Career Changes: How to switch & stay sane
I was dead set on being a scientist very early on. From winning a science fair to doubling down on AP Biology & Chemistry courses, I had my eye set on curing cancer like many bright-eyed, first-day-of-school freshman. I followed this dream for about a decade, working in gruesome tox labs post college for minimum wage. What they don't tell you is you don't learn much about cancer research in a monkey room and at the time, the job opportunities were scarce! The ability to advance or actually learn were non-existent & I contemplated whether it was time to go back to school if I want to "be something!"
I was approached by a prospective employer who asked me to consider Business Development. I had interviewed well for a research position but she had a more pressing need for a sharp BD person to maintain & grow their client base. Transitioning to Sales seemed ridiculous, almost offensive. How could I possibly stay connected to science from sales? But I was intrigued enough and it was better than minimum wage. So.. My first bit of advice... Remove your ego & try everything at least once, for yourself.
What I learned from this transition was that my strong suit was curiosity. The curious behind Biz Dev in Biotech and what that meant, how it worked.. compelled me to give it a shot. It opened up my world to new experiences & I learned way more out in front of clients than I would've as a lab rat with an undergrad degree. Second tip, foster curiosity...in anything you do, to drive you forward. As a Business Developer, I consulted pharma companies around the world & became an expert in getting drugs to market in the US, Europe & Asia. It was empowering & my mind exploded with information. This opportunity presented additional opportunities that expanded my reach tremendously. I quickly landed a position at a tech company working to provide software solutions to pharma in order to accelerate drug discovery & development. A perfect match for the work I'd been doing. Working in tech as a business developer helped me discover the recent art of Product Management. A place where you are the customer voice within your organization which helps drive & deliver the right product for your market. Along my journey, I've found others who were navigating the waters to find new careers in tech, in real estate, in sales - we shared our stories, frustrations, and our successes. From this, I was inspired to share what we learned about changing careers and how to stay sane while doing so.
Understand the process takes time! Prep yourself mentally (and perhaps, financially) for the journey. Finding a new job is not easy. Finding a job in a new field can be downright difficult. Job descriptions are vague, getting your resume into the right hands can be damn near impossible, & many recruiters will pass you up if they don't see the hardcore credentials. The one thing that's important, especially as your transitioning, is to understand that it'll take some time, a lot of interviews & some set backs, to get to where you want to go. Don't get disheartened easily.
Apply anyway! Job descriptions, as a person who just posted one this morning, are often copy/pasted from other job sites that we googled. Seldom do they convey the skillset really required for the job and the needs of the organization, especially if you're applying to a smaller business where roles & responsibilities are not as rigid. Research the company you're applying for to gauge size, take what you read with a grain of salt & if you fit most of the functions they are seeking, I suggest applying anyway! I went through 100s of phone screens that never led to anything & each time my own personal pitch improved. It's good practice, even if you don't land the gig.
Seek out mentors. Finding people in your position or leaders in the space can help you prep for interviews, be a soundboard for ideas or questions, and just help you stay motivated. For me, Product Management isn't a discipline you can get a degree in & up until maybe two decades ago, it didn't exist. Mentors can share how they broke into the space from different careers, what skills they found most useful & how to position yourself in interviews. A quick chat with a mentor can help give you the quick boost of confidence when you're starting to feel down.
Socialize. Companies today offer special bonuses for referring candidates. If you've got your heart set on a company, reach out to someone who works there, ideally in the department you're interested in and introduce yourself! Ask if they'd be willing to refer you to an open position. Provide the link to the job post to make things easier. Most people are happy to help! Meetups are another great way to meet people in person within specific industries (real estate, marketing, technology, & more). You never know who you might meet. Get out there & be a teeny bit ruthless in your pursuit.
Understand the role. There are many books out there geared to specific roles. I'd say find the ones that most benefit your intended role & read up on the subject. Look for blogs that talk about key principles that pertain to your field or discuss how the field may be changing in the current landscape. Referencing ideals from books I'd read really helped me stand out as a candidate in interviews & connect with prospective employers who shared or disagreed with my school of thought. It shows that I'm not just here to do a job, I'm immersed in the discipline & staying on the cutting edge of the field.
Ultimately, it can be hard to switch careers. The path is not easy but many people, moreso now, have been able to succeed in doing so, reaping the benefits of finding a new career that fits them better. What motivated me most was the fear of staying stagnant & some day regretting not having the courage to take that leap. If you're reading this & contemplating forging a new path for yourself, I'd say take it. The time is now.