A Guide to Switching Careers Midway

Changing careers once you are not a fresher anymore can be challenging. However, it’s also something that is quite doable. As the world changes around us, it is possible that we may reach a realisation that we want to try a different adventure now. Or we may find our true calling much later in our careers. As daunting as it sounds, people have done it and they have done it successfully!

So, what are some things to keep in mind if you are someone planning on a mid-way career change? What can you do and (avoid doing) when you send out your resumes and appear for interviews for ‘new’ careers?

Highlight your experience:

Yes, even if you feel it is not ‘relevant’ enough. We have written about this in our article about making your ‘irrelevant’ experience ‘relevant’. Any experience, in any field brings with it certain wisdom, interpersonal skills, tenacity and high problem-solving skills. And not to forget a wide network!

Highlight these through your experience, so no matter how different your ‘older’ field might be, you can assure the hiring managers that there are enough soft-skills you have accumulated over time to bring enough value to the table.

Show that you have been learning:

Show that you are eager to learn, and have been upskilling. Make sure you have learnt enough about the major waves of change that may have been happening in your ‘new’ field over the years. Make sure you have a decent idea of any new software, programs, tools that are being used, and mention that in your resume.

You can also attach examples of your personal projects relevant to the new field that you may have been undertaking.

Show how you have been using skills relevant to the new field in your old field already:

 This is especially helpful when posed with questions such as ‘Have you ever done something like this before?’ It is one thing to have the soft-skills, but more urgent skills and competencies may evoke some scepticism from hiring managers and recruiters. How does one overcome that? Hiring managers and recruiters have a major responsibility to hire the right person, so it is quite natural that they may be sceptical about a candidate with little ‘actual’ experience in the field.

Showing that one has been using the same or similar skills and competencies just in a different setting, using relevant keywords from the job description, and showing one has been upskilling is the key to help the hiring managers and recruiters overcome their scepticism.

However, don’t brag too much!

An experienced candidate would be a great fit to the team if they will:

  • Offer inspiration
  • Wisdom of experience
  • Be a strong anchor to the team

However, the candidate who thinks he or she is better than everyone, especially everyone younger to them, and loudly claims to do so might not be very good for the team morale. Someone who doesn’t believe in mutual respect and doesn’t see their new colleagues as equal sources of learning and shows rigidity of values and perspective is likely to bog the team down.

It’s best to take the attitude of wisdom and humility in equal measures.

Don’t ask for the moon:

When we talk about wisdom and humility, it also means that the candidate understands the reality of the situation and negotiate according to that. New career means the salary range might be lower compared to your overall experience. The priority should be to listen to that calling and finding the readiness for the new challenge. Of course, money does matter, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that governs the decisions.

Changing careers is a leap of faith which requires the right kind of attitude. An attitude that shows humility, a willingness to learn, and confidence in one’s value, capabilities and wisdom anchored to reality. Showing that one has been constantly learning, and using a similar skill-set in a different setting, and has accumulated great wisdom and network can help one to make that transition smoothly, and nail that interview for the ‘new’ career.

Prepare yourself for- ‘Do you have Any Questions for Us?’

As a candidate, have you ever wondered what sort of questions to ask the HR or the talent acquisition team at the company you have an interview with? We have talked about something similar in one of our earlier articles, so let us delve a bit deeper into this. These questions will also help you as a candidate to understand where the firm or company that is hiring stands in terms of what it expects from you, and it will also give you an insight how the company functions.

So, what are the kind of questions the candidate can ask, and the HR should be prepared about? What sort of questions can you ask when they say ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ Note that usually, only two or three questions are entertained, so it is a good idea to pick on what matters to you the most, and think about your questions accordingly.

Questions like:

What is the definition of success according to this company?

What could be my trajectory in this company?

What is expected from me in the coming months/next six months/a year from now?

Such questions can help one understand the expectations the company has from you in the long run. It will also help you understand what are the parameters of success here: for example, based on the answer, you can get an idea if the company measures success through sales, or networking, or by the number of hours clocked in, or project by project basis and so on.

Understanding the parameters can also help one understand what the path to future promotions looks like. This leads us to the next point.

Questions like:

In what ways is this role important for the growth of the company?

What are some challenges related to the role?

Asking a very direct question like ‘Why are you hiring for this role?’ might come across as a little rude and blunt. Instead, the questions mentioned here might help you get more detailed answers from the HR. The answers to these questions are likely to help you get an idea about the big picture as well as the day to day to issues surrounding the role. For example, is there a particular reason why this position is open, or if there’s a peculiar challenge that makes the role demanding in a certain way. This can be a great step towards actually getting prepared for the role!

But hey, the job isn’t just about the work. One might also want to get a sense of the work environment and this leads us to the next point. While it might be tempting to ask the questions about work culture and environment, there is something about those questions that could scream as ‘Red Flag!’ to the HR and it is necessary to use your observations instead of directly asking them. Read on.

Red Flag Questions to Not Ask:

What matters to the people who work here?

What do people like about working here?

