So You Want To Change Careers But Don’t Have Any “Experience?”
In my last post, How To Get A Job Anywhere With NO Connections, I spoke about how you can generate referrals from influencers at top companies by drafting a proposal that solves their largest problem while highlighting your skill set in the process.
One of the largest requests from people on my Insider’s List is focused on the second part of that piece – their skill set.
Many people find that their current industry isn’t living up to expectations. They want to change paths, but they don’t have any experience in another field and they have no idea where to start!
Well, today I am going to show you how to quickly gain experience in any field, as well as how you can leverage that new experience to land an offer in a completely different field.
What You DON’T Need To Switch Fields
Before we dive in, I think it’s important to address a few “myths” about changing industries.
These are the walls people build in their minds that prevent them from taking action! We don’t want that so let me squash a few of them right now:
What you do not need to land a career in a different field/industry:
- You don’t need an extensive network of contacts. In fact, you don’t need any contacts at all – you can make them all on your own (see this article for a step-by-step guide)
- You don’t need a degree in the field you want to switch to. Perception is reality and results speak volumes when it comes to perception. They are worth more than any degree or previous job title. More on that later.
- You don’t need money. Everything you need to know can be learned for free. In fact, in a few minutes, I’m going to show you how these steps can actually help you generate a second stream of income.
I graduated college with a biology degree, a horrible GPA, and a job in the medical field. Two years later, I landed a job in digital marketing that “required” an advertising/marketing degree as well as 5+ years of experience (I had 3).
Cash or check, please.
Now I’m going to outline the exact steps I used to accomplish the switch so you can make it happen for yourself!
Part 1: Painting A Picture Of The Perfect Candidate
The good news about entering into a completely different field is that you are a blank canvas. You can pick and choose your skills and mold yourself into the perfect candidate.
What Does Perfection Look Like?
In order to become the ideal candidate, we must first understand what “ideal” looks like in the eyes of the people who will be hiring you. There are two ways to accomplish this:
1) Job Descriptions
Job descriptions are essentially resumes in reverse. They spell out the exact skills you need in order to be successful in that particular role. That sounds obvious, but we are going to be looking from a slightly different angle than most people.
Let’s take a look at this Growth Marketing Analyst role at Facebook:
What do you see here? What does the ideal candidate look like? What do they need to get hired?
I’ll give you a minute to think…
Good? Ok. Here’s what I see:
Facebook is looking for someone who understands how to identify trends/patterns within big data that will have a direct impact on revenue. That person also has enough knowledge of programming to efficiently make those discoveries and present them in a simple, concise fashion.
I’m guessing yours was more along the lines of, “Ok, they need a degree in computers or math. Then they need a year or two of experience coding and managing projects at a company.”
The main issue a lot of people have is that they think the only way to get “experience” is to work at company or have fancy degrees. If that was you just now, don’t worry! That’s why you’re reading this 🙂
All we need is a slight change in perspective.
Let’s think about why companies hire. They want someone who will come in and have a large, positive impact on revenue.
Someone could have a PhD in Computer Science and be fluent in all of the languages mentioned above, but if they lack the ability to clearly convey their results, the company isn’t going to benefit nearly as much as they would from someone who may not have a degree or total fluency but understands how to find impactful insights and presents them in a way that makes it easy to understand and take action.
Your goal is to become that second person.
2) Informational Interviews
In addition to combing through job descriptions, it’s equally important to get in touch with people who work in the industry. I always say that the best advice I’ve ever received was to “only take advice from people who already have what you want.”
They will be able to help you prioritize the skills you found in those job applications, as well as give you some inside info on the intangibles (nuances of the hiring process, putting you in touch with their contacts, etc.).
My article How To Get A Job Anywhere With No Connections has a detailed guide on how you can identify these people as well as find their contact information. You can also use the same email script (here it is again for reference, in keeping with our Facebook theme):
Subject: Quick Question
My name is Austin and I currently work at Cultivated Culture. I was browsing through LinkedIn and came across your information – I hope you don’t mind me reaching out of the blue here.
I saw that you have extensive experience in Facebook’s Growth Analytics vertical and I’m very interested in learning more about that space. I would love to have the opportunity to run some questions by you, as well as tap into any advice you may have given your knowledge of the industry.
I know that your time is extremely valuable so please don’t feel to need to respond in depth. If you do have 5 minutes to chat, I would really appreciate it.
When they agree to a meeting, you’ll want to prepare some questions. They should focus on:
- Identifying which skills are the most crucial for performing daily activities (this will allow you to prioritize)
- Providing some background on how that person got to where they are (you’d be surprised at how many people came from other industries)
- What they would do if they were in your shoes – trying to get this job with little to no experience in the field
Here are those bullets in question form to help get you started:
- I’ve been doing some research and it seems like [Skill 1] – [Skill 3] are common in the space. Which of these do you think is the most crucial to success?
