Gone are the days when a lineman in GM grew up to be a supervisor in his own department before retiring with a hefty pension. In this world of agile businesses and constant change, the way to survive & advance is by re-inventing your career constantly.
Plan & Plunge
About 20 years back, one hot summer day, while working as a maintenance engineer in a manufacturing company, with my hands covered with grease and oil, I decided I wanted to be an IT professional. The cozy, air conditioned life of information technology consultants who were flying into exotic lands in envious comfort was what I wanted. I took a short term course in programming and ended up getting selected as a software engineer. I had “planned”, and then taken a plunge in a new career. I am now happily employed as an IT architect.
However those days of “Plan & Plunge” are past for professionals who are looking for a change in their career. Most employers today want experienced candidates who have transferable skills. As a job seeker, you too are looking for new horizons which would not prove to be a bitter surprise. If you are leaving your current position – be it as a corporate worker or as a homemaker – you want some visibility into your future.
Test & Shift
Today, the idea which is gaining ground among professionals is one of “Test & Shift”. Professionals in different industries and careers are tentatively putting their toes first in the water to test the temperature before taking a plunge into the new career.
Last year my friend Jason changed his career from being a sales manager to a nutritionist. Jason had a good job as a sales rep which paid well. However he wanted to have a job which did not include the high pressure aspects of selling. Instead of simply going for a training program and jumping into a nutritionist’s life, Jason took a different approach. He tied up with a friend of his fiance who is a nutritionist. Jason worked part-time at this friend’s office for a few months. His friend was happy to have a spare pair of hands and Jason got first hand exposure to how a nutritionist works and the overall nature of the business. Not only did Jason get an idea of the challenges and rewards of his future job, he also learned a lot in the process which made his eventual transition to be smooth and easy.
Many professionals are today adopting this approach and innovative companies are supporting their endeavor to explore new career opportunities. This new approach which we shall call “Test and Shift” in sharp contrast to the traditional “Plan & Plunge” approach provides a safe and common sense way of making a change.
What are some ways you can “Test and Shift” your career?
Finding a part-time job as Jason did is one way of testing new waters. Volunteering to help a non-profit or charitable organization could be another way. There are many forums (Google to find them) which could get you hooked up with a suitable non-profit organization. Finding a short term assignment as a “senior intern” is another creative way of gaining an insight into your future job – your current company may even have a sabbatical program you can exploit for a short term unpaid leave.
Some organizations allow their tenured employee the facility to work in another line of business within the company for a few days to help them broaden their horizons. Ask your manager if he can recommend you for such a program. It could be a great self-development exercise which costs the company nothing. In contrast if they send you to a week-long training program, it would cost the company a lot of money – apart from the fact that text-book training programs rarely prove to be of much value.
Job shadowing is another easy way of exploring a career you are interested in. If a colleague in another department agrees to let you shadow his job, nothing could beat it. It’s a win-win situation for you, your colleague and your company. Not only will your company benefit by your career development, you may be able to help improve business processes by looking at things from a different angle and by sharing cross-department best practices. Your colleague would develop mentoring skills which may position him better for management roles. Be sure to highlight these benefits when you request approval for a job shadowing opportunity.
While following a “Test & Shift” strategy, be clear about your objectives and how you want to evaluate a job. The attributes of any job are Creativity, Mathematical Skills, Mechanical Skills, Working Conditions, Compensation, Career Growth. Make a checklist of these and more attributes to have an objective assessment – Examine the job you are shadowing from a viewpoint of these attributes. For example, think – Does the job require a lot of math skills? Is this something which you are comfortable with?
In addition, be sure to also be on the lookout for processes which could be improved & any other ways you can benefit your colleague whom you are shadowing. Ask your mentor how he is measured, the metrics which define his success in his job. How would you fare with respect to those metrics?
Make a list of questions which you want your mentor to answer. Ask him what questions he would ask someone he interviews for the position you are interested in. Ask him if he an arrange a one hour interview with his manager so you get a chance to know more people in his department.
Exploring another career need not be difficult. You could be a “fly on the wall” by tagging along with your colleague to his business meetings – both external as well as internal. Most customers are amenable to a passive mentee’s presence as long as it’s clearly explained to them. You could also ask to do some of the routine research for your colleague till he feels you are ready to be entrusted with more responsibilities in your role as a mentee or “senior intern”.
Go for it!
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. All the above techniques are tried and tested, proven ways of shifting to a new career
You will have to step out of your comfort zone – to find opportunities to test your future job. You are a capable veteran in your current role. In another new role, for some time – perhaps for a long time – you would appear to be an ignorant, incompetent fool in your eyes – perhaps also in the eyes of the others.
But one thing is certain. You will be richer – both figuratively as well as literally – once you do take the first steps to “Test & Shift”.