Instead of asking the HR directly, keep these questions in your mind, and try to see what is it about the place that the people are enjoying. Moving through the office keeping these questions in mind can help you get a hint of the work- ethic company values, and what kind of a work environment does the company offer. A look at the office-workers’ overall mood, any announcement boards, decorations, how welcoming the desks look, and how relaxed or stressed the people are can give you answers to these questions without directly asking.

As articles by SparkHire and SHRM put it, asking certain questions can help the HR understand that you as a candidate are interested in this job, that you are serious about it. The right questions, when asked, the right things when observed, and certain ‘wrong’ questions when not asked, can help you to understand what it truly means to work at this new place that you are planning to be a part of.

How Important is Interviewer’s Feedback

Hone your interview skills, by asking for feedback.

Interviews can often be learning experiences, and it is no wonder that many people choose to appear for interviews even when they know they might not get the job, or that they might not really take up any offer for a job. From a hesitant answer to a tricky question, to not bringing the necessary documents, to simply being a matter of conduct and luck, the interview in itself is a learning experience in many ways. The experience that appearing for an interview offers can be utilised to its fuller extent by asking for feedback from the interviewer.

So, let us jump straight into it- how to ask for feedback from the interviewer and why is it a good practice?

An article by Harvard Business Review gives us some insights.

What kind of questions one should ask, and what are they likely to help us learn about ourselves? Note that feedback can be asked at various rounds of the interview, say, the preliminary, first or the second round and so on. One can ask for feedback from the recruiter of a consultancy or from the hiring manager of the company, depending on the stage of the interview. 

Questions such as follows to ask a recruiter after the earlier stages of screening process of the interview:

  • “Based on our conversation, how do you think my experience matches with what’s needed for the job?”
  • “Is there anything specific I should highlight in upcoming interviews based on the job description or the intangibles not listed?”

Such questions, as the article mentions, help the recruiter give a perspective of the hiring manager. Moreover, as the nature of the questions make it clear, they can help you with providing information that may not have come up in the earlier screening conversation.

Questions such as follows can be asked to the interviewer after the main interview:

  • “How do you think my skills can be leveraged to bring value to your team and the company?”

Their answer to this can help you understand whether you have managed to convey everything clearly or is there something about your standard answers that you need to work on. A more directly framed question would be:

  • “Is there any feedback, specific focus areas, or anything I can do to improve my interviewing technique?”

We may or may not always get the job. Questions such as follows can be asked in case it appears that the job isn’t yours:

  • “Do you think, based on the feedback, I would be a culture fit for future opportunities? I wouldn’t want to waste my time or yours if it’s not a match.”

This crucially can help one understand whether there’s scope for a future opportunity. Plus, it also helps in choosing companies to apply to in the future, as the answers to such questions determine the kind of company culture one would be ideal for. If the recruiters are engaging well with your feedback questions, you can ask more questions to get more specific answers. Questions such as:

  • “Are you seeking someone more hands-on, someone who can provide higher-level strategy, or both?”
  • “What percentage would you say is hands-on and what percentage of the work is strategy development?”

Asking for feedback to recruiters, or to anyone in general entails a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Make sure they are willing and receptive to give you feedback and engage in such a conversation. Some recruiters might not be willing to engage for the fear of offending you, or simply due to a lack of time. But as the HBR article puts it, if you don’t ask, you won’t receive- you won’t know what you did right or where you went wrong. In any case, a thank you email post the process can go a long way, as we have talked about in one of our earlier articles.
  • Do not take the feedback personally. Do not overanalyze or try to read between the lines- take them as you receive them. Internal politics, management issues, certain unknown, unforeseen circumstances which aren’t under your control can affect the feedback and the call up.
  • Depending on what stage you are asking, use the feedback to your advantage as much as you can. Sometimes you might be in the middle of the interview and you may use the feedback to pivot and change your strategy. Sometimes, it might give you insights into how to approach your future interviews.

Speaking of approach, a final crucial thing to keep in mind as the article puts it: change your approach, not yourself. Changing your personality, or putting up an inauthentic view of who you are is something one should steer clear of. The feedback is to be used to hone your own answering and communication skills. It is to help you understand the kind of things you should focus on, where, when according to the context.

An example from the article cited throughout should make it clear how useful taking feedback from the interviewer is:

Miss S was certain she’d receive an offer after multiple interviews for a VP-level role, but she didn’t get the job. She was hesitant to ask for feedback since she thought it would be fruitless and the process had any anyway been so long. But when she did ask, she learned that she was ‘answering every question in way too much detail, and she was so focused on her team’s successes that the interviewers couldn’t grasp what work she had actually accomplished.’

The problem wasn’t her work, or her personality, it was just her approach and that’s all she needed to change!

New Kind of Interview Questions in the New Normal

As more and more hiring avenues open up amidst the new normal, we find a change in mechanisms related to interviewing, onboarding and company culture. We have talked about onboarding, or more precisely about onboarding yourself in an earlier article. We have also talked about skills in demand for remote-workers. And now, we shall take a look at the new kind of interview questions one might need to start preparing for in the light of the post-pandemic world of work.

The interactions around the office space have changed, and there have been some new additions to the commonly asked interview questions. So, let us take a look at the kind of interview questions one might have to answer as the new normal brings in a need for new set of skills.

