Changing Careers? Let Learning Shape the Shift.
When facing a significant career change, whether you are an employee shifting jobs — by choice or by layoff — or an entrepreneur launching a new business, the first thing to learn is that there is a lot to learn. It’s just another way that learning never stops throughout life, and as more and more people go through significant career shifts, it’s an important learning area to consider.
Successful career shifts happen, but rarely by accident. Success takes preparation, a flexible mindset and willingness to learn. At every stage in your career, if you want to grow, it’s imperative to manage a long-term plan focused on learning and skills development. And while this is true if you are staying in your field, it is mandatory if you are making a significant career shift.
Let learning shape the shift.
Through the years, I’ve learned that an individual’s career can be managed much like managing a brand with a business plan. And people, like brands, shape and shift through the years as they develop. Brands that evolve successfully over time boast robust growth plans that are steeped in learning and complemented with flexible processes that allow them to adjust and evolve as they go. People who apply similar growth, learning and skill development plans toward their careers are the most likely to succeed in reaching their goals, and what’s more, they are also most likely to make significant career changes over time.
Before I started a brewery, I knew that I wanted to own a company. Identifying that goal early on enabled me to plan ahead to gain the experience and network needed to be successful in the long run. For me, that translated to getting jobs in innovation, volunteering in the entrepreneurial space, networking, taking classes and reading voraciously. Once I began exploring the idea of founding a brewery, I began following and learning from local, regional and national brewing resources. My business partners and I also gained mentors from Cincinnati’s amazing brewing and startup ecosystem.
If you are considering a career shift, learning as much as you can from multiple resources increases your chance of success. It sounds obvious, but it’s often difficult to do. Here are a few tips that helped me prepare for a major career transition:
• Manage your career shift with a gated plan. A gated plan is based on setting and achieving milestones. It is simply a series of if/then scenarios that you work toward. For example, If I gain the certification, then I can provide the service; If I can’t, then I’ll outsource the work until I take the six-month training; If I raise $100,000 of funding, then I can buy the building. Just like a business plan, setting short- and long-term objectives helps you make decisions about how you will reach your goals. Make sure to set easy and hard-to-reach milestones so that you feel measurable progress and can make choices to pivot or adjust direction quickly. And don’t forget, learning that you don’t want to do something is as important as learning that you do.
• Begin by learning where to begin. Knowing where to start can often be the hardest step. For me, shifting from a career in chemistry research to business and branding to founding a brewery took years of education and preparation. While my business skills were transferable, I had to start at the very beginning to learn about brewing. Mentors, coaches and trade associations are often good starting points because they offer specific expertise, trainings and certifications. Plus, they’re available in just about every field. They can be a quick screener to help refine and narrow choices before you send a resume, submit an application or invest your time and money.
• Understand your transferable skills and tailor them to fit the role you’re after. Many of your hard and soft skills are transferable. Understand your strengths and skills and consider how to tailor them to fit the new role you want to achieve. For me, I knew how to write a business plan and build a brand, but I had to learn about brewing and how to raise startup funding. I also partnered with a team who had different, but complementary strengths and skills.
• Conduct different types of research. Internet research is critical but going a step further can leapfrog your plan forward in remarkable ways. Take classes and read expert blogs. Connect with other people. Ask professionals for informational interviews. Volunteer or take a job in the field you’re interested in to get hands-on experience. If you aren’t sure what opportunities are available, networking is easy nowadays. Begin with trade associations or search your favorite social media site to locate content on the profession you are interested in pursuing.
• Engage with mentors. For me, some of the most valuable insight I have gained is from my mentors. If you have a learning plan, you’ll be able to identify what types of mentors you need and when to engage with them over time.
• Learn about options and make tradeoff decisions. Everything gets more complicated as soon as you begin making a career shift. Whether the shift is forced upon you with a no-notice layoff or you decided to pursue a path that will take multiple years to achieve, making a career shift can be a full-time job in itself. Simplifying your life now will make a big impact later, so be mindful about how you choose to spend your time. Once you determine the level of tradeoff you are able and willing to make, then you can realistically set milestones and a timeline. You have to build an understanding of your options in order to make wise tradeoff decisions for how you will spend your time.
Think of yourself as a founder.
Everyone has considered shifting jobs at some point in their career, and for those who have gone through it, the reality doesn’t always match what we imagined it would be like. Change is never easy, and emotions can run high.
Thinking of yourself as a founder sets a positive and proactive mindset and tone for the shift ahead. Here’s a few reasons why:
• Founders prepare. They have passionate ownership of an idea and plan for whatever it will take to see it through. Many people sit in jobs they don’t love for years or get caught off guard when they lose a job. Founders choose to actively manage their careers, creating opportunity instead of waiting for change to happen.
• Founders are willing to learn. Or at least successful founders are. I’ve asked multiple business coaches what they believe the most indicative early sign of success is for a startup. The answer that gets repeated most frequently: coachability of the founders. Founders who are willing to learn from experts and industry experience, and evolve their business model accordingly, have the highest likelihood of success. The same is true for evolving your career.
• Founders set goals to achieve specific milestones over time. They balance embracing change and reaching milestones. They make choices about big and little tradeoffs in order to evolve and advance the idea.
• Founders give up a lot. They do this because they believe it will only be for a specific period of time, and that the effort will be worth it.
Consider how you would approach your career shift differently if you looked at it through the lens of an entrepreneurial founder — creative, determined, fails and tries again, stretches beyond comfort zone, passionate, coachable, innovative. What would you do differently to make your career shift happen?
I began thinking of myself as a founder ten years ago during a career shift. While I was remaining in communications and marketing, I was changing business sectors. I found that by approaching my new company as if it were my own startup, I was able to prioritize what I needed to learn to become an expert and move the business forward.
A decade later, I am proactively leading another career shift. This time as a founder of my own company. I am shifting roles from executive leadership of creative agencies to founding a brewery. Thinking of myself as a founder even before I was one forced me to make proactive decisions about moving my career forward.
It is up to you to make career change happen. Commit to learning and as a result, you will remove worry and fear of the unknown and begin to embrace it, because you will be shaping the shift.
Christine Hall is in the middle of leading a major career shift. After starting her career as a research chemist and transitioning to an executive leadership role in the marketing industry, Christine is embracing a new professional pursuit–splitting her time between two business ventures. She is in the process of launching both a brewery and a communication consultancy. As founder of Dead Low Brewing, Christine is proud to expand and strengthen Greater Cincinnati’s incredible brewing tradition. The craft brewery, taproom, full-service restaurant and park-like biergarten will open Spring ’19 after three years of preparation. Christine is also a seasoned business and marketing strategist who helps B2B and B2C companies shape their core brand fundamentals, evolve innovation pipelines and engage audiences in meaningful, business-building ways. She founded Blossoms and Root Communications to provide counsel on executive communications, brand creation and evolution, integrated marketing plans and ghost writing.