After 5 and ½ years at the same company I decided to change careers. This was not something that happened overnight, but was a process and exercise that ran over the course of many months. While it’s still very early, I feel confident and excited about the transition and couldn’t be happier.
Since I’ve left, I’ve had a number of friends and colleagues who have reached out for advice on making career transitions of their own. As a Career and Leadership Coach, I naturally enjoy these conversations, and decided to write a playbook of the steps I took to make a career change.
Step 1: I realized I wanted a change
When I first joined my company out of college, my goal was to learn and get as many experiences and skills that would help me be successful for a long career. After 5.5 years, I realized I had done enough, and felt comfortable walking away knowing that I had gotten what I wanted out of the experience.
To get there, I took a pen and paper and wrote down all the things I had worked on over the years. It made me appreciate what my company had given me but also showed me that while there is always more to learn there really wasn’t much left on my “Must Do” list. This gave me the confidence that it was the right time to start searching for my next gig.
Step 2: I reflected on and developed conviction in my priorities
Once I realized I was ready for a change, I started my journey with a self-reflection process to find answers to some critical questions. The key questions I wanted to answer were:
- What are my personal and professional priorities?
- What are my strengths and unique skills, and how do I want to use them in my next job?
- Where do I do my best work, and what are the critical characteristics of a job that I need to do my best work work?
- Who are the types of people I want to work with, and what are the characteristics of these people?
- How will my job and career fit within my vision and goals for my life?
I’ll admit, some of these are deep cuts when it comes to questions. They are not necessarily questions that one might ponder on a day-to-day basis, but they were important to me in getting clear on what I wanted out of my job and my career.
Out of this reflection, I had some initial thoughts of what I wanted to do next, but they weren’t definitive by any means. For example, I had worked alot with tech while in consulting, but I hadn’t really worked at a tech company, so I knew that working in the Tech industry was at the top of my list. I had an interest in startups, but I also liked working at larger companies. And finally I had some idea of the type of company culture that I wanted out of my next company (collaborative, fun, diverse, hard-working)
These were a good enough start to spur my thinking.
Step 3: I asked for feedback, and began aligning my priorities to potential opportunities
My own thoughts and ideas can only get me so far, so I reached out to others for feedback and to test some of my initial thoughts on my next move. I reached out to friends, colleagues, and peers from all walks of life and had them answer a 360 degree survey feedback to get objective feedback of what others thought of my strengths as well as their ideas on my career outcomes. This was an incredibly valuable exercise that gave me feedback that I used to pressure test my own views of my strengths. It also gave me ideas about what types of jobs or roles might be a good fit.
Lastly, I began to craft my future state job description. This was similar to any job description, but in my own aspirational mindset. The future state job description included aspects I discovered out of looking at my strengths and obtaining feedback from peers, and was something I used later on when I started evaluating job opportunities. In this job description, I included things like:
- Skills I would use each day
- Types of projects/assignments I would work on
- Past experiences that would be relevant to the role
As a result of the feedback, I developed two potential hypotheses of what type of job I wanted next. The hypotheses included some thoughts around the role, function, size of company, industry and sector. If you’re
The hypotheses were:
- Product Marketing Manager at a large enterprise Tech Company
- Product Marketing Manager at a growing startup in the Learning development space
Tip: if you’re trying to come up with hypotheses, you don’t need to know all of these things, but it does help to at least nail a few of the big ones (ex: function, role, company size)
Step 4: I began testing my hypotheses through research and networking
This information was helpful to me in understanding
A) if I actually would like what I thought I wanted to do
B) if I was going to be a competitive candidate for the role and
C) If I chose to go this path, what I would need to do in order to successfully land a job
From there, I began to conduct research on my hypotheses, both on my own, and through talking to people.
