s a good way to locate those people?

Laurie Erdman:

Well, I think, it’s starting to ask around, it can be part of that networking process. You meet with, you’re talking with a friend and you say, “Hey, do you know anybody in this industry?” And they might tell you that, or it might be natural to ask, “Do you know anybody else who’s gone through a career change? Can you connect me with them? Because I’d like to just talk about the process.”

It could be in a completely different industry or different type of job, it doesn’t even have to be related to the job change you’re making. It’s the idea of trying to find people through your own network.

Mac Prichard:

When you find those people, how do you recommend a listener approach someone like that and what might they look to get from a conversation?

Laurie Erdman:

Yeah, so I do think that people who have been through a career change know how hard it is. So, I have found that they are incredibly willing to sit down with somebody who’s going through that process. So, I think what you do is you reach out with an email and say, “Hey, my friend recommended I reach out to you. I’m going through a career change. I know you’ve gone through a career change. I’d like to talk to you about what you found successful and get some ideas.” And if that’s a phone call or a cup of coffee, whatever, be flexible because everybody’s busy these days but that’s how I’d approach it.

Mac Prichard:

What would success look like at the end of that conversation when you either hang up the phone or pay for the coffee at Starbucks? How will you know that you’ve gotten what you should have gotten from that conversation?

Laurie Erdman:

Yeah, I think it’s, probably the first place is actually, how do you feel? Do you feel…it’s not so much, I think, in these conversations about a specific tip, although that might be great because they might connect you with someone that can help in your job change and search. But it can also be connecting, there’s something about this human connection of somebody who’s gone through what you’ve gone through, and recognizing that they’ve come out on the other end successful, that gives you hope. More than any specific tip you might get from that person is, hopefully, you get a sense of hope.

Mac Prichard:

The fifth of your six tips for making a career change successfully is to adopt a growth mindset; tell us more about what you mean by that.

Laurie Erdman:

One of my things that I love about career change and working with people who are going through it is, it’s a learning process and that really…a growth mindset is essential to making any change because you might actually have to learn something new. If you want to be a graphic designer and you’ve never done that before, you might have to take some classes. You might have to learn a new skill to make that career change.

Mac Prichard:

Laurie, how do you define a growth mindset?

Laurie Erdman:

I define it as a recognition that we don’t know everything, and having a sense of curiosity, and learning not just from books or a course, certainly, that’s important but looking at things in a different way, in a more positive, optimistic way, than we might naturally do.

Mac Prichard:

When somebody adopts a growth mindset when making a career change, how does that help them?

Laurie Erdman:

Well, I think it relates back to, one of the other tips was overcoming doubts. It’s really the kryptonite, I’ll say, of doubts, is having that growth mindset, and even those negative and even the doubts of, what can we learn from those setbacks we might see in our process? What can you learn from that? Because whether you have a success or whether you have…I don’t like to call them failures, but a misstep in the process or a step backward, what can you learn from that? Both positive, “I learned this and I want to do it again. That opening in my cover letter or my email worked really well. I’m going to use that again.” Or what didn’t work? “Okay, I’m going to adjust that.”

Learning from the process itself, not just kind of out there in the world.

Mac Prichard:

Your final of your six tips for changing careers is to take care of yourself. Self-care is hard, isn’t it?

Laurie Erdman:

It is hard, yes.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend people do that?

Laurie Erdman:

Most folks, not all of them, are in a career right now while you’re trying to make this change, or maybe you’re out of work and deciding, “I want to make this career change and do something different.” They’re stressing it, no matter what. You’re trying to juggle a lot and it can be very easy to just grind through the next task, the next activity in that career change process and it’s really important not to get exhausted in this journey, and so take care of yourself.

Whether it’s taking a night off, binge-watching Netflix, whatever it is. Whatever helps you relax and disconnect from the stress is incredibly important, so you’re bringing a fresh perspective to the next career action you’re taking.

Mac Prichard:

What do you say to a listener who is feeling urgency, perhaps for financial reasons, and they think they’ve got to put in as many hours as possible into a job search or a career change? How do you recommend someone manage that?

Laurie Erdman:

That’s a great question. I know there are a lot of people in that situation, and it’s when we, just like in a job, if we overwork ourselves, our productivity, our creativity starts to falter, and our whole job search and career search suffers for that. So, making sure that you’re fresh, that you’ve taken a break before you craft that next resume and that cover letter, that next email. That you’re coming at it from a tone of positivity and having that self-care is going to help make sure that you do that because if you come at it from a negativity or exhaustion because you’ve just spent the past 8 hours crafting resumes, it’s probably not worth sending that resume out. You really want to come at it from a fresh perspective.

Mac Prichard:

How about rejection, Laurie? It’s going to happen in any job search and it’s going to happen when you try to change careers. How do you see people best deal with rejection?

Laurie Erdman:

I think going back to…it’s learn what you can. It’s going back to that growth mindset, learn what you can, what worked; if you can actually get the person on the phone, it’s really helpful to find out what didn’t work and take that feedback. If you can get that feedback, and I know not all recruiters and employers will give that, but if you can get it, it’s golden. Take it with an open mind and an open heart and make the changes, adjust if it’s appropriate.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation. Now, tell us, Laurie, what’s next for you?

Laurie Erdman:

I had taken a hiatus from blogging for a while, so I’m getting back to that and starting to blog on my LinkedIn profile so I’m very excited to be back to that.

Mac Prichard:

Oh congratulations, I know people can see your articles on LinkedIn and you also invite people to connect with you on LinkedIn, too.

Laurie Erdman:

Absolutely, and particularly if you’re listening to this podcast, let me know that that’s where you heard me and I’ll definitely accept the invitation.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, well, Laurie, you’ve shared a lot of great advice today about changing careers. What’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about your six tips that you shared today for making a successful career change?

Laurie Erdman:

Yeah, I think the thing that I want folks to take away is, make this process as fun as possible. It’s going to be challenging but I think that with the growth mindset and trying to overcome those doubts, you can bring an optimism to it and kind of a treasure hunt type of mentality of having fun.

“Oh, what is today going to bring?” But that’s really going to help you move through and that will become infectious to those that you’re interacting with in your career change process. People will resonate with that and that’s ultimately going to bring success.

Mac Prichard:

Whether you’re changing careers or sticking with your current field, you will be asked behavioral interview questions the next time you talk to a hiring manager.

Don’t go into that meeting unprepared. Get your free copy today of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

On our next show, our guest is Brandy Richardson. She’s the human resources administrator at the Cascade AIDS Project.

Brandy and I will talk about something I see so many people struggle with: how to get clear about your job search goals.

She’ll offer very practical advice about how to figure out what you really want to do next. I hope you’ll join us.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Statistics show that people change careers around a half-dozen times over the span of their working lives. No matter how many times you switch jobs, you will face obstacles. Silencing your internal objections and taking concrete action, says Find Your Dream Job guest Laurie Erdman, are the first steps towards a successful career change. Laurie adds that getting rid of self-doubt and reaching out to others for help can make the transition smoother. Taking time off to practice self-care is also a non-negotiable for anyone in a career transition. 

About Our Guest:

Laurie Erdman is Senior Change Management Consultant at Cambia Health Solutions where she supports teams in creating people-focused health care.

Resources in This Episode:

  • To read more from Laurie, visit her on LinkedIn.