Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers -- and Seize Success

Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers -- and Seize Success

by Dawn Graham
Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers -- and Seize Success

Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers -- and Seize Success

by Dawn Graham


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Are you stuck in an unsatisfying job or feel like you’re in the wrong profession? An industry that just isn’t a fit? Don’t just settle but succeed in the right career!

Get unstuck and land a new career—one you’re genuinely passionate about. Switchers helps you realize that dream. Written by celebrated career coach and psychologist Dr. Dawn Graham, the book provides proven strategies that will get you where you want to go.

The first step is to recognize that the usual rules and job search tools won’t work for you. Resumes and job boards were designed with traditional applicants in mind. As a career switcher, you have to go beyond the basics, using tactics tailor-made to ensure your candidacy stands out.

In Switchers, Dr. Graham reveals how to:

  • Understand the concerns of hiring managers
  • Craft a resume that catches their attention within six seconds
  • Spotlight transferable skills that companies covet
  • Rebrand yourself—aligning your professional identity with your new aspirations
  • Reach decision-makers by recruiting “ambassadors” from within your network
  • Nail interviews by turning tough questions to your advantage
  • Convince skeptical employers to shelve their assumptions and take a chance on you
  • Negotiate a competitive salary and benefits package

Packed with psychological insights, practical exercises, and inspiring success stories, Switchers helps you leap over obstacles and into a whole new field. This guide will help you pull off the most daring—and fulfilling—career move of your life!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814439630
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 06/26/2018
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Dawn Graham, Ph.D. is one of the nation's leading career coaches. She is Director of Career Management for the Executive MBA Program at The Wharton School, where she counsels business leaders on making strategic career choices. A licensed psychologist and former corporate recruiter, she hosts SiriusXM Radio's popular weekly call-in show Career Talk (Channel 111).

Read an Excerpt


Are You a Switcher?

The "Magic" Equation for Seizing Career Success

Donna secretly dreamed of a career in the fast-paced world of advertising and media. Yet, here she was, forty years old and still grinding away at the same large bank in New York City as she had since she was twenty. With her family's support and encouragement, Donna decided to make a change. It was now or never. Without telling anyone at work, she began looking for a new job. Not just any new job — an entirely new career in advertising at a large media company. She knew she would probably have to sacrifice some of her salary, but she felt confident her impressive resume and stellar presentation skills would land her a well-paying role in her target area. After all, she was in New York, the world's media mecca. There was no better place to seek this exciting career opportunity.

Donna dusted off the resume she had last updated six years earlier when making an internal move by adding a few lines about her current job. She felt giddy when she searched the major online job sites and found senior roles open at CBS Corporation, HBO,

• 3 •

CNN, and major advertising agencies. She picked out seven roles that seemed ideal and submitted her resume. And then she waited. And waited.

After six weeks she still hadn't heard from a single company. What was going on? Confused, Donna picked up the phone to follow up with a few companies just to be certain they received her application. The recruiters she talked to were pleasant, but they delivered jarring news. While Donna had an impressive background, she "wasn't what they were looking for" because she didn't have "the right experience or industry contacts." Donna's background in finance was impressive but, as one recruiter bluntly put it, they were looking for a creative type — not a math whiz. Donna was dumbfounded that her resume wasn't even being considered and frustrated by wasting six weeks waiting for responses.

Donna had an old college acquaintance who worked at one of the companies, so she reached out to reconnect and see if he had any advice. Her contact was candid and told Donna the company only hired individuals who had come up through the ranks. If she wanted a senior role in advertising, she would need to start from the bottom and gain experience like everyone else. Donna felt discouraged, but rationalized that this was just a requirement of her friend's firm. Once she got an interview somewhere, she could share her many accomplishments and convince the hiring manager that she could learn the job.

Two months passed and still Donna hadn't gotten any traction. Not a single interview — just impersonal rejections, or worse, no responses at all. She considered returning to graduate school to get a master's degree in media studies, figuring this would boost her credibility. But with two preteen daughters, she didn't see how she could add schoolwork to her schedule. Then a neighbor connected her to a hiring manager at a small advertising firm and she got an interview. But she felt like she and the recruiter were speaking a different language, and she was never called back. Donna felt frustrated and resentful. She was on the verge of giving up and simply continuing with her standard routine, going through the motions at the bank. Why couldn't these companies see what a great candidate she was?

