Most people who have made the decision to change their careers face the same problem: How can I get hired when I don't have relevant experience?
It is true that not many companies will hire you as a graphic artist if you simply send a resume outlining your ten-year career in tax accounting! Even the best resume cannot hide the fact that your previous work experience has not qualified you for the position you seek.
The good news is that there are ways to gain entry into your chosen profession.
Just do it!
As Nicholas Lore explains in his exceptional career change book, The Pathfinder, you gain admittance into any group, social or professional, by creating agreement. In other words, people are accepted into a group (or career field) because other people agree they belong. Agreement is developed through the things we say, the way we act, the knowledge we have etc. If a struggling, unpublished writer says I hope to be a writer some day, she has already made it clear that she does not consider herself to be a writer. Others will agree with her categorization and accept that she is not a writer. But if she writes every day, submits short stories to small publications, attends writer's conferences and writes free articles for web sites and local newspapers, she is now beginning to create agreement that she is, indeed, a writer.
The goal therefore is to become your new profession. Don't wait until someone hires you before you think of yourself as a computer programmer. Start to think of yourself that way now. Begin gathering the knowledge and experience you will need. Surf web sites and chat rooms. Join associations and networking groups. Talk to other programmers. Read books. Practice. And most importantly, build a body of work. Act as you wish to be perceived.
Jeff Davies is a perfect example. A nurse by profession, Jeff was also a talented musician. He wanted to get into the video game industry, writing soundtracks and creating sound effects but he had little success when he first sent out his resume. The few responses he got were standard 'no-thanks' emails.
Eventually, a friend suggested that Jeff take a different approach. Instead of sending in his resume, he created a demo reel of music he had written for famous video games. In each case he replaced the existing soundtrack with his own music.
Then he started to network his way into the industry, attending game industry conferences and trade shows. He met people and kept a database of his contacts. He subscribed to industry newsletters to keep up to date with technological and industry developments. He created a web site and sent a link to key industry figures.
He received several calls praising his creative approach although no immediate job offers. Once a month, he stayed in touch with his network of contacts by sending a short email with a snippet of new music attached as an MP3 file.
After four months, Jeff was called in to interview for a position as an entry-level sound engineer with an independent game developer. The call came from the company's creative director who had met Jeff a year earlier at a trade show. The company is not Jeff's ideal employer as they make games for children and Jeff is much more interested in role-playing action games, but he plans to stay there for a year learning all he can and then start to apply to the larger game companies.
Jeff's success was well-deserved. He took a proactive approach to his career change and dedicated much of his spare time to demonstrating his skills. By the time he was hired, he already thought and spoke and acted as a video game sound engineer.
How You Can Learn from Jeff
Jeff's story highlights that career-changers must take a different approach to job search. If you are frustrated with your own job search, try following Jeff's example:
- Get started. Don't wait for someone to pay you to be what you want to be. Just do it! If you want to prove you can design logos, for example, volunteer to redesign the logo for your friend's small business. Or simply redesign some existing corporate logos for demonstration purposes.
- Learn everything you can. Read books, join associations, go to education events and trade shows. Read newsletters. Visit industry web sites and chat rooms. Learn the language and jargon of the industry you want to enter. Stay up to date with the newest trends and technologies. Become an expert.
- Make contacts. Build a network of influential people within the field you want to enter. Find creative ways to approach them and maintain the connection once it is made. For example, why not offer to write an article for a trade magazine or web site? You can choose a topic which gives you a reason to contact key people within the industry.
- Find Creative Approaches. Do not rely on the standard resume and cover letter. This will almost always fail when you are trying to make a shift to a new career. Most people will scan your resume to see how your past experience matches with their current needs. Therefore, applying to job postings is unlikely to help you make the change to your new field.
Making a career change is both challenging and exciting. The biggest problem you will face is the resistance of others who doubt your qualifications in your new field. The key is to stop looking for your dream job and start doing it. Eventually - like Jeff - you will gain acceptance and your transformation will be complete.