Let us see some questions, what the interviewers want to know through those questions and what you can do to use them to your advantage.

The chief themes of the questions will revolve around remote working, and the ability to self-direct.

Some questions will revolve around your experience of working remotely. Questions like:

  • Have you ever worked remotely? How did you adapt to the work from home challenge?
  • Which aspects of remote working did you enjoy and which ones were challenging?

The employers/interviewers would ask such questions to gauge your adaptability, your self-discipline, how you have set up your work from home environment, and in what ways would you manage hybrid workspaces. The obvious key is to make it clear through your answers that you can be productive from home, and show that you are comfortable enough in using remote-working technologies.

The nature of the interview has changed, and thus aside from a well-groomed demeanour, how you have set up your current meeting, your comfort with your equipment, care about the connectivity and a distraction-free environment will be the core things to be careful about, and they will be an answer in themselves.

Some questions will revolve around your communications skills. Questions like:

  • How would you communicate with your manager and co-workers in a remote setting?
  • How would you ensure that our teams collaborate safely with each other and clients?

These seemingly simple questions might be asked to gauge how you report and hold accountability. Moreover, organisations would also be looking for safety in the office space as well. Your answers should revolve, in addition to reporting and accountability, around specific examples of how you got things done with your team members, clients in your previous job when things were uncertain and members were absent.

Think of specific examples when you kept the client engaged through the uncertain situation, or at least how you plan/intend to do so.

Some questions will revolve around in what ways you took advantage of the situation.

The underlying theme is ‘how did you deal with a difficult situation?’

They would want to know in what ways did you take advantage of the various online resources. Moreover, they would also want to know if you took the time out to reassess your career and if there were any significant insights you had. Be prepared with answers about the various webinars, certification courses you might have attended, how you used your networking skills and if there are any new hard or soft skills you developed.

Expect questions about the extent of one’s comfort with a ‘return’ to the office and travel; keep your answers as well as potential alternatives and solutions in mind.

Finally, as a candidate, there are some questions you could ask to arrive at the right decision. Questions surrounding:

  • What technology will be used for the main tasks.
  • How communication will be carried out among employees, like details about online meeting invitations and scheduling, and who will be in-charge of those.
  • What tools and resources would the company provide to employees in case of remote-working.
  • Safety requirements and provisions made.
  • Return to office time-table and the extent of its flexibility.

Explaining the Pandemic Gap in Your Resume

In our earlier articles, we have charted out ways of hunting for a job during the pandemic, or onboarding yourself when you have been hired and there are limitations with the said process. Realistically speaking, many of us also had to leave our jobs. Many of us might still be on a look out! Worries might be creeping in about explaining the gap in our resume. Circumstances hit us and we had to remain unemployed and maybe we still are.

The unfair situation might be daunting. One might find wondering things like:

  • How can I explain the employment gap in my resume?
  • What to do if this gap keeps getting longer?
  • How do I make sure they know the gap doesn’t overshadow my skillset and competence?

Addressing these questions, let us delve into what one can do about explaining the gap year in the resume.

Be Honest about the gap:

The number one tip is to be honest about it. It might be tempting to cover it up or say something else about the gap. That is a not a good idea.

A lot of people have been affected by the pandemic when it comes to employment, and everyone knows it. Potential employers, hiring managers will understand your situation and it is best the gap caused as a result of the pandemic is made known.

One can add a little note or a small section in the resume letting the readers know the time period of the gap and that the pandemic was the reason of the gap. One can also add a similar line in the cover-letter. 

This brings us to the next point.

Highlighting the Brighter things:

The revelation has been made but how does one make sure that the gap doesn’t simply end up defining the resume?

The key is to making sure your skills, capabilities and certifications are up to date. If you took up some kind of online L&D while being indoors, add it! If you imparted your own L&D in some way, add it! If you attended any webinars, online workshops, training programs, add, add, add!

If the situation didn’t allow you to engage in much L&D then and you can do it now, go ahead and start, and add what you have started, mentioning the ongoing status.

If still your situation doesn’t let you have access to online L&D, make sure your skills and prior experience section are up to date and that you aren’t missing out on anything. You can still update bits about the soft-skills. Note that while additional L&D while staying stuck inside would be a bonus, it is still fine if you were not able to do any of that. Again, remember that potential employers will understand. But wait, we aren’t done yet!

Contacts and References:

Now is the time to use your references well. Talk to your mentors and seniors and ask them if they would be fine to be listed as your references. Potential employers will understand the gap in your resume and they might get in touch with your references. In the absence of recent work experience, a sense of how you are as a learner, how you approach and handle responsibilities will be a good anchor for the potential employers, which they can get from your references.

Make sure you tell the people listed in your references about job-seeking efforts and what you have been up to lately and how you have handled your situation. Keeping this bit about what you have done lately and how you have been handling the job-seeking is also a good thing to bring up during the interview.

And finally, even if you haven’t landed an interview yet, hang on and know that a ton of people all over the world are in the same boat. Keep up the fighting spirit and use the challenging situation to learn, adapt, and persevere more. Remember to keep developing yourself under pressure in whatever way possible, remember to be antifragile!