“More and more individuals are pursuing careers that fit their dreams,” says Dawn Graham, author of “Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers – and Seize Success.”
Whether it’s because it’s their dream or because their organizations moved them into the role, many people come to the L&D profession from other areas of an organization. Especially as the role of the learning leader has come into its own, people are realizing the opportunities they can experience if they join the training field. But changing careers can have its challenges. Here are some tips for “career switchers” entering L&D.
1. Make sure it’s what you want.
“You’re always going to be more successful when you run to a new career versus running from,” says Graham. While you may be unhappy or burned out with your current career, don’t let that dissatisfaction drive your search for a new profession. The first step of changing careers is to decide what the new career should be.
For Kerri Bracken, CPTM, operations training supervisor at Daikin America, Inc., the switch came because she was asked by her employer. A chemist by training, Bracken was working in technical services when she was approached by the production plant manager to consider accepting a new role: the operations training supervisor. “I had experience in all areas of our production facility, so upper management thought it would be a great idea for me to head this group of area trainers,” she says. “Not knowing any better at the time, I believed them!”
Graham recommends three steps when considering a new field. First is examining your interests. Are you interested in people? In how they learn? In how learning can impact business results? Then L&D might be for you.
Second is looking at your skills. Do you have consultation skills? Data analysis skills? The ability to identify needs and develop programs based on those needs? The ability to manage technology and other resources? These skills all contribute to effective training management.
Finally, research the market you’re entering. This step is important, Graham says, for two reasons. First, “if you don’t understand what’s happening in the market, it’s really difficult to rebrand yourself in a way that shows your new audience how you can be of value.” Second, you want to make sure you’re not looking to enter a market that is shrinking or moving toward outsourcing, so you’ll have a more difficult time finding a job. Fortunately, job prospects for L&D professionals are good.
2. Don’t rely on traditional job search methods.
A challenge job seekers face when switching careers, Graham says, is that recruiting and hiring are now often automated. Many artificial intelligence-based hiring systems automatically weed out applicants who don’t have certain keywords or titles in their resumes. So while you may have a lot of great transferrable skills for L&D, the system the employer uses may be keeping your resume from hitting the hiring manager’s desk. Headhunters are also often looking for specific experiences and backgrounds when recruiting for a client. As a result, Graham says, “they’re not likely to promote a switcher to their well-paying client.”
By all means, use those traditional methods of looking for a job. But don’t do so exclusively. Instead, Graham recommends building and using your network. Connecting with L&D professionals is a great way to build your skills and learn more about the field. But it can also help you learn about new opportunities and get your foot in the door. When an L&D professional who is trusted by a hiring manager recommends you to him or her, it’s more powerful than any resume, no matter how well-crafted.
3. Identify your transferrable skills.
You may never have taught a workshop, designed a curriculum or managed a training program. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have skills that would be useful in an L&D role. For example, Bracken says that “knowing how to analyze a problem” is a skill that’s been critical in her training job. She adds, “In technical service, I had to interact with all levels within our organization as well as with customer organizations, and I think this ability to move within these levels well has also been helpful.”
Do some research online and through your network on the required skills for both the specific job you’re applying for and the role in general. Graham recommends some practice through volunteer work or by looking for L&D projects at your company that you can help out with. “Clarity comes through action,” she says. “And that action might be talking to people who are doing the work [or] shadowing people who are doing the work.”
4. Communicate those transferrable skills in the language of L&D.
Immerse yourself in the field of training. “Certification isn’t a magic bullet,” says Graham, “but it might be something that you want to invest in.” For example, Bracken says that earning a training management certification helped her learn what success looked like in her role as well. Conferences can also help you learn the language of the training industry.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with learning and development, you’ll be able to rebrand yourself as a training professional. Understand what is most important to the hiring managers, and reflect those needs on your LinkedIn profile, in your resume and cover letter, and in your other communications.
It can also help to do a self-assessment, Graham says, that identifies your skills, and then break down those skills “to their component parts.” What are the similarities between those skills and the skills needed for the new role? For example, maybe you’ve never consulted with a sales leader to develop a sales training program, but you have met with clients, identified their needs and successfully delivered a product within a certain timeframe. Highlight that experience, and show how it applies in the training context.
5. Don’t “psych yourself out.”
“The biggest challenge I faced,” says Bracken, “was simply not knowing if I was doing the right things. I had, and still have sometimes, a lack of confidence in my skills and abilities in leading a training organization.”
Career-switchers, Graham says, might “psych” themselves out. “But I think that’s a mistake, because I think any new employee to a new company or a new department is going to have the same list of boxes to check as they get up to speed.” Your offer letter means that the company trusts that you’re up to the task. All you need to do now is prove them right.