The Plight of the Switcher

If you're trying to make a major change, Donna's predicament probably sounds familiar. It's hard enough getting a new job in the same career, but most traditional job seekers know the basic steps and typically land new positions within six months. Switching careers is different. Like Donna, you face broader obstacles to landing the job of your dreams, such as an inability or unwillingness for recruiters to understand how transferable skills can provide great value. Career Switchers often don't strategize sufficiently up front. They don't land interviews because they underestimate the need to reframe their experience, network properly, and use social media to their advantage. When Switchers do land interviews, they often misjudge the preparation needed, so they come across as incongruent or unqualified. As rejections pile up, they become disheartened. Eventually, all too many give up.

That's unfortunate because unconventional career moves are easier to make than ever before. Globalization, technology advancement, the "gig economy," and a rise in portfolio careers and side hustles are usurping traditional career certainties. With corporate ladders, up-or-out mentalities, corner office cultures, and glass ceilings all under siege, more professionals can leap boldly into new careers — if they know how to defeat stereotypes, poor hiring practices, and outdated thinking. To get a hiring manager to roll the dice on you as a nontraditional hire, you must be prepared. Don't suffer Donna's fate. In this chapter, you'll:

• Take an honest look at the sacrifices you're willing to make for the new career you want

• Determine whether a career switch is right for you at this point

• Learn the classic pitfalls career Switchers need to watch out for

• Discover the "magic" equation for seizing career success

What Type of Switcher Are You?

Many people who want to switch careers underestimate the nature of the challenge they're accepting. Before doing anything else, take time to think about what type of career Switcher you are. There is more than one type, and some switches are considerably more difficult than others. Here's the basic principle to keep in mind: The further you stray from a "traditional" career trajectory, the harder it is to switch. Knowing the degree of difficulty will help you design your strategy.

An industry switch is moderately challenging. I made this type of switch myself when I transitioned from corporate to academia. As a corporate recruiter, I understood the skills and lingo of helping people shift in their careers, but I lacked direct experience applying those skills to an academic setting, where the structure, culture, resources, and outcomes differed significantly. So, when interviewing, it was incumbent upon me to prove to the hiring team that my functional knowledge was applicable, and demonstrate how I would adapt and navigate effectively in an unfamiliar industry. Interviewers asked me about this directly, and I got an offer largely because I anticipated this and prepared a concrete, outcome-based response.

Making a functional switch within the same industry is more challenging than an industry shift. Jessica was an accounting manager in the pharmaceutical industry who wanted to stay in pharma and become a marketing manager. Her familiarity with the industry helped a lot, but she needed new knowledge, skills, and credentials to market medications to prescribing physicians. It was a lot different than keeping the books straight. So with the support of her boss, Jessica sought out special projects inside of the company where she could gain hands-on skills by working with the marketing team. This ultimately put her on the right path to complete the switch.

To make a functional switch, you will likely need to find someone to advocate for you. Before you begin a job search, you may need to gain direct experience through volunteering, pursuing applied training, or working in a self-created "internship" similar to Jessica. A functional switch can be easier if you do it within your current organization. If you have a track record of doing exceptional work with the company, they might be willing to put in extra effort to train you rather than conduct an expensive external candidate search or risk losing you as a loyal employee.

The hardest switch to make is the double switch — a professional who makes both an industry and functional change at once. This includes Donna, who wanted to switch from a finance role at the bank to an advertising role in media, or the newspaper editor whose job became obsolete so he followed his dream of working as a brand marketer in a startup, and the corporate attorney turned human resources executive in a growing nonprofit.

