How to Prepare For Your Next Career Change Now
Most of us are striving to feel safe, and yet the ground is always shifting beneath our feet. The nature of work has changed dramatically in recent years, and continues to do so at an accelerated pace. The days of working for one company until you retire are long over, and the pensions have nearly disappeared.
The rapid evolution of technology is causing businesses to continuously rethink their strategy, and therefore the resources they want to prioritize. This is largely why layoffs have become a business tool rather than a sign that a company is in trouble. In short, the old ways of assuring steady income aren’t working anymore, so what do you need to do to know you can consistently remain productive and put bread on the table?
Start preparing while you’re still employed
There’s a lot you can do to prepare for what’s next while you are employed. You can also get ready if you’ve lost your job, but it’s just much more comfortable if this happens when you’ve already done most of your preparation while still getting a paycheck. It’s important to look up from your desk and broaden your view. Realize that you are a member of a profession, and not just an employee in a specific organization. Your security lies in what and who you know. To be ready for change, especially unexpected change, you need to stay aware of how your field is evolving, what expertise is currently valued, and what skills will be needed going forward.
It’s good to connect with others in your profession and in related professions who do not work in your company. You need to cast a wider net and periodically stay in touch with an expanded network of people with similar work and interests. This will help you stay in touch with current and future movements in your field, not to mention potential opportunities.
Look for growth opportunities at your current employer
If you want to make changes in your career, give some thought to what you really want to do. You may be able to make a change right where you are. In fact, it’s usually easier to get a promotion or make a lateral move to something more interesting where people already know and respect you. A career coach could be useful to help you think this through and decide on your focus.
If you just can’t make that happen where you are, do research to find out what you need to learn, what additional qualifications you may need, and who can help you understand what you need to do to be able to make such a move. Your current employer may very well be willing to pay for additional courses and certifications to make you more qualified with current industry requirements. Start documenting your fundamental transferable skills so you can easily articulate them.
Polish your public professional image
You can do the things people forget to do when they are consumed with work and family that involve polishing your public professional image. Yes, even if you’re not actively looking for a position, people are looking at you on LinkedIn. It’s become the number one resource for recruiters, and often when you contact a professional in your world, that person will check you out on LinkedIn.
So – keep both your resume and LinkedIn profile current. You own your resume content, but it might be a good idea to hire a professional resume writer to make it beautiful. You can always update or modify it if needed. Keep copies of all your work reviews so you can remember all you’ve accomplished. If you do any kind of graphics, presentations, or writing, save these and create portfolios of non-proprietary work that you can show to a prospective employer.
LinkedIn can be a powerful networking tool, so it’s important to keep your profile good looking and robust. You can do this incrementally, when you can find the time, once you have a strong basic profile. Your photo should be good, and look professional. It doesn’t have to be a formal headshot – any good reasonably recent photo taken with a phone will do, as long as you’re not holding a Mai Tai and surrounded by palm trees. You can also choose your own background graphic if you want to. Oh and do not use your work email for your LinkedIn account. Use a personal email address and just conceal it in the privacy settings. If you ever lose access to your work email, it is extremely difficult to regain ownership of your account.
Your title at the top of your profile is important, and if you need to change it later you can. It should describe clearly what you do, e.g. Sr. Program Manager. The summary is also important, and you may want to have a skilled friend or a resume writer create it, because it is sometimes difficult to sell yourself. It should contain specific areas of expertise and skills because those are the keywords recruiters search for. Then give good detail for each position you’ve held – anyone who’s really interested in you wants to know what you did in your career.
Nurture your networks
Ask a few people to write recommendations for you. You request this via LinkedIn and they submit the recommendation via LinkedIn. It’s good to join a few LinkedIn professional groups since that expands your network and can be a good source of information. Above all, keep adding to your connections. Anyone you encounter professionally, even if only online, is fair game. It’s a professional network, not Facebook – they don’t have to all be best friends. People who used to work with you make very good contacts if you ever want to look for a new job, because they’ve all moved on to other companies.
To keep your profile alive, post articles of interest to you and others in your profession. If you like to write, you can do blog posts from your LinkedIn profile. Above all every once in a while give something to your contacts – information, an opinion, or even offer a service. That way when you want information or referrals from your network, you’re not just showing up when you need something.
Mix and mingle in person within your profession, or the profession to which you aspire when you can. You can attend conferences, workshops, or panel discussions, and take your business cards and see who you can meet and what you can learn. If you are in the small minority of people who like public speaking, for goodness sake give a few talks on your current areas of interest at appropriate gatherings. Don’t neglect the rest of your life either. Try to find some time to pursue your personal interests. That can keep you connected in your community, not to mention balanced and sane.
The bottom line is, don’t be completely hypnotized by your current job, and although it requires extra effort, participate in your larger world. And never stop learning; it keeps things interesting, and makes you interesting. Place your faith in your own expertise and the people with whom you are connected, and you will always have opportunities.
Kathleen Marvin is a Certified Career Coach at RiseSmart. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Antioch University and an M.A. in Organizational Psychology from JFK University.
"I’m have been a career development coach for 13 years, focusing on professional and personal development. Because every client is unique, I develop a custom coaching program to fit you so you can find a way to be happier and more satisfied in your work. I especially enjoy coaching managers, technical people, and people from different cultures on effective communication, managing through influence, and helping people find their next opportunity."