The Challenge of Change

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Anyone doubting the usefulness of LinkedIn might be surprised to learn that since my last contract ended in February 2015, I have had seven unsolicited job offers, mostly from people I don’t know. So why then do I remain unemployed?

I remain unemployed by choice because all of the unsolicited job offers have been for bid management positions. I decided last year that I no longer wanted to work as a bid manager (or bid writer or bid coordinator or tender specialist or whatever other name you want to give it) and I no longer wanted to work in the relocation industry.

After a sabbatical during which I travelled to Europe, I was briefly drawn back into the field as a favour to a friend and former colleague. But when I finished that favour (the aforementioned last contract), I was determined not to be drawn back in again. Because I essentially found myself in exactly the same place as a year before. What place was that? Leaving a position and an industry without knowing where my employment future was or how long it was going to take me to get there. I only knew that a year had gone by and I was no closer to knowing or getting there.

What I do know – or rather who I do know – is someone who has successfully gone through both a career and industry change. Barry* spent ten years with an organisation that went through a significant round of redundancies last year but had been considering making a career change for up to eighteen months before finding out he would be forced to leave. I sat down to talk to Barry recently to see if there were any hints he could give me.

Understanding the Difficulty of Change
It took Barry five months from being made redundant to find, apply and interview for, then begin his new job.

“I didn’t fully understand how long it would take to get a new job. I very quickly found out that a lot of the kinds of roles I was interested in didn’t even get advertised in the places you might expect, such as Seek and LinkedIn. It was all word of mouth so if you didn’t have the contacts, you’d never even know. I worked very hard at developing and expanding my network. There were a lot of meetings for coffee and a quick chat that never went further than that. I would call recruiters and call them again, then again once more, just to make sure my name was in the forefront of their minds and that they would be on the lookout for my CV amongst the hundreds they were receiving.

“I watched some terrific podcasts on the Manager Tools website. One that has especially stayed with me used a matrix to demonstrate the different levels of difficulty in change. Obviously, not making any change is easiest. Changing jobs but remaining within an industry you are already familiar with or changing industry but staying in the same role is less easy. Changing both your job and your industry at the same time is hardest of all.

“Regardless of the level of change you want to make, you have to be proactive and do everything possible to set yourself apart from the crowd when job hunting.”

Further Tertiary Study
Barry studied a double Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and Business Administration straight out of high school and hasn’t done any further tertiary studies since.

“As part of the redundancy package, I was given access to a career coach who advised me to do an MBA or at least a Graduate Certificate in Finance. I’d been thinking about doing an MBA for some time but I knew the costs. $45,000 for an MBA, $15,000 just to do the Graduate Certificate. But I was being made redundant and I didn’t want to commit to such a large cost.

“On the one hand, not having an MBA was used by many of the recruitment companies as a barrier to the kinds of jobs I knew I would be able to do and wanted to apply for. And in retrospect, if I had started the MBA when I was thinking about doing it, I would have been finished by now.

“On the other hand, with the position I eventually ended up accepting, having the MBA would not have made a difference. And having looked into a number of courses, I doubt I would actually have learned much that I don’t already know from my undergraduate studies and my subsequent on-the-job experience. It would have simply been a very expensive piece of paper.

“MBAs are known as marriage killers but contact with other MBA students can be extremely valuable. And if I don’t have one within the next five to ten years it might become an issue for where I want to end up.”

Further Non-Tertiary Study
Although Barry started out his career with an engineering focus, over the course of his ten year employment he was promoted into roles with a concentration on project and people management.

“With any potential new role, I had to decide which direction I wanted to head in. I decided on project management. There are two types of project management methodologies and I was already trained in one. I took a course in the other to ensure there were no gaps in my knowledge but again, in the end, it was my overall background and not my recent training that got me considered for the role I ultimately accepted.

“My lack of a formal project management qualification was a barrier just like the lack of an MBA was – certification is the price of entry, especially in the face of transactional recruiting where there is a firm checklist that doesn’t allow for variations. My advice where at all possible is always to deal with capability-based recruiters who can look at your skill set and understand its transferability, especially if you are trying to change careers and not just industries.”

Long-Term Goals, Short-Term Steps
Although Barry was looking to make a change, his career had already changed a lot in his previous workplace.

“What I was doing when I was made redundant (project and people management) was completely different to what I was doing when I first started there (engineering). So I had already started the process. In looking to make a further change, I had to decide what my end goal was. I used a ten year time frame.

“My end goal was not engineering and not project management. But ten years is a long time away. I needed to take a small first step. I’m no longer in the engineering industry but my new role is still in project management. I’ll take more small steps. Eventually I’ll get where I’m going.”

Barry’s Final Words
“I started to get a bit down about my employment situation at about the four month mark but less than a month later I had the job that I wanted.”

*Name changed for privacy reasons

By The Way
For anyone who is wondering what exactly a writer on sabbatical does with her time, the answer, of course, is she writes! Since February I’ve published 83 posts on my blog and I have written and scheduled another 39 to appear over the course of the next three months. You can check out what is essentially my writing portfolio here:
https://singlewhitefemalewriter.wordpress.com

*First published on LinkedIn 6 July 2015

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