It comes as no surprise that double Switchers tend to become frustrated quickly. My friend Kevin, who joined the military after completing a degree in computer science, served eight years in the navy, where he earned the rank of lieutenant. Ready for a change, Kevin pursued civilian roles in large tech companies as a supply chain manager. Hiring managers were impressed by his noteworthy assignments in Afghanistan, but they had difficulty figuring out where Kevin's skills would fit in their departments. Disheartened but not deterred, Kevin changed his approach and began describing his military experience in language that corporations understood. He created a strategy to network with individuals within the companies he was targeting, many of whom had made similar transitions, and he practiced relaying his value in mock interviews. He did the work for hiring managers instead of relying on them to figure out how his background might contribute.

A double switch requires persistence, courage, and sacrifice, but it's completely doable. The key to success is to adopt a unique and tailored strategy, which I will help you develop in this book.

Think about your own goals. What type of a Switcher are you? Are you attempting a leap that's farther than you thought? Have you underestimated the difficulty? If you're not quite sure yet, don't worry. The exercises in the next few chapters will help you define your focus with greater clarity. Then you can figure out how high the mountain is that you must climb.

Clinging to How Things Are

An old fable about a hunter who sets a trap to capture a monkey offers a perfect analogy for your biggest obstacle as a Switcher. The hunter puts food in a glass jar with a narrow opening. When the hungry monkey comes along and reaches into the jar to grab the food, he is unable to remove his paw since his closed fist doesn't fit back out through the hole. Although the monkey could simply let go of the food and remove his paw from the jar to escape, he instead chooses to cling tightly, and is captured by the hunter.

Sometimes we are unable to let go of what is keeping us trapped, even when achieving freedom could be simple. Switchers are excited to make a major change, but many aren't so jazzed about the sacrifices that often come with it — like taking a salary cut, dropping levels on the organizational chart, or relocating to another city. We grow attached to our comfortable lives and don't want to give them up — or at least certain parts of them. So we cling to our current identity, without even recognizing it. And the more scared we get, the more we cling, and the less likely we are to reach our goals. Identity clinging is one of the most important obstacles I will cover in this book.

As Switchers, we need to get real with ourselves first. We must acknowledge that many parts of our current careers that we like — such as salary, title, or status — will change. (I'll discuss more about career identity in Chapter Two.) The good news is we don't have to relinquish everything, just some things. Ask yourself, "What are my true non-negotiables?" Non-negotiables are requirements you are 100 percent certain you cannot forego, no matter what. These are different from ideals or wants. All of us are shooting for the ideal job, and we all have a list of wants a mile long. But many of us haven't thought hard about what we must have in our new careers to be happy.

Maybe you're divorced and have dual custody of young children, so you can't relocate out of state. Or maybe you have a chronic health condition and you must limit your search to employers who offer sufficient medical insurance coverage. Maybe you're a single parent or a primary caregiver for an aging relative, so frequent travel isn't something you can do. Some situations truly are inflexible, and they may present additional hurdles to navigate. These are your non-negotiables.

Please don't let these stop you. Limitations can lead to the creative solutions, and persistence will take you far. No matter what, you're never truly stuck. I'll discuss this more soon.

Most of us have very few, if any, true non-negotiables. We might not want to forego the comfortable salary, four weeks of vacation we've earned, private office, reputation as the "go-to" guy, or flexible schedule. But we would be willing to sacrifice these perks for a successful switch. And, keep in mind that some challenges might prove temporary. David accepted a demotion at a top company to "learn the ropes" in a different function, only to be recruited two years later into a prestigious role at a smaller company. At this new job, he made more money than before his switch. So, don't lose perspective. A step back in the short run might catapult you ahead in the long run, especially if passion is fueling you.

If you're serious about a switch, you can alter spending habits, rebuild your vacation bank, or relocate to a new place. And if you aren't willing to make any sacrifices, it may be a sign switching isn't right for you.

Regret Cuts Deepest

Depending on what you learned from the Career Switch Tolerance Questionnaire, you might feel ready to tackle the big switch. Or you might feel somewhat uncertain and inclined to do additional introspecting. If you're more apprehensive than you thought, take a few days to think in depth about what is non-negotiable. You might start to see creative options emerge where you least expected them.

