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How to Effectively Navigate a Career Change

By Shavonne Gordon

Shavonne Gordon is the Senior Director of Diversity Recruiting and U.S. Card Talent Acquisition at Capital One.

So, you're thinking about a new job? Well, you're not alone. Our ever-evolving digital environment has people clamoring to grow their skills in everything from software engineering to cybersecurity to diversity and inclusion. Before you shell out hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars for that certification or an advanced degree, or jump to a role just because it’s available, pause for a moment to figure out why you're looking in the first place.

What should you consider when deciding to change your career?

Why are you changing careers? Have your passions and interests changed? Are you looking for a new challenge? Do you simply want to grow in your current role? Are you no longer connected to your organization and its mission? Or has a new opportunity been presented to you? For each of these scenarios, the first step involves a little “soul searching” to understand what’s driving the need for change, and more importantly, what you're looking to gain from the change.

It’s important to understand what you want from the new opportunity. Working in recruiting, I always ask candidates, “If you could create the ideal role, what would it be and why?” This is a great way to identify dissatisfiers in your current role and highlight what’s critical in your next opportunity. Do you need new challenges? Balance? Advancement? Mission-driven work? It’s important to be able to articulate the “what must be true” to yourself, so that you can communicate that to potential employers. Once you figure this out, you can start planning your move.

shavonne gordon with another woman outside an office building

Use your network to help find new career opportunities

When figuring out how to find the new opportunity, your network becomes important. Start reaching out to your contacts to find organizations you should consider. 85% of jobs today are found through networking, meaning it really is about WHO you know. Start setting up coffee and lunch dates with trusted members of your network, letting them know your aspirations. They can become advocates and make you aware of opportunities as they arise.

Research is also important at this stage. Check GlassDoor and LinkedIn to learn about and follow companies you might want to consider and determine if you have connections there who can validate your research. Keep in mind this is about the long game. Good career moves take time, so start your research and networking early. If you wait until the need is urgent, chances are you’ll be too willing to settle for something less than ideal.

Research necessary skills and certifications for your next job

This is also the time to learn more about the necessary skills for the role you want. Use your contacts and ask about certifications and education. Are they really required for the job you want? Or is on-the-job training and learning potential more important? In many instances, certifications without hands-on experience don’t carry much weight. Leaders are looking for people who already have the skills or the aptitude to learn. For some roles, there are skills that are necessary before you can even be considered. For example, if you want to be a software engineer, you need to know how to code. Period. Unless you're willing to start over in an entry-level position, leaders will expect you to know how to code. Many companies require applicants to pass a coding test as a part of the application process. Have realistic expectations for the roles you can move into without specific skills.

shavonne gordon smiling outside an office building

How to reinvent your career

What if you ARE looking to make a total career change? I get this question a lot given I started and spent much of my career in Technology, but moved to a role in HR. I was able to successfully transition because of my network. There were several leaders in HR who I’d worked with closely over the years who recognized my transferable skills. I partnered with HR on many diversity recruiting events prior to joining the team, so I was a known entity to the organization. When a Diversity Recruiting Lead role became available, my HR network reached out to me. They knew my work and knew I’d be interested.

Even though I didn’t have direct HR experience, I did have experience driving results in recruiting, a passion for diversity and a great partnership with the Diversity Recruiting team. My breadth of experience enabled my transition to HR. Always know what your strengths are. What is your secret sauce and how can it be a lever for the career you want? If you're a phenomenal program manager in Technology, how can you take those same skills to drive results in HR? It’s a lot easier to make a move when you have a transferable skill set.

Being able to effectively convey how your skills translate to a new role is another place where your network becomes critical. Is there a leader, co-worker, or even better, a former boss in the area you want to move to who knows you and your great work? Why does that matter? Those individuals are going to be more willing to take a bet on placing you in a role because they believe in your potential and have confidence that you can drive great results.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while when you're looking to make a change:

  1. Build relationships with people in a variety of fields and at different levels. This is helpful when getting insights into opportunities, as well as creating advocates to help you move to new opportunities (potentially at the same company). Be prepared to be disappointed. Your initial attempts at career change may not be successful, but learn from them and be prepared to try again.
  2. Collaborate with others and give them a chance to see what you’re capable of, while also gaining insights into other roles. You’ll also give leaders opportunities to see your strengths in new areas. Ask questions and probe.
  3. Prove yourself by continuing to deliver great results in your current role. Leaders are more likely to take a chance on giving you a new opportunity outside of your current wheelhouse, if you’re a proven commodity. I can’t underscore this enough: Leaders are taking a risk by hiring you into a role that is not your core expertise. Help them see your skills and strengths so they feel good about bringing you onboard, even if you have a lot to learn in your new role.

Before you jump to a new role, make sure it’s the right opportunity and there is strong leadership to support you. In the end, trust your gut and be patient. Great opportunities take time!

Shavonne Gordon is the Senior Director of Diversity Recruiting and U.S. Card Talent Acquisition. She joined Capital One in 2001 and worked to deliver critical projects to further Capital One’s Digital agenda before moving to HR in 2014. As Director of Diversity Talent Acquisition, Shavonne fostered relationships with external organizations to build Capital One’s brand with diverse audiences—highlighting Capital One’s opportunities for innovation and growth in the Technology and Digital space. In April of 2018, Shavonne returned to her true passion, recruiting, stepping into a role initially leading Tech Talent Acquisition, and now U.S. Card Talent Acquisition, responsible for all professional hiring in Capital One’s U.S. Credit Card organization. Shavonne also leads Diversity and Inclusion for the Talent Acquisition organization.