Authors: Stephen M. Pollan,Mark Levine
Tags: #Psychology, #Self Help, #Business
Jody’s boss, the city’s director of planning and development, was a fifty - one - year - old former architect who cut a dashing figure at public meetings. Tall, distinguished looking, and the possessor of an aristocratic New England accent, he seemed to attract cameras. He did nothing to discourage the attention. That wouldn’t have been a problem for Jody, who didn’t like attention, except that his doing nothing extended to work as well. He was constantly traveling to conferences, attending seminars and meetings, and going out for long lunches, leaving Jody to do his work as well as her own. Jody had, without knowing it, successfully found and met her boss’s needs, ensuring her security.
That security didn’t outweigh two other factors. First, Jody had grown tired of playing her political role. She had become the public face of development in the city, despite her being the person that carried out rather than set policy. The politicians who did set policy were happy to have any angry citizens take their ire out on Jody. After a couple of very contentious projects she had wearied of that role. Second, Jody’s earnings potential was limited. Not only were any salary increases subject to the vagaries of politics, but because her boss was a fixture in the director’s position, Jody would never be able to rise above a certain income level. Her boss was open about his plan to retire from this position. (Behind his back Jody joked that he’d actually already retired.) Shifting to a similar job in another municipality would have required uprooting the entire family, something neither Jody, her husband, nor their children wanted to do. Jody decided that meant either sticking it out or changing industries. At a recent family gathering Jody had told all this to her brother-in-law, who suggested she get in touch with me.
In order to make the jump from one industry to another, you’re going to need to take charge of your work life. If you allow your current boss to continue to define who and what you are, you’ll never be able to break out of that mold and step into an entirely different industry. Most people have let their boss not only determine what they’re worth, but also define their set of skills and plan out the course of their work life. Unless you break these chains you won’t be able to convince anyone you’re also able to break into a new business.
The way to do that is to write your own job description. What’s important is that it make no reference to your current job, industry, or business. That sounds difficult, but all it takes is some thinking outside the box. Rather than focusing on your role in a hierarchy, think about your role in a process. How would you explain what you do to someone who knows nothing about your industry? Think about what you actually do during the day. Then write down all the verbs that came to mind. Using words like “analyzing,” “organizing,” “planning,” “leading,” “coordinating,” and “communicating” will make it easy for people in other industries to understand what you do. To make the parallels even clearer, weave those verbs into one or more of the three business disciplines: marketing, management, and finance. By looking at your work in this generic fashion, and coming up with a way of communicating its universal nature to others, you’ll be able to shift from any industry or business.
Let’s say you are the editor of a newsletter for a museum. Your boss might say your job description is to develop the editorial calendar, set the freelance budget, write and edit the copy, hire photographers, supervise the design, and even oversee the printing and circulation. To someone outside of the publication business all this is just jargon. But what if you write your own job description, focusing on verbs and how the job fits into one of the three business disciplines. The new description might be that you “develop and supervise the creative and financial aspects of an ongoing marketing campaign designed to generate repeat business from past customers.” That’s a description that works for any industry.
Having spent almost all her working life in government, Jody initially had a difficult time translating what she did into generic business language. Jody’s role was to be the generator, as well as the legal, physical, and aesthetic gatekeeper of any development in the city. Her job included trying to attract private developers to do business in the city, winning grants for public development, and overseeing the planning of the actual projects, making sure they met the city’s requirements. She was the liaison between developers and the city, as well as between the city and its residents.
After a few minutes’ conversation, Jody and I realized her job was actually a sales and marketing position. She not only prospected for new customers, but having found them, she provided customer service. In addition, she helped those customers in marketing to end users. Setting aside all the technical elements of her position, she was actually a full-service sales and marketing consultant.
One of the most common misconceptions I see in clients who come to me for help in changing industries is the belief that shifting industries will provide the psychic rewards they’re missing. The failure to get emotional, spiritual, and psychological satisfaction from work has nothing to do with the nature of the work you’re doing; it has to do with the nature of work itself. Expecting to get both financial and psychic rewards from work is the problem. That’s true whether you’re working as an actor or an actuary. Change industries with the idea that you’ll find satisfaction in another business and you’ll just find the same frustration you’re feeling now. Remember: psychic rewards should come from your personal life, not your work. Your goal in changing industries should be to improve your work life.
Another mistake I’ve seen made by many people who are looking to change industries is to forget that landing and keeping a job require a laserlike focus on a boss’s needs rather than your own. A natural tendency of someone changing industries is to concentrate on one’s own achievements and how they can be translated to the new industry. The problem with this is that you become the starting point for the argument for why you should be hired. Instead, your potential future boss’s needs are where you should begin your argument. Don’t take your own skills, abilities, and achievements and say, “Here’s what I can do; now let me show you how I can do the same for you.” Instead, find out what your future boss needs, and explain how you can fulfill those needs. You dialogue should be: “I understand you need x, y, and z; here’s how I can provide them for you.”
