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Wednesday, August 4, 2021
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Tips & Training

Career change in an economic downturn: 5 things you must do

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused you to reconsider the career change you were planning to make. Or maybe it put you in a position to consider a career pivot because of a layoff or industry trends.

While this is a challenging time to change careers, it’s certainly not impossible. And in some respects, it’s actually a great time to undertake such a transition. If you’re considering – or reconsidering – a career change, maximize your chances of a successful transition by doing these five things.

1. Make sure you are in it to win it

Career change requires sustained commitment. Things might not work out exactly according to your timeline. And life has a tendency to unfold in unexpected ways. So I wouldn’t advise you to dive into a career change without making sure that you are really willing to take action; invest time, effort and money; and even make sacrifices in order to see it through.

If you are truly being honest with yourself, would you say you’re committed to giving your career change a solid effort – knowing that it could take three to 12 months (or more) to transition? If so, keep reading. If not, what smaller changes would make your day-to-day more bearable?

2. Craft your narrative

Make sure you can articulate what opportunities, roles or work you’re looking for. This can be overwhelming to pinpoint for some career changers. But devote some time early on reflecting on this. Journal about it. Ask three trusted friends or colleagues for their thoughts on what kind of work you’d be a good fit for. Hire a career coach or counsellor to help you get clear.

Then, take stock of your transferable skills (yes, you have many!) and practise telling the story of how your experience from your first career(s) makes you an ideal candidate for the next one. Learn how to draw analogies from past work scenarios and achievements to ones that you anticipate encountering in the new career. For example, “While I haven’t done project management in tech, I have overseen a team of eight staff members in taking a construction project from ideation to completion.”

3. Activate your network before you think you need to

In order to change careers, you will need help and support. It’s very difficult to get a new job – much less break into a new industry – without any external help. Remember: no one got to where they are today in a vacuum. We all need help sometimes.

So, do not procrastinate on activating your network so they can help you make a smooth transition into your new career. This means:

  • Letting people know that you’re looking to pivot into XYZ industry;
  • Asking them if they know any people in that industry and, if so, whether they’d be willing to introduce you to them;
  • Asking them if there are organizations in that industry they think you should keep on your radar.

Sending these kinds of messages out – whether by email, DM, text or phone – and seeing the fruits of your labour takes time, so start before you think you need to. Your future self will thank you.

4. Do as many informational interviews as you can

People hire people they know. People hire people they like. Use your network’s connections to get to know – and make a good impression on – the folks who are in the field you want to transition into. When you talk to them, ask lots of open-ended questions about what it’s like to work there, what they like the best about their work, what they like the least. Also ask them what their advice is for you, as someone from your professional background who now wants to work in their industry. Be sure you listen more than talk – that will help you build rapport and discover everything you need to know about strategically breaking into the new field.

Once you’ve built a foundation of a relationship with these folks, make an ask. Depending on the circumstances your ask could be:

  • To stay in touch with them;
  • For them to put in a word for you when you apply for a position at their organization;
  • To connect you to someone else you’d like to talk to.
5. Keep at it

Career change takes time. Having witnessed countless clients going through career pivots, I know that it’s the unknown that is the most taxing. Not knowing how long it will take to transition. Not knowing if they will be able to make the leap.

Be sure to maintain your self-care practices throughout this process. Make time for the things that ground you, that bring you joy and levity. Find ways to buoy your spirit and continually shift your mindset from the negative thoughts to the positive ones. For example, if you feel like you’ve been networking to no avail for ages, try to find the value and adventure in getting to meet new people and building new professional relationships.

Keep at it. I know you’ll find your way.


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Cynthia Pong Author
Cynthia Pong, JD, is a feminist career strategist, speaker and author of Don’t Stay in Your Lane: The Career Change Guide for Women of Color. An NYU-trained lawyer turned career coach, she is on a mission to embolden women of colour to get the money, power and respect that they deserve. Her career advice has been featured in NPR, HuffPost, FastCompany and more, and she is a LinkedIn Top Voice for Job Search and Career. Cynthia is a proud introvert, a classic middle child and an unapologetic Rottweiler enthusiast.
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Cynthia Pong Author
Cynthia Pong, JD, is a feminist career strategist, speaker and author of Don’t Stay in Your Lane: The Career Change Guide for Women of Color. An NYU-trained lawyer turned career coach, she is on a mission to embolden women of colour to get the money, power and respect that they deserve. Her career advice has been featured in NPR, HuffPost, FastCompany and more, and she is a LinkedIn Top Voice for Job Search and Career. Cynthia is a proud introvert, a classic middle child and an unapologetic Rottweiler enthusiast.
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