Not many career paths travel a straight line and most people take detours in to a different field or profession. Workers often plan – or at least have the intention – to go back to their original field.
But what do you do if, years later, you want to return to the area in which you trained but never really gained experience? What’s the easiest course back?
“The road to get there is to look for transferable skills,” said Willem van Donge, head of careers and personal development at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands, in an email. In other words, look for those activities that you have done successfully and frequently in your current role. And look for the skills that are the most relevant to the role you want.
We are all like professional athletes with short-term contracts.
If, for example, you are working in the information technology department of a large international bank, one of your responsibilities might be to make sure that a new IT system is delivered on time, within budget and with the right functionality, said van Donge.
In order to do this, your job might be to persuade internal stakeholders that everything is going according to schedule. This would be excellent experience to highlight if you were considering a move to a position as an international business development manager. “Although [the] roles are very different, quite a few of [the] activities performed might be similar,” said van Donge. “Identifying and marketing these skills will help in bridging the gap.”
Know that you’re not alone
“Changing career tracks in the digital age is the norm and not the exception,” said Boston-based Rod Robertson, managing partner of Briggs Capital, which specialises in business mergers and acquisitions, in an email. People are no longer wedded to their jobs for life.
“We are all like professional athletes with their short-term contracts,” he said. “We do three- and five-year gigs and then move on.” Gone are the days of staying forever, so no one should be very surprised that you have decided to return to your old field.
Dust off your old credentials
“Formal education and training matters, even if it is old,” said Bruce Tulgan, founder of New York-based management training and consulting firm RainMakerThinking Inc, in an email.
Of course, there is a good chance that your technical training may have become obsolete over time as generations of new technology have come and gone. “Assess what training and education you might have to do to update your technical skills and knowledge,” said Tulgan. “Figure out what resources you can access and make a plan.”
At times, it will feel like you are starting from scratch – but you’re not. “Your old education and training are a foundation for the new learning and a source of perspective and wisdom,” said Tulgan. “The fundamentals of any field are usually the first couple of years of formal education. You will likely find that many of those fundamentals have not changed.”
A way back in
Take the time to reintroduce yourself to the field. If you need to updateyour training or renew any certifications, this will be a part of that reintroduction, said Tulgan. Even if you don’t have to go back to school, some universities have career-guidance resources available to alumni, and they can be a great resource. Often, it’s as simple as paying a fee to become a member of an alumni group.
Reach out to anyone and everyone you knew when you were doing your early training
Tap into professional associations, clubs, and even informal peer groups. Look for websites, publications, and events in your chosen field, and use business social media networks, such as LinkedIn and Xing, to connect to people in similar positions. Reach out to anyone and everyone you knew when you were doing your early training. Make a list and track them down. It’s likely that those who stayed in your field will now be very experienced and in senior positions with decision-making authority, according to Tulgan. “Reach out to all of them – one by one – and start by asking for their advice about how to break back into the field,” he said.
Take it easy
Give yourself time to slowly and sensibly ease yourself back in, said Briggs Capital’s Robertson. One way to do this is to track the industry and stay involved from a distance. This can mean anything from networking to moonlighting to participating in social media. “Eventually you’ll find your way back in,” he said.
“What would your life be like in this new career area? said Florida-based Susan Ford Collins, speaker, trainer, and author of The Joy of Success. “Your day, your home, your commute and job?” she asked. “Positive feelings provide passion and drive.”
Time to rework your CV
Ask yourself the following, suggested Ford Collins: “How has what you have been doing since your training years ago prepared you for returning to this area? How are you better prepared than ever before?” Make the case to yourself first and then communicate it in your new resume or CV.
Do some mock interviews with people you know who work in your desired field or who are skilled interviewers. Give them your new CV and tell them to use it to challenge you, “to ask all the questions you need to hear and you maybe are afraid of getting,” said Ford Collins.
If you can afford it, offer to volunteer or do a free project in your area of interest. “That could be a very strong proof-of-the-pudding,” Ford Collins said. Use the skills you’ve developed since you left the field to sell what you would bring. And don’t allow yourself to be trapped by your resume or CV. “Cross training is a powerful business strategy,” said Ford Collins. “Bringing strengths and understandings from one or more mindset and skill set to another to solve a problem can bring an enormous advantage.”
Working your way up
When it comes time to apply for your first position in your old field, you most likely will want to re-enter at the highest level possible. But you should be prepared to re-enter in a junior role, said Tulgan. “If you are really so wise and valuable, then demonstrate that wisdom and value by doing the junior role incredibly well with a fantastic attitude, and also put in the extra time necessary to demonstrate what else you can do.”
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