An Army combat engineer turned advertising executive. A banking executive turned career counselor. A mother of 12, now a communications writer. An Intel engineer turned comedian. These are not your typical career changes.
Here are the inspiring stories and creative strategies these people used to transition into a job they love—without related work experience or education.
Work on your transferrable skills and connect with the interviewer on a personal level
Tom Aiello, president of March Marketing, was an Army combat engineer who wanted to work in advertising.
To get the recruiters’ attention, he listed his skills and compared it to job descriptions to see which of them are applicable in advertising. Then he focused his resume and cover letter on these transferable skills. His next challenge was to convince company VPs that his military background was applicable to advertising.
These decision-makers didn’t think “a rigid Army veteran would thrive at an ad agency,” Tom says. He had to convince them that he could fit in. “The key was connecting on a personal level to make them feel they could work with me,” Tom says.
He looked up the background of each interviewer, then used the information he found to break the ice by drawing out what they have in common.
Do your homework: study the people, culture and the work done. Use this to “ask intelligent questions about the job,” Tom suggests.
When transferrable skills aren’t enough: quash the stereotypes
Peter Berner, president of Pilot Workplace, had a successful banking career, but he wanted to be a career counselor.
Back then, “the going price of admission into the career development field was a Ph.D. in Psychology and a skirt,” says Peter.
Here’s a situation where transferrable skills and enthusiasm weren’t enough.
To solve this, he compiled the bios of senior leaders in major career development firms, and through persistent networking, he got an audience with the decision-makers of these companies.
But he didn’t ask for an interview. Instead, he showed them the bio compilation without the names and asked them to check for any similarities in the work and backgrounds on the bios. None of them could find a pattern.
The credentials of the senior leaders were diverse, but even more surprising to his audience was the fact that “none of them had a Ph.D. in Psychology and not one of them were female,” Peter says.
After realizing this, the people who didn’t want to give him a chance were suddenly open to hiring him. Don’t disqualify yourself from the competition just because you don’t have the “requirements” for the job. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Create your own experience
Varda Epstein, a mother of 12 with a high school education, started out occasionally cleaning houses to help pay the bills, but is now a successful writer.
Like most writers, she started out with no clips, so she wrote editorials for a local newspaper and used them for her portfolio. Today, she’s the communications writer at Kars4Kids, an organization sponsoring educational initiatives for children. “I’m doing what I love best: writing about education and helping children,” says Varda.
Many aspiring writers think they can’t have a successful writing career because they don’t have a journalism degree, but she didn’t let that stop her. “No potential employer noticed or inquired about my lack of education,” says Varda.
Don’t be impatient for success
“Nothing big starts big,” says Dan Nainan, senior Intel engineer turned comedian. He used to travel the world doing technical presentations with Intel Chairman Andy Grove, but he wasn’t exactly a “natural” on stage.
He took comedy lessons to get over his fear of public speaking. After that, the comedy kind of took off and, since then, he’s performed at several events, including a TED conference and several presidential inaugurations.
He’s successful, but “it took almost two years of full-time work to get my first show,” Dan says. Back then, each $5 ticket sold earned him $1 and he had to hand out flyers in Times Square. It was hard work for low pay, but he persevered.
As for changing jobs and learning new skills, Dan suggests, “If you want to do something difficult, try something even more difficult, and the difficult thing will become less so.”
Let that sink in for a moment. It’s logical advice. In his case, speaking on stage was hard, but it’s even harder to make people laugh. Once he got comfortable with comedy, public speaking came easier.
What about you? Are the requirements for your dream job a bit out of reach? Try the strategies here.
If these strategies have worked for you before, share your story in the comments!