If You’re Changing Careers, You’re Like The Bad Ex-Boyfriend Trying To Come Back

– Posted in: career change, career coaching

This post also appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:

Recently I read Harper’s Rules by Danny Cahill, a fun career advice book told as a business fable that mixes dating advice with career advice from a longtime executive recruiter. It’s entertaining and helpful, so read it if you’re looking for a Flintstones vitamin or a Sex In The City episode tailored for your career.  I was particularly excited to read the book because I also use relationship analogies when I teach and coach on career issues. One analogy that sticks with my students/ clients is how career changers are like ex-boyfriends trying to worm their way back into your life after a bad breakup.

I’m a career changer myself, having transitioned from the arts to financial services to recruiting to acting to entrepreneurship (and that’s the shorthand version). So I don’t like to think of myself as a wormy ex-boyfriend.  Yet, as a former recruiter, I know that’s how I would view myself as a candidate. Here are 3 reasons why career changers are as inviting as a bad old flame:

Career changers and old flames rely on empty promises. “Trust me, I’ll change!” That’s what the ex says when you don’t want to take him back. That’s what career changers essentially say when they pursue jobs in industries or functional areas where they have no experience. Now the career changer might protest that she’s trying to get the experience by making the career change, but an aspiring career changer needs to realize that you don’t need the first job to get experience – you can volunteer, do a consulting assignment, get active in the new industry’s professional association or otherwise fill your promises with substance before promising them to an employer. Don’t just promise you’ll change; actually be on the way to becoming a credible insider into your new area.

Career changers and old flames have a track record that is not what is wanted or needed right now. Just like we know our ex shuts down emotionally, always runs late, or fill-in-the-blank with whatever bad habit destroyed the relationship the first time, employers know from a career changer’s resume what they were like before. As a career changer, by definition all or most of your skills, experience and background points to something other than what the employer wants or needs right now. Before you can say, “Trust me, I’ll change” (which of course you won’t do now after reading the first point), the employer won’t even give you the chance. Your resume (i.e., track record) gets put aside. You won’t get the chance to make your case if you think your resume will help you.

Career changers and old flames need to be told what to do, rather than already knowing. “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it!” Here’s another line that sends you running for the door when you hear it from an ex, and yet, this is the same offer that career changers make to employers! Career changers offer up their old experience and examples and wait for the employer to translate what they did before to the new area. Instead, you should come to an employer knowing the new industry like an insider, having already thought about what the employer’s challenges are, and able to offer specifics on how you might solve those actual problems. Successful career changers don’t need to be told what to do – they already know.

If an old flame wants to win you back, he doesn’t come with empty promises, leads with the irrelevant past or asks what he can do to get you back. An ex who is successful at winning back the love of his life already knows what he needs to do without having to ask, he knows his past works against him so tries extra hard to overcome past history, and he backs up what he says with actions and real substance. If you want to make a successful career change, you need to do the same. Don’t be the icky ex-boyfriend.

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