When I did research online, I looked for:
- Job postings of Product Marketers, and when reviewing them, how good of a fit I was for the role
- Articles, books, podcasts, basically any content related to the role/position that could help me understand it better
- People on LinkedIn who had careers in Product Marketing, and the roles and progression they had
- Other consultants who transitioned into product marketing roles, and details in their career plans
When I began talking to people in my network and networking, I asked them about:
- What they did everyday, and what about their job made them excited and engaged
- Who in their job was a rockstar, and what made them so good
- What types of assignments and projects they worked on
- What skills were important to be successful in the job
- The differences between product marketing at a large company versus at a startup
- Outside of hands on experience, what’s the best way to learn how to be a good PMM
After finishing this research, I became confident that my two hypotheses were both good enough for me to pursue job opportunities for. From there, it was time to begin the job search
Step 5: I began searching for jobs, and used my criteria and priorities to define my search
Once I knew that my two hypotheses were solid, it was time to start searching for roles. There are lots of jobs that are out there, so I used the criteria that i had developed in my initial hypotheses to help me prioritize where to spend my time and energy. Again, here was the criteria that I used
- Company Culture – Collaborative, diverse, fun, high-performing
- Company Size – Both Big tech (+10,000 employees) and growth startup (Series B/C)
- Function/Role – Product Marketing, mostly in B2B
- People – Leaders who were inspirational, hard-working, and people-development oriented
In terms of where I looked for jobs, there were two main channels:
Online Job Boards – I checked these daily to see the postings that were available. LinkedIn, and Indeed were the two that I spent the most time on. Anytime I found an interesting role, I made sure to reach out to someone in my network who worked at that company to see if they had any additional information about the posting. I always made sure I had a contact at any company I applied to. Note: online job boards are a necessary evil. On one hand, you have to use them to find opportunities, but . on the other, because they are so pervasive, every job posting is going to get a ton of applicants.
Friends and Contacts in my network – Many jobs never get posted to job boards, so I relied on my network to help source opportunities. In many cases, people in my network were able to either connect me to hiring managers or recruiters. out of the 5 roles I applied to, 2 of them were never posted externally until after I had done final round interviews. The takeaway: Having a network helps!
Step 6: I applied, prepared for interviews, and closed the deal
Every time I saw a role I was interested in I would contact my friend/referral before applying to let them know I was interested. Most people were happy to refer me and in many cases, reach out to the hiring manager or recruiter on my behalf. This was helpful in getting my application looked at, as well as getting expedited through the process. From there, I made sure to prepare for interviews so I could put my best foot forward. Check out my interview guide for specifics, but I did my prep work. Here are a few more highlights:
- I only wrote 1 cover letter – This might be a YMMV thing, but I only had to write one cover letter
- Referrals can often get you feedback – The people who referred me were crucial to my success. On numerous occasions, I was able to get feedback from my referral on my candidacy or what I could do to put my best foot forward in the next interview
- I had numerous “homework assignments” – In the end, I ended up applying to five companies. There were multiple roles at 3 of the companies and 3 out of those five companies had me do homework assignments of sorts through the interview process. The takeaway is that employers want to see your competency, so be prepared to prove to them that you have the skills to do the job.
Finally, after about 6-8 weeks, I landed the job I wanted and accepted the offer!
Final Thought:I built a team to lean on
For most of my professional career, I’ve prided myself on being someone that others could count on and go to for advice. In the job search, I had to rely on others, a lot.
Over the years, I’ve spent time building my network, and investing in relationships. I am a big fan of the book Give and Take, and I aspire to be a Giver. I was humbled by the support from those who I reached out to throughout this process.
Whether it was classmates from undergrad or business school who went out of their way to follow up recruiters. Former colleagues who reached out to hiring managers to pound the table for my candidacy, or my roommate, who would patiently listen and play psychologist as I blabbed or complained about the search while we watched football and ate ice cream, or my family who would always pick up the phone no matter the time of day, the support I got when I leaned on others was both humbling and inspiring. I wouldn’t have gotten here without this team.
Upon finding my next job, the months of reflection, research, interviewing and navigating through the highs and lows gave me a greater appreciation for the feelings and emotions that many of my clients have shared with me over the years. During the process, there were moments of frustration, doubt, or fear, but landing in a job that I feel aligns with my both my personal and professional interests gives me a sense of excitement and confidence about the direction of my career, and made the effort and work that I put in over the past few months meaningful and worthwhile.