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July 18, 2018

Jobs expert at Wharton offers tips for changing careers

Dr. Dawn Graham, author of 'Switchers,' says you don't have to stay in a field that feels like the wrong fit

Careers Advice
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Dr. Dawn Graham says, it's never too late to change the game.

Career director for the MBA program for Executives at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Dawn Graham gives her tips on switching careers in hew new book, Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success. As a licensed psychologist and a former corporate recruiter, Graham has taken her experience to give career changers a guide to getting their dream job.

With technology, hiring managers are able to weed out potential employees by applicant tracking systems and algorithms making switching careers all the more difficult.

“What I found is there are people who are extremely qualified and can do the work in a different industry or in a different function,” says Dr. Graham. 

“But because they get so frustrated and bogged down by these hiring processes, which don’t work for them, they give up or they just assume it’s not possible. So I wrote them a book to give them a different way to approach it.”

People switch careers for a variety of reasons. It’s become a commonplace in society due to new fields emerging to the fact many people graduated in a field that wasn’t right for them in the first place, Dr. Graham notes. But with these changes and challenges occurring and people searching for something a bit deeper, Dr. Graham outlined her four biggest tips for career switchers.

• "You’re always going to be more successful when you run towards something versus running away from something you hate."

Having an idea of what you want is great, but that isn't the whole picture. 

“I notice a lot of people don’t take time to say, ‘Okay. What is it I want to do?’ They may have an idea on a career based on something they’ve seen on TV or things they’ve heard, or maybe it’s what their friend is doing. They don’t really take time to understand what’s the day-to-day like," notes Dr. Graham. 

“Research it. Look at the market: Is it growing? Is it declining? Is it something that’s getting outsourced? And how do my skills fit in? What gaps do I have, and how can I close these gaps?”

• "Don’t rely on traditional job search strategies, because they don’t work for a switcher."

“Your application, chances are, is not going to get seen by a human because they’re weeding you out. Headhunters – that’s a popular route that people take, but headhunters works for the company. They don’t work for the individual. So, they’re not likely going to sell you to their well-paying client if you don’t have the right background, so don’t rely on the traditional job search strategies.”

• Don’t jump back into school before doing some research first.

“Going back to school can be great, but you need to research if that makes sense for the direction you’re going,” says Dr. Graham. 

“A lot of the time you go through school for two years and come out of the other side with this equally difficult job search ahead of you because the companies still want practical experience.” 

She continues, “If you decide to go back to school: Make sure that the program you’re looking at has practical, applied internships or opportunities to get that type of experience and then use it to help build your networks and open the doors. If it doesn’t, you may just decide that there [are] other strategies that may be more helpful to you.”

• Engage your network.

This is a tip that you may hear a lot when it comes to job searches, but Dr. Graham encourages it in a slightly different way. She talks in her book about second-level contacts, which are family and friends. 

“I ask this question to people at conferences – can the people closest to you…say in one or two lines, specifically, what you do for a living? I’m not talking about ‘Oh, you work at Comcast.’ I’m talking specifically what you do, because if they can’t, you’re missing out on this great opportunity to market yourself to others.”

Knowing what you do for a living allows people to catch things you may not have available to you and network for you when you don’t have the opportunity. 

“You can’t be everywhere. Your contacts are out there. Hopefully, they’re watching different news channels, reading different publications, or interacting with different people and they could bring back a lot of great information. People are changing jobs everyday, and if you have ambassadors out there who can bring that back to you, that’s going to be helpful.”

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