Wise target selection and thorough preparation are keys to successfully changing your career path, say experts in the recruitment and personnel development fields. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: In the past few years, many people have lost their jobs in the real estate, finance and retail sectors, among others, and have been forced to move to different industries.

Whether forced or voluntary, a career change can be beneficial, according to recruitment consultants and career coaches.

"It gives the individual the opportunity to get out of a rut, or into an environment where they start performing and thriving again," says Andrew McNellis, managing director of Talent2 International, Middle East and Africa..

It may not always be easy, but with managements nowadays more open in their outlook, change is possible.

"Increasingly, modern management looks at hiring talent with transferable competencies and behavioural styles from different industry sectors,: says McNellis. "The rationale cited includes bringing a different perspective and complimentary corporate DNA from successful sectors."

Skills and qualifications

Chris Greaves, managing director of Hays, Gulf and India, echoes the same sentiments: "In general terms it's the actual skill set and qualifications of the individual that outweigh the importance of having particular sector knowledge."

For some sectors, product knowledge can come quite quickly and so absorbing people from a different sector is not much of a hindrance when recruiting, he adds.

Health care, oil and gas, legal and construction are exceptions, Greaves points out. Human resource practitioners, for example, are more focussed on the medical qualifications and experience when it comes to hiring for healthcare. In some cases of legal positions, employers are looking for Middle Eastern experience.

Also, when recruiting, the focus is not just on professional qualifications but also on personal traits, according to Lama Ataya, chief marketing officer of Bayt.com, a regional on-line recruitment agency.

"This aspect has grown noticeably and employers are well aware that with the right key soft and hard skills and thorough information and preparation, professionals should be able to ensure a smooth career shift within a reasonable time-frame," Ataya says.

In some cases of the top echelons of management, particularly the C-suite leaders such as chief executives, chief financial and chief operating officers, the change is quite common.

"C suite leaders can absolutely change industry sectors and be successful. However, they are often met with some scepticism," says McNeilis, who has had more than 20 years experience in C suite talent management.

Famous example

He provided the example of Alan Mulally, an engineer who after 37 years at Boeing, moved to Ford Motor Company as its CEO. He was challenged by an employee on an internal Q&A: "You are from airplanes, you know motor vehicles are quite different."

Mulally's legendary reply was: "A car has 102,000 parts; an airplane has 1.7 million and has to stay up in the air. Next question?"

However, in terms of moving from one sector to another, the most likelihood of successfully moving between fields is at the start of your career and at the top of your career, says McNellis.

"It is not uncommon for a first-jobber to cut his teeth in one sector only to then move to another — the classic case being working for the Big Accounting Partnerships who accept significant attrition early on," he says. "I believe life is about learning and earning so once a career-minded individual embarks on their career and gets to really understand a sector, they tend to "trade up or on" their sector or field of expertise and stay in that sector mid career."

However, it depends on an individual's psychology and, in many cases, on the opportunities available at a point in time, say recruitment consultants and career coaching experts.

"The psychology of being able to take a risk with one's career varies enormously and will completely drive an individual's appetite for change," says McNellis. "I believe it is more likely a talented individual has that change forced upon him due to external events:

Slow-market woes

But in a slow market people are less able or willing to change jobs, says Paul White, executive and career coach at Sandpiper Coaching in Dubai.

"This may then lead to frustration as a person reaches a career plateau, that is, the fifth or sixth year in a position which they have outgrown — because there is nowhere to go in the local market," says White. "In today's market, voluntary career change carries higher risk. In a previous manifestation of Dubai, job choices abounded. Now career plans need to account for tighter supply of new opportunities and slower job turnover."

Change is the only constant in today's globalised world and it is of utmost importance to plan properly when making a career change.

Look before you leap

Some steps to ponder before taking that decision

Take the time to examine your priorities, your values, interests and goals in life. Ask how important the financial element is versus the geographic, creative, intellectual or interpersonal element. If you don't know what you want to do next, narrowing down your parameters of interest helps your focus. Research different areas, read business journals to identify an area of business or study that will interest you and help meet your life objectives.

Know yourself and your competencies. Take a realistic and objective reality check about your capabilities and whether you are able to articulate why they will transfer well to the benefit of a new field.

Utilise and package old skills. You've found that job you want but don't know how to get it. Grab your CV and start dissecting your skills and past experience to find all those elements that would apply to your new role. You will be surprised at how many skills are interchangeable and constant across careers and disciplines. Highlight those common denominator skills and attributes. These include general computer skills, languages, organisational skills, leadership skills, quantitative, qualitative and problem-solving skills, relationship and interpersonal skills and creativity. Also highlight your general "aptitude" or learning abilities.

Don't just chase the money. Unless there is a genuine passion for the new sector beyond making more cash, the potential employer is unlikely to be impressed. Worse still, three months into the role, you won't be either. Passion will outlast pay over the long term.

Research the truth. If you are considering a new field, do you really know the realities of it or are you approaching it with rose tinted glasses? Get out in the traffic and talk to people who have worked in it for a long time and you will find the truth that will not be in any corporate glossy brochure.

Keep employed. One of life's realities is that in the eyes of a potential employer, you are a lot more employable employed, than unemployed. In other words, move on your terms. Never resign from your current field in the hope of gaining a new role quickly in a new field. Real life is not Hollywood.

Think long-term. Ask yourself if the sector is on the up or falling down.

Trade-offs. All of life is a negotiation, so think about what you will gain from a new sector as well as what you can give. Be prepared to compromise on salary (earning) for the sake of new skills and field expertise (learning).

Buy-back. A sad reality of career management is that in some firms it is only when you resign that the promotion and pay raise is subsequently offered. Remind yourself why you wanted out of the sector in the first place. Up to 78 per cent of people bought back into a role they resign from subsequently leave after eight months or less.

Get a mentor. Don't just bore your spouse with your career ramblings; find a trusted objective advisor who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear, when it comes to a career change or sector move.

Get some perspective. Sometimes looking in the mirror and making the most of the role you have today is a better solution than coveting the potential role of tomorrow.

Retrain or update knowledge of trends in the industry. This may be the time to go back to college or vocational school to get that degree, training or certification you've always wanted. However, these opportunities may not always be available in some sectors in this difficult market.

— Sources: Andrew McNellis, Talent2 International; Lama Ataya, Bayt.com; Paul White, Sandpiper Coaching

Cross-sector movements common in local market

Recruitment consultants and career coaches cited local examples of movement across sectors in the last three years. People have moved from investment banking to management consultancies; retail sales to general administration; business development to sales; leisure to investment banking; the global fast moving consumer goods sector to the property industry; software development to customer service; entertainment and hotels to real estate; and aerospace to the government sector.