In my last post on why career change efforts fall short, I covered five reasons you are not getting interviews. But an equally vexing issue is when you do get interviews but they do not lead anywhere. You embrace networking and go for coffee after coffee but you end up with well-meaning advice and no tangible job leads. Or when you do manage to get called into a company, you get steered towards roles you don’t want. If your interviews are not putting you closer to that career change you desire, here are five things you may be doing wrong:
You treat prospective employers like the “rebound”
Career changers too often harp on the negatives from their old career, rather than the positives of their new one. So the aspiring non-profit executive who comes out of banking emphasizes lack of interest in banking over her deep interest in the non-profit’s mission as the reason for wanting a change. In this way, you treat your new career like the rebound relationship that you fall into as you recover from a bad breakup. No one, especially an employer, wants to feel like the rebound. Continue to speak positively about your old career – it was fine — but you proactively choose something else now (this very opportunity!). What are the several, specific reasons that compel you to follow your new career?
You promise to learn instead of learning already
I coached a senior communications executive who lacked social media expertise. Social media had just begun to be a marketing focus, so it wasn’t surprising that someone who started in this field decades before would still not have a lot of experience here. For a prospective employer who prioritised social media skills, this exec had planned to focus the interview on the numerous times she had picked up new skills quickly. However, this promise to learn asks an employer to take a leap of faith. A better approach would be to come in with an existing strategy — in this case, an assessment of how this organisation was using social media and ideas for how they might improve, including examples from peer organisations. This way, it’s clear that she can handle this part of the job, even if she had not in the past. In what skills do you fall short in your new career? How can you demonstrate existing knowledge, rather than just a promise to learn?
You assume your experience translates 1:1
On the recruiting side, I interviewed a former executive director of a youth organisation for a leadership role at an education institution. The youth constituency would have been the same, but the roles were different. Though the education role was on the leadership team, it was not the top role at the school. This candidate would not be qualified for the top role as he had never run a school, and there were several areas (e.g., curriculum design) with which he had zero experience. However, during the interview, it became very clear that this candidate did not appreciate how much he still had to learn. In this way, he came across as arrogant and naïve. This is the opposite problem of promise-to-learn; in this case, you know too much. Absolutely share what you know and think but don’t make sweeping or absolute recommendations. Are you overreaching about what you know or what you can contribute in your new career?
You don’t accommodate for culture
When I moved from banking to media, I had to relearn how to dress. The dark navy blue suit wasn’t inappropriate, but it was out of touch. Furthermore, the directness of communication in banking didn’t go over well with media colleagues. I had to leave room for more small talk before a meeting and not dive so quickly into an agenda. If I hadn’t adjusted for my new culture, I would have stuck out as someone who didn’t get it or refused to get it. Transitioning to a new career isn’t just about technical knowledge, but also about culture, style and relationships. During the interview process candidates are assessed for these soft skills as well. (So you may be wondering: why did I still make the transition before having to change style? I was brought in as a consultant in an urgent timeframe where my no-nonsense banking style happened to be an asset. But as I decided to stay on in this new industry, I adapted to its culture over time.) Are you adapting to the culture of the new industry and/or role you are targeting?
You give up too soon
So you flex to the culture, you show an appropriate balance of learning your new career but not appearing too arrogant about what you know, and you show genuine interest in your new career, not just rebounding from your old one….But you still haven’t gotten any jobs. In this case, look at your numbers. How many interviews have you been on? Is it just a few that haven’t converted? Any one job may not come your way through no fault of your own – it goes to an internal, budget gets cut, someone else just fits better. Getting dinged for any one job is not a sign you should give up on your career change. You may just need more chances – more job leads, more interviews. Are you giving up too soon?
Reinvent Your Career would like to thank forbes where this article first appeared.