Let's say you're a corporate technology manager who earns over $100,000 a year and you think you just can't afford a significant pay cut to work at a nonprofit. Over the next few days, review your household budget in detail. Where does your paycheck currently go? What flexibility can you build in, even if just temporarily? There might be a few extras — a $215 monthly cable bill, annual vacations abroad — that you'd willingly sacrifice for the job of your dreams. Maybe you could take a second job temporarily to make up for a portion of the pay cut, or spend a year saving $20,000 before you officially embark on a switch. Other options might include downsizing your home, giving up your car in favor of public transit, or renting out your basement on AirBnB.

If none of these appeal to you, either you're not as interested in this career switch as you may have thought, or you just need to get creative! When I decided to switch careers in my early thirties, I sold my loft and moved into an ancient (marketed as "charming with a lot of character") apartment with some freeloading roaches for roommates. Yuck! I became my local dollar store's best customer and clipping coupons became a necessity. While I kept my car, I mostly relied on the bus or my bike since parking and gas were expensive. Dining out became a fond memory as I convinced my friends that potlucks were the cool new trend. During this, I found some comfort in knowing I could always change my mind. I had solid contacts and a track record of success in my previous roles, so I could potentially rebuild my former career. In the end, while my revamped lifestyle was far from ideal, it was temporary, and well worth it.

Maybe you're the boss. You've worked hard to attain the corner office and a staff you lead and nurture. You enjoy the autonomy to make decisions and set strategy, and find security in knowing you're competent at it. But you hate your job, and constantly fantasize about being in a different function, doing something new. Are you willing to trade control and comfort, perhaps just temporarily, for excitement and career satisfaction? It might mean working for someone junior to you, having to perform menial tasks again, or clocking in when you're used to coming and going at will. It will also mean proving yourself and likely making mistakes as you're learning, which can be tough things to swallow. These might be small sacrifices in order to climb the right ladder, versus continuing upward on the wrong one.

In addition to looking for creative solutions, also spend time carefully thinking through whether you can take on the practicalities. Maybe you have two small children and an employed spouse, and your desired employer requires a longer commute. Or maybe your target profession initially involves several weeks of travel. During the next few days, realistically assess how family life may be impacted. Maybe you'll be unable to make Tuesday night basketball games and you would need to hire someone to do the yard-work for a while. Balance these sacrifices against the benefits your family would realize if you made a successful career switch. Would free time be more enjoyable because you're happier in your job? Could you give up the marathon working weekends and take the kids to the beach instead? Would it allow your family to save more money in the long run?

If you've taken a hard look at your life and just can't budge on that one non-negotiable, then maybe your reservations are real and a career switch isn't for you right now. That's okay! You now understand the obstacles and can revisit the decision in a few years.

What is the value of true job satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, or the fulfillment of a dream? The answer will differ for everyone. You need to decide what "worth it" looks like to you.


Excerpted from "Switchers"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Dawn Graham.
Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Preface xv

Part I Choose Your Switch 1

1 Are You a Switcher? The "Magic" Equation for Seizing Career Success 3

2 The Psychology of the Job Search (and How to Use It to Your Advantage!) 23

Part II Clarify Your Plan A 49

3 If You Don't Invest, Why Should They? Figure Out Your Plan A 51

4 Change Isn't Linear: Mapping Your Path to a Career Switch 71

Part III Craft Your Brand Value Proposition 83

5 (Re)Brand or Be Branded: Craft Your Professional Identity 85

6 Your Career Story: Where Reason Meets Intuition 103

7 What Got You Here Won't Get You There: The Proactive Job Search 119

Part IV Create Ambassadors 143

8 No Excuses: Your Network Really Is Your Net Worth 145

9 The New Way to Network: Create Ambassadors 159

Part V Keep the Ball in Your Court 181

10 How to Never Have a Bad Interview: What Are They Really Asking? 183

11 It's Not Fair (It Really Isn't!) 207

12 Always Sleep on It: Get Ready to Negotiate! 221

13 Never Look for a Job Again (Get Recruited!) 235

Appendix: How to Choose a Career Coach 249

Notes 253

Index 261

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