Some Good Advice for Career Switchers

career switchers

By Yvonne Milosevic

How many people do you know who have worked for the same organization for more than five years? Granted, doing so is not unicorn-level rare. But long gone are the days when people clocked in decades with one company and retired with a gold watch. A 2022 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that private-sector employees had a median tenure of just 3.7 years. Yet today’s professionals aren’t changing employers merely in search of greener pastures.

The “Great Resignation” spurred many workers to forge an entirely new career path that better reflects their passions and interests. However, all that newness can spark a ton of uncertainty. Career switchers feeling adrift during their transition need to look no further than Duke Fuqua professor and author Dorie Clark for guidance.

“When professionals reinvent themselves, they often feel they have to start from scratch and that their previous connections and experience don’t count in their new realm,” says Clark. Fortunately, their skills and network can still carry over to the new role. But, she adds, “It’s also true that you may feel confused for a while as you orient yourself to the way things work in your new career.”

career switchers

To-Do List for Career Switchers

In her recent HBR piece, How to Build a Career in a New industry, Clark reveals the following four tips for navigating uncharted career landscapes.

Tip No. 1: Map the terrain.

Being a neophyte in your freshly chosen field means you have some catching up to do. You may need to learn things like how long it takes to advance to a leadership position or what skills are essential for the job. That’s why Clark recommends career switchers seek out informational interviews and ask managers or colleagues about the traits that successful people in company X or industry Y share.

Bonus tip: She also advises folks to read the LinkedIn profiles and bios of people they admire professionally and then “reverse-engineer the path they followed” to craft a similar roadmap. Genius!

Tip No. 2: Get ready to take the lead.

For career switchers, it’s essential to be proactive in the new role. Having a growth mindset, actively pursuing opportunities, and teaching yourself any skills that you lack will go a long way toward making that transition feel more natural.

Clark explains, “As a new entrant in a field, you’ll be ahead of the competition if you recognize from the outset that you’ll have to plan for, and work for, your advancement, rather than having things proceed in lockstep without your active participation.”

Tip No. 3: Cast a wide net.

While your existing network is still valuable, you’ll need to work on building connections in your new industry ASAP. Clark recommends career switchers network widely for several reasons.

  • You might discover previously unknown aspects of your new field where you may excel.
  • Cultivating your network within and outside the new company will help if your initial landing pad isn’t all you dreamed it would be.
  • New evidence shows that “weak ties” have outsized value. According to a massive study from researchers at Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, “People with whom you have weaker ties are more likely to have information or connections that are useful and relevant” to your job search.

“If you’ll be in this field for the long haul, the compound value of building relationships early on is substantial,” says Clark, “because these are the people that will be pinging you about job openings 10 years from now.”

Tip No. 4: Watch for emerging opportunities.

“One of the best ways to build a career path for yourself is to invent one,” Clark notes. Stay on top of trends in your industry, follow relevant publications and influencers, and surround yourself with smart people. Pay particular attention to problems that people are talking about. Who knows? You might come up with a groundbreaking solution that could become the next Airbnb or Lyft.

“If you can become the ‘go-to’ person around an area that’s growing in importance,” says Clark, “you can often build a career path around it.”

Career switchers will likely face some challenges, from skill set gaps to fears of impostor syndrome and starting on the bottom rung once again. But going through the transition process will be worth it if the result is a career that gets you excited to jump out of bed in the morning.