Making a Career Change

This has come up a bit in comments and also in one-off e-mails I have received from people. Some inquired about career changes I have made and others about how to make a career change in general so thought I would address some of these questions.

One person asked about the changes I have made in my recruiting career (going from accounting and finance to tech consulting to in-house tech) and how I gained the depth of experience to really assess talent in those areas. I'll explain a little more about my career path planning below. But first, let me explain that I followed my passion so ramping up on the different types of roles I recruited for was something I did because I was truly interested in it. So starting out in finance and accounting, I was interested in tech because of how dynamic a field it was (and opportunities for tech recruiters were on the rise). I was willing to put in the time to get up to speed. I don't want to mislead you into thinking I did tech interviews at that point because I did not. But I could talk to technical candidates and get a good sense of their depth of expertise so that the tech interviewer just needed to confirm this when they spoke with the candidates. Moving over to marketing recruiting was a good move for me because my passion, with regard to technology in general, is how it enables businesses. My business degree really helped me get a baseline understanding of what folks do in marketing. So what did I do in each of these positions to get ramped up? Pretty simple: I talked to people. I talked to my hiring managers, I talked to professors, I read books and I asked a lot of questions in phone interviewers that not only evaluated a candidate's skill level, but helped me grow my knowledge of an industry space. I don't think that the specialist recruiter route is for everyone, but for me here, it makes me a credible partner to my internal clients and candidates. If you want to make a transition into a recruiting specialist role, talk to the people that have a vested interest in your ramp up (clients and candidates). You might be surprised how much time they will spend with you (but you really need to gauge what clients to engage on this...someone who you already have a strong relationship with). Often, I have found that they are flattered that I have come to them to ask advice. 

Someone else asked about making a move from sales to marketing and whether they will have to take an entry level marketing position to make that change. (Oh, see, I am flattered that you are asking me for advice). Well, it really depends on your background. So I will talk a little bluntly here about the likelihood of making changes in your career. What I say is not always the case and I am not speaking for all recruiters or people in positions with hiring authority. It's just my advice based on what I've seen. Every time a company hires someone new, they are taking a risk. Companies try to mitigate that risk by really effectively interviewing people, checking references etc. So the candidate becomes more of a known quantity.At the end of the day, it's still a risk as to whether the candidates can perform up to their perceived potential though. And when they don't, the company has made a bad hiring decision. So when someone applies to a position outside of their immediate area of expertise, there is an added risk. The risk is that, although the person may have been successful in another kind of a role, they may not be successful in the new role. It's harder to interview someone for a position that they haven't had some experience with and their references can really only speak to their performance in their previous roles. Most often, companies are not willing to take that additional risk. Here at Microsoft, there's also the added competition that an external candidate would encounter from internal candidates and at the end of the day, if a hiring manager is going to hire someone making a career change (from sales to marketing, for example), they are going to pick the internal candidate because that person has more of a documented track record at Microsoft and they will not have to ramp up on how to work at Microsoft (AKA the fire hose effect).

So what might you do if you want to drive this kind of career change:

-Consider taking a new role similar to the one you've got at a company that moves employees around internally. Go into that role and do a great job and while you are at it, ask for stretch assignments that allow you to branch into the new area (we have mid year discussions for just this reason at Microsoft)

-Identify skills that you currently have that are common to both the position you've got and the position you want (think of them as transitional skills---in my case, it was recruiting fundamentals). So in the case of moving from tech sales to tech marketing, maybe you could focus on your deep understanding of the channel. Also consider that you may have to take some intermediate steps to get to where you want to go. Maybe you go from sales to partner account management to partner marketing to product marketing. All nice reasonable steps that get you from point A to point B. You just have to be patient. And also you have to perform in each of those roles.

-In interviews, don't be too focused on your transition. If you do take some of the intermediate steps, be very careful about how you discuss your aspirations with the recruiter, hiring manager, interviewers. At the end of the day, they are looking for a person to fill a specific spot in their organization. And they are not going to bring you on board if they feel you are too focused on that end result to do well in the position that is open. Think about the fact that you are likely going to need to spend 1-2 years in that position.

-You might also need to consider taking that entry level role in marketing. That could potentially be the faster route to where you want to get. During the interview process make sure you understand what the career path is for someone in that type of position, how often opportunities arise to work on stretch projects and move up in the organization. The hiring manager will like to see some enthusiasm for moving up within the group (again, think about their motivation).

Hope this helps...if you have more questions...send them to me!

Comments (4)

  1. Dumky says:

    Large blocks are hard to read. More spacing needed 😉

  2. Sandy C says:

    Hi Heather,

    Great advice.


  3. Moji says:


    I currently work within an helpdesk environment and i am lookignto move into Marketing what adv can you give as to ways of persuading my current boss to give me an opportunity to be placed on a secondment withing this team

  4. Hi says:

    I am currently working in an IT company in a QA role. I want to move ahead on a career path related to Business Process/Business Consultany /marketing. I am unable to figure out how to move towards this role. I have interets in understanding how business works, doing Client interaction etc. Could you pls advice on how i can enter into that role. Will Non Domain specific BA role /Presales role be good option for me.?Pls suggest.

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