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Making Sen$e columnist Nick Corcodilos and Dr. Dawn Graham, irector of Career Management for the MBA program for executives at The Wharton School, speak on the radio show "Career Talk" Photo courtesy: Wharton School.

Ask the Headhunter: I can’t seem to switch careers. Should I give up?

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I’m a successful executive, but I always wanted to work in investment banking. Everyone told me I’d better get an MBA, so I did. After three years working diligently at getting into the investment world, I realize career change is a game no one wants to play with you because they’re never going to see what you can do, only what you’ve done. Employers can’t get past the labels.

Nothing prepared me for changing professions. I’ve all but concluded it’s impossible. Even if I could do it, now I question whether it’s worth it because of the haircut I’d have to take in pay. I tried everything from job boards to headhunters to networking meetings to expensive career and life coaches. Can you tell me something I don’t know? Should I give up?

Nick Corcodilos: Don’t give up. I’m going to let my good buddy Dr. Dawn Graham, director of career management for the MBA program for executives at The Wharton School, answer this one. Her advice isn’t just for executives or MBAs — almost anyone can use these ideas when changing careers.

This is from Graham’s new book, “Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success” (AMACOM, 2018), a how-to guide for people like you who are pursuing career change:

“If you’re like most Americans, you will spend around five years of your life engaged in some type of job search activity. You’ll hold about eleven different positions in the course of your career, and each job search might take you six months or longer. The new normal is not only to switch jobs but to change professions — which isn’t easy to accomplish.”

Graham notes that the average time a person spends in a job these days is 4.2 years, so job change of one type or another is quite common. However, she offers the same caution you’ve heard from me here on Ask The Headhunter: Job change is not as easy as some online jobs sites suggest it is.

“In our one-click world of instant access, job seekers might expect the same ease in the job search process. Technology has become a seductress, luring candidates into endless hours of internet searches and countless online applications. These methods are barely effective for even the most qualified job applicants, and career changers who rely on them don’t stand a chance. Career Switchers tend to give up not because they lack the skills to excel in their desired profession, but because they don’t have the proper search strategies and knowledge.”

Graham is a former headhunter and a clinical psychologist. She hosts a weekly radio show –  “Career Talk”  – where I’ve been a guest many times. In a recent program we turned the tables, and I interviewed her about career switching, the topic of her new book. This originally aired on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School.

A radio talk show goes quickly, so it’s not possible to get into a topic in great depth, but I hope you enjoy this little experiment — and that you chime in with your own advice!

Switching careers in today’s employment market

Let’s start by discussing the two main kinds of career “switch” a person might attempt: the industry switch and the functional switch. Or both! The important insight is that the traditional hiring process has not shifted to make switching easier.


Some switches are more difficult than others

Does the hiring manager think you’re too risky a hire?


Managers hire the safe candidate

Headhunters and hiring managers are usually averse to risk, so they go for the easy candidates, the ones who are a clear fit with lots of relevant experience. But you may have visions of a radically new career — and none of this seems fair.


Emotions & Bias: The psychology of hiring

Understanding the hiring manager’s mindset will help you deal with the natural biases of hiring managers — and with the inevitable role of emotions in hiring. What are some fundamental laws of psychology that you need to know?


What the hiring manager wants

What you think the employer wants, and what they really want, may be two totally different things. Can a candidate figure out what a manager really wants?


The cost of switching

No one wants to take a salary cut when they change jobs. How realistic is that when changing careers?


The myth of education in career change

Do you really need more education to get the job you want? More important, does the employer think the education you’re buying is going to make you a more desirable hire?


I hope these excerpts encourage you to not lose heart and to not stop trying — but to modify your approach to switching careers a bit.

We’ve only touched on a few important ideas about switching careers. In her book, Dawn Graham gets into loads of detail, methods and techniques for making career switches: “Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success” (AMACOM, 2018).

Dear Readers: My goal here is to riff on what we just heard on the audio excerpts, and to launch some discussion on how to make career change happen. Do you find the issues Graham raises helpful? Is there really a distinction between job change and career change, and is one more challenging than the other?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2018 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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