December 8, 2011
The one-word key to rapid career change
It should come as no secret that many Americans are actively thinking about changing careers -- either because they've fallen out of love with their current career path after many years, or for the more practical reason of trying to align themselves with an occupation that offers better long-term job prospects and compensation potential.
My advice? While degree programs abound, and there are many possible ways people can successfully reinvent themselves, the fastest route often centers around a single word: tools.
These days, almost every profession relies on some type of tool, technology or software package as an instrumental part of doing business. Restaurants and retail organizations use point-of-sale systems. Non-profits use programs such as Raiser's Edge to track their fundraising efforts. Medical clinics use software such as Epic or Cerner to manage their patient information.
No matter where you turn, you'll find professionals using some sort of tool or technology to increase efficiency and get the job done. Without question, these hard skills are much easier for companies to identify and target in their recruiting efforts than "squishier" skills and abilities such as communication, teamwork and problem solving.
While those seeking to change fields may not be able to compete directly with other candidates based on years of experience alone, they often can gain an edge by acquiring training or certification in a cutting-edge technology increasingly being used in their target occupation. Such tools change rapidly, every few years, which creates renewed windows of opportunity for savvy careerists willing to embrace this reality and get ahead of the curve.
The other day, for example, I was assisting a client who is seeking to break into the technical writing field. It was interesting to note that two software packages that were seen as essential five years ago -- Adobe FrameMaker and RoboHelp -- are now being asked for about 50 percent less in that sector. What has replaced them? That's what we're working to identify.
Or take the architectural industry. A quick sweep of various job sites reveals that there are 75 percent fewer architectural job listings asking for the old staple, AutoCAD skills. At the same time, there's a 400 percent increase in those asking for Revit software knowledge.
You'll see similar trends across the board involving hot programs such as SharePoint, Omniture, Salesforce.com and hundreds of other niche technologies, spanning virtually every occupational field.
The takeaway? While there's certainly more to changing careers than just mastering a piece of software, there's usually no faster path to success than researching the hot new tools in any given field -- and acquiring proficiency in them.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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