The challenge of job fishing in an industry in which you’re not currently working is that you need to wear two very different hats at the same time. Normal job fishing requires you to keep meeting your boss’s needs while pursuing leads for future jobs. While this means dividing your time and perceived loyalties, you are speaking one language, and keeping in touch with the developments of one world. Job fishing in another industry requires you to speak one language and stay on top of developments in one world while meeting your boss’s needs, and to speak another language and stay on top of the news in another world while looking for new potential jobs. That’s a more demanding task. My suggestion to clients is to create a schedule that allows them to change worlds. Usually I suggest they begin by devoting weekends, or one day a week, to their efforts at job fishing in their new industry. Obviously this may mean it will take longer to attract job offers in a new industry than it would in your current industry. If for some reason it’s important to make the change quicker, you can simply devote more time to your future world. There is a trade-off to this, however. The more time you devote to your future world, the less secure will be your place in your current world. This balancing act has to be a custom job, based on your specific circumstances.
Tapping into your personal life rather than your business network is, I think, a much better way to find job leads in an industry in which you’re not working. That’s because your personal life provides a much broader range of people than your business network and, as a result, offers more possible connections to individuals indifferent industries. The secret is to make it clear during your social interactions that you’re interested in the industry in question. When people ask about your work, mention your current business but quickly segue into a conversation about the industry you’re trying to enter. To the best extent possible, make your proposed change of industry the prime topic of your conversations. Ask your acquaintances if they’ve changed industries, or know anyone who has. Seek out advice and opinions. The more enthusiasm and excitement you show about this new industry, the more feedback you’ll get and the more leads you’ll uncover.
While it should remain your goal to select a job offer based on how it measures up in the factors you’ve deemed most important, changing industries requires a bit more flexibility. In order to get a position in a different industry, you may need to accept an offer that doesn’t represent an improvement in any important factor. Before you do this, make doubly sure you’re changing industries for long-term material benefits, rather than any perceived psychic benefits. I’d urge you, during your first year of looking for a new offer, not to accept any that represents a decrease in any important factor. A decrease in an unimportant factor is okay, however. If, after a year of looking to change industries, you still haven’t received any acceptable offer, then I think it’s time to consider taking a position for, let’s say, less money than you’re earning now. This may be one instance when you’ll need to make a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. You may need to take a step backward today to be able to take two steps forward in the future. Just make sure that you do indeed take steps forward from this point on.
I encourage my clients who’ve taken a new job to continue to look for another position, but not to accept any offer within their first year unless it is an improvement in at least two important factors. After one year on the job I suggest that they accept offers that are an improvement in one important factor. And after two years, I believe, they should take any offer that’s an improvement in any factor, important or not. When you change industries I think you need to be more selective, at least temporarily. In order to cement your change of industries in the mind of future bosses, I suggest you not accept any offer in your first year in a new industry unless it’s an improvement in
important factors. No future boss would second-guess a move in that case. Similarly, after a year in the new industry I’d suggest you accept only offers that represent an improvement in two important factors. And after two years in the new industry I’d suggest you shift for any improvement in any factor, important or not. Two years is more than enough time in today’s job market to make you a veteran.
After developing her own job description, Jody and I discussed her plans for changing industries. She explained to me that she loved horticulture and had always dreamed of working in a nursery or garden shop. But when we explored that idea it became clear that her dream of working in a nursery was based on her drive to be creative, which she loved to express through gardening and landscaping. I suggested that she devote more of her personal time to tending her own garden, and perhaps even taking some additional horticulture classes, and focus on changing industries for material reasons. Jody understood my point and admitted that she and her husband had discussed other industry-change options, particularly her going to work for real estate developers. Jody realized that by, in effect, changing sides in the real estate development process and working for the real estate industry rather than a municipality, she could earn a great deal more money. At the end of our first session together I asked Jody to come up with some ideas for how she could meet the needs of her potential future bosses.
When she returned for our meeting a week later, Jody had prepared a memo for me about meeting future bosses’ needs. She wrote that real estate developers needed to be able to anticipate and work to avoid the possible objections of community officials and residents. Her experience at working on the side of municipalities would be invaluable. Jody and I then discussed how she should conduct her job fishing. Knowing it would be difficult to look for work in the real estate industry while continuing to work for the city government, Jody and I agreed she should spend one day each weekend researching and exploring opportunities in real estate. We also talked about how she would use her social life to help look for job leads. Jody decided to get more active in the local Rotary Club. She had been sent to France on a Rotary-sponsored student exchange in high school, and felt a deep loyalty to the organization and its missions. She was already a regular churchgoer, and had decided she would get even more active, volunteering to serve on the parish council. Jody also said she had signed up for a bonsai class and had taken a plot at the community garden to give her more ground for her landscaping hobby.
After six months I got a call from Jody asking for another appointment. She told me she had been discussing her desire to change industries in her social life and that she had actually met the wife of a real estate consultant at her bonsai class. The consultant met with Jody and, over lunch, actually offered her a job. The problem was it didn’t pay any more than her current job. She and I agreed that after only six months, it didn’t make sense for her to make the jump just yet. Still, the offer had brightened her spirits and improved her self-image immeasurably.
At the time this manuscript was being finished, Jody was still job fishing. Her job with the city was as secure as possible, since she continued to assume much of the grunt work her boss avoided. Her personal life had yielded some additional leads. At church one Sunday, another member of the congregation introduced Jody to her nephew, who was one of the principals of a real estate development firm that was working to bring a megamall to a nearby city. She and he hit it off right away, and they’ve arranged to meet for lunch. I’ve told her I think it’s just a matter of time until she’s successful in shifting industries.