- I was looking through your LinkedIn and saw that you came from [Previous Role/Company]. How did you initially get involved in this industry and how did you end up at [Current Role]?
- Let’s say you were in my shoes – you’re new to the industry and don’t have too much experience. How would you go about getting your current job? What specific steps would you take?
Bringing It All Together
Now you have an understanding of the skills that you need, where they stand in terms of priority, and a roadmap from someone who has/had the role you want.
It’s time to build a foundation with those skills and then use them to generate results that directly align with the company’s goals for that role.
Part 2: Nailing The Basics (On The Cheap)
Let’s take a look at that prioritized list of skills you put together. Over the next month or two we’re going to focus on building a rock solid understanding of the basics for each of those skills.
For now, the two best ways to do this are to read books and take courses.
Reading Up (For Free)
Books are a fantastic way to understand the basic concepts of a specific subject. They also happen to be very easy to get for free.
Remember that public library your parents wanted you to check out when you were a kid? It’s actually still there! Amazing, right?
The good news for you is that even public libraries have caught up with the times and now carry ebooks. You can borrow them for free like any other book, but they will be sent directly to your phone so you can read them anywhere, anytime. All you need to do is install the Kindle app (which you can get for free for iOS and Android).
In order figure out which books to read, I would Google “best books on [subject]” or go ask some folks on Quora.
Taking Courses (For Free-ish)
While books are giving you the 30,000 foot view of your topics, courses will help you figure out the nitty gritty. They are a better way to learn the actual skills because they tend to be interactive and are updated regularly.
One of the best resources for our purposes is Coursera. Coursera aggregates courses from the best professors at the best schools in the country (I’m talking Princeton, Stanford, Harvard – they don’t mess around).
These courses are fantastic because they are structured like an actual course you would take in college. They have videos, but they also have tests, projects, and forums where students can collaborate. This is key because it helps make the course “sticky” due to the fact that you are committing to all the above rather than just watching a few videos.
Best of all, at the end of the course, you can receive a certificate stating that you passed the course. It will even have the seal from that university on it! It does cost ~$49 but it’s well worth it because you can put that right on your resume:
Oh this? Just some cred from a top 10 biz school
Subscribing To Industry Blogs & Newsletters
Lastly, you’re going to want to sign up for some newsletters.
Blogs stay in business by having the highest quality, most up-to-date information and getting it out there as quickly as possible. This is the easiest way for you to stay on top of current events in the industry while picking up tons of knowledge along the way.
You can find them using the same method you used to find the books – Googling and hitting up Quora.
Bonus Pro Tip: Google Alerts
Google Alerts are an awesome way to save yourself hours that you would have spent searching for articles on specific topics or companies.
You can set them up for anything that you could feasibly search for in Google, but probably want to stick with the salient points like a specific industry, certain skills, the company you want to work for and Beyonce.
Then, every day, Google will crawl the web and find the most relevant (and worthy) articles on your specific subjects and deliver them straight to your inbox.
Part 3: Getting Paid To Hone Your Skills
Wait, what? Did you say I’m going to get paid? Yup!
Have you heard that the average millionaire have 7 sources of income? Well, I’m about to get you #2.
Building Credibility & Real-World Results
Now that you understand the basics of these skills, it’s time to really develop them.
I’ve found that the best way to truly learn something is by doing it. I can’t think of a better way of “doing” than selling your skills for some cold hard cash.
There are two ways of going about this – starting a blog and freelancing. They both have pros and cons and you can choose to do one or both, totally up to you (hint: doing both mitigates most of the cons but requires more work).
Option 1: Start A Blog & Leverage The “Pull” Method
Blogs are fantastic because they are insanely cheap to start and they are the fastest way to build credibility in an industry.
If you read up on how to create good content and develop a solid distribution strategy (a.k.a. how you are going to get your article shared, etc.) things tend to snowball. Your article gets shared 800 times and then suddenly you’re featured somewhere like Inc. or Forbes. Before you know it, recruiters are reaching out to you asking if you would be interested in working for company X and Y.
This is called the “pull” method.
You build up enough credibility to “pull” companies and advertisers to you. I say advertisers because, once your blog becomes large enough, you can generate income through advertising, affiliate marketing, subscriptions, etc.
How Long Does This Take?
If you are extremely effective, you can probably get to a point of credibility in roughly 2 months.
If you look at my first article, it was shared over 800 times across LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter within the first 3 weeks of being published. It took me about 3 weeks to write.
