Bullish: Should You Take A Step Backwards To Switch Careers? (Also: Beguile Employers Into Loving You!)

A pre-makeover Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada

Jennifer Dziura writes career and life advice weekly on TheGloss. Here is an archive, and here is an archive of Bullish columns from our sister site TheGrindstone.

Here’s an answer to a reader question about switching industries and the idea of “stepping back.”

But I think you’ll find some ideas applicable to anyone trying to grab that dream job that she’s not exactly qualified for.

I also discuss why it’s good to have an inner Lil Wayne.

My question is about stepping back to get ahead. Currently, I work in as an assistant director for a unit in a major health/hospital system. However, my desire is to course correct back into the international development field (my grad school degree is in urban planning with a international development focus).

I am not sure if the skill set I have acquired since grad school will translate into a similar position in the development field (many times experience requirements in the development field desire someone who has worked specifically in that field for an extended period of time [example: 5 years working on USAID related projects]) . I am wondering would it make since do work as a special or exec assistant in that field to get into the field and make moves from there.

Hi there! If you don’t want to work in the healthcare field, then changing course isn’t stepping back. I mean, it’s stepping back in the sense you would step back from a fire. Or from marrying the wrong person. It’s kind of the only path to where you want to go, right? So there’s no point in thinking about stepping “back.”

As to whether your skill set will translate — sure, a lot of employers are really close-minded about what you might call cross-disciplinary experience. And if you don’t have a personal connection to get your resume through, a resume that lacks the right keywords just won’t ever make it past the first round.

When you submit a resume cold, there’s often a low-level person doing the first read, and that low-level person may not even understand the position that’s being filled — it could literally be an intern who was told to throw out anyone who doesn’t have a four-year degree, five years’ experience in international development, and a correctly-spelled cover letter. Or, it might not be an intern — it might be an algorithm, coldly filing you away in a slush pile of resumes that failed to say “5 years” and “USAID.”

So, try to game the keyword system as much as you can without lying. Maybe you worked for an organization that is “a European organization modeled on USAID.” There. Keywords!

(See also: Bullish: Basing Your Career On A Resume Is Like Competing In A Brothel Lineup.)

But more importantly, you want to make personal connections that will get your resume past that intern.

[Image from The Devil Wears Prada via 20th Century Fox]

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    • Samantha_Escobar

      “If you don’t want to work in the healthcare field, then changing course isn’t stepping back. I mean, it’s stepping back in the sense you would step back from a fire. Or from marrying the wrong person. It’s kind of the only path to where you want to go, right?”
      Definitely the best way to look at this! When I switched jobs and moved, I was terrified I was taking a step back to building up a resume and contacts and yadda yadda, so this fits perfectly.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      So happy with my career switch. Everyone should do it!

    • gbur

      I think the book you are referencing is “How to win friends and influence people”, that is the one thing I remember from that book also! :)