Many people fall into a job, maybe they don’t know what they want to do, or they have an opportunity that sounds good at the time. No matter how they got there, some will realize that their job is not what they want to do long term. They realize they may want to change career paths but don’t know how, especially when they also need to pay the bills.
If you were to ask everyone you met if their career path followed their plan for their professional life, our guess is less than 10% would say yes. Even those who may have always known what they wanted to do, be it a fireman, doctor, or lawyer, there is a good chance their path to their current position took some unexpected turns.
A recent article by Duke University’s Dorie Clark featured in the Harvard Business Review speaks to the challenge of focusing on your job at the expense of your career. “In my book, The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, I write about how to simultaneously navigate two realities: meeting the short-term needs of the moment (i.e., doing your job to pay the bills) while positioning yourself for long-term success.”
In the article, Dorie highlights four principles that can help those looking to make a long-term change, without adding pressure to their existing situation.
Analyze the strategic value of your activities
We often get so caught up in the day-to-day activities of our job, we don’t see the strategic value of the work we do. She suggests a great exercise to understand which of your existing skills will translate to the job you’d like to have is to use a Venn Diagram. In one circle list your existing responsibilities and in the other, the responsibilities of the job you’d like to have. You’ll likely discover a number of overlapping skills. You’ll also see areas that you can start focusing on to build your skill set toward the new role.
Successful people know they can’t make it alone, everyone needs allies. If the role you’d like to move to is within your organization, and you have a strong company culture where you can be open and honest with your manager, they can be a strong ally in helping you build the new skills you need. They may be able to include you on cross-functional teams and assign you to stretch assignments that provide new challenges and introduce you to new people.
Manage your brand
Most of us don’t think of ourselves as a brand, but in fact, we are. When you want to change career paths, those that know you may have trouble seeing you in a different role. This is not a bad thing, it’s simply human nature. It’s up to you to change their perception. Don’t change who you are, but you can start showing up differently. Think at a more strategic level, study up on the new area you want to be in, participate in committees, engage experts in that field, and be active on social media in the conversations that are taking place.
Be willing to experiment with “120% time”
One of the many things Google is known for is its support of employees using 20% of their time to work on things outside of the scope of their job. It turns out that 20% tend to be on top of their normal work, but those who take advantage of it are often promoted into highly desirable positions. This is a great option to help make the transition, but as Dorie notes, “It takes a cooperative manager and strict time management discipline for you to reallocate 20% of your time to speculative or developmental activities — and if you don’t have that, you’ll likely need to be willing to work more, at least for a period of time, in order to establish your bona fides and capture the attention of the people who can help you advance.”
Making a career change can be difficult, especially with our personal commitments factored into the equation. But adopting principles like the ones outlined here can help on your path to a potentially life-changing career.
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