I had only been on Quora for 4 weeks and:
- Got 1 million + views on my answers
- Had my answers featured in Quora’s daily newsletter multiple times reaching ~5 million people
- Got published in Inc. magazine…twice
Quora is awesome.
I’m not showing you this to brag, but rather to illustrate what is possible with some preparation and habitual effort.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a building a blog:
- Small investment to get started
- Potential for rapid growth and recognition
- Blogging probably won’t help you learn the skills you need (but it will help you learn an different, extremely valuable set of skills)
- It’s going to be a while before you start seeing revenue from a blog (but the revenue will be substantial when you do)
- Should You Create A Personal Website [For Your Career]? – JT O’Donnell
- 9 Reasons A Blog Is Important For Your Career & Life – Jeff Bullas
- Why You Should Blog To Get Your Next Job – Mashable
- How Blogging Can Help You Land Your Dream Job – Carly Ottaway
Option 2: Begin Freelancing & Rapidly Develop Your Skills
The second option is to begin hiring yourself out for the skills you are trying to learn. This can seem like a daunting task, but in reality it’s fairly easy to get started:
Upwork is a community where business owners come to find freelancers for everything under the sun.
The beauty of Upwork is that it removes the need for you to invest a lot of time marketing yourself. It is an inbound site meaning your services will show up to people who are already looking for that particular service, making them more likely to hire.
The tradeoff is that, while you save time, Upwork charges a 10% fee for saving you that time. For your purposes, that’s not too terrible because you’re mostly in it for the learning while the money is icing on the cake.
If you really want to expand your initial reach, check out Hubstaff’s comprehensive rundown of Upwork alternatives and get yourself on multiple platforms.
The second option is for you to reach out to businesses and pitch your services.
This can be a bit tougher until you get the hang of it because those businesses may not be actively looking for your services. On the other hand, you get to keep the 10% that Upwork was taking.
Consolation: Offering Your Services For Free
Since we’re mostly in this for the learning, this is great option to consider if the other two don’t work out. A career in a field you love is worth so much more than a few extra dollars on the side while continuing to be miserable for 40+ hours per week.
You could reach out to businesses, same as above, and offer your services for free. This takes away all of the risk for the company, making them much more likely to agree, while allowing you to get right to the learning and create real-world results.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of freelancing:
- You get paid to learn! And it’s probably a second source of income 🙂
- You create results that you can put on your resume
- Selling yourself can be exceptionally daunting to a lot of people, on top of the fact that you may not feel ready to perform these skills yet
- Getting clients can require a substantial amount of effort if you’re not familiar with how to sell
- You don’t create massive visibility like you would get from a blog
- 10 Steps to Start a Freelance Business While Working Full-Time (and Why You Should) – Ryan Robinson
- How To Land A High-Paying Freelance Client In The Next 2 Weeks – Greg Ciotti
- An Experienced Freelancer’s Guide To Finding Clients – Paul Jarvis
- How 6 Social Media Agencies Gain Clients – Dave Nevogt
Real World Example: Combining The Blog & The Freelancing
Now let’s take these two concepts and apply them to a real world situation: our Growth Marketing Analyst position at Facebook!
In this case, I’m going to be creating a blog and freelancing.
Step 1 – Getting Clients
The first thing I’m going to focus on is getting clients.
In this particular case, I personally would cold email companies offering to analyze their data and give them two options:
- Flat rate retainer
- Pay a percentage of their uptick in revenue
It looks like Python programmers charge anywhere from $30 -$50 on Upwork, so I may come in a bit lower than that in hopes of landing a few initial clients.
Then I’m going to dive into their data and begin creating a story.
If you’re feeling uneasy or like you hit a wall, you could always reach out to a friend or hire someone who has the skills you need. Then you can shadow them and watch how they go about the problem. That is equally as valuable and will save you tons of hours where you would otherwise be poking around in the dark.
Step 2 – Leverage Results To Gain Visibility (& Credibility)
Once I had an awesome success story under my belt, I would use it to write a case study blog post.
The post would explain how awesome the results were along with a step-by-step guide on how I got there (much like the post you’re reading right now).
Here are some awesome examples of this:
(Will is really good at this).
Ideally this post will be shared far and wide generating some crazy visibility for yourself while helping build your personal brand.
With that under your belt, you can begin hunting for jobs in your new industry. To effectively do that, you should check out my post on How To Get A Job Anywhere With No Connections. It’s a great next step when you feel like you’re ready.
You’ll be adequately prepared to put together a proposal that solves your prospective employers problems and you’ll be able to reference your case study when highlighting your skills.