“But I don’t have any experience in this field.”
This is the most common pushback I hear from my clients when they gain more clarity on what they want in their careers and realize they were meant to do something completely different from their current job. Whether it’s switching into a new career, company or industry, the fear of or actual lack of relevant experience prevents most people from leaving a job or employer they don’t like.
Having successfully switched careers several times to very different roles and industries, I’ve learned firsthand that direct work experience for most careers and industries is overrated and the barriers to entry for a new career is much lower than you think. (Please note: my definition of “direct work experience” is working in the specific industry and role.)
So why doesn’t work experience matter as much as we’re led to believe?
Repetition of work
Many people do very similar work year after year. Employers pay individuals to perform specific functions and the bigger the company, the more specific the individual’s function will be. This creates the common situation where an average performer with 20-years of experience might really only have 1-2 years of unique experience and 18-19 years repeating similar experiences. They stop learning and begin to settle in and coast because it’s easy and comfortable.
This is great news if you’re looking to switch careers because with concentrated effort over a 2-3 year period, you can catch up to many people who have significantly more years of experience than you. You may need to take an initial pay cut to get your initial opportunity but if you put in the work, you’ll soon earn as much as if not more than others in your field because of the extra time you’ll put into improving your skills.
Rapidly changing world
The world is constantly changing. What you learned today will probably be obsolete in a few years. Maybe even a few days. If you’re looking to switch careers, your lack of experience may actually be a plus as firms look to innovate and stay ahead of or at least with the fast-changing times. Your ability to be agile and flexible will serve you better than any specific work experience or title. Seek to understand the current trends and leverage them to market yourself to prospective employers.
Most senior executives and business owners I know are on the look out for top talent even if they don’t have a specific job for them (Charles Koch is one of them). As long as you can add value to the company moving forward, your previous experience doesn’t matter as much as your potential. If you build strong relationships and cultivate a network of senior people who know what you can do, you will get opportunities despite your direct experience.
So if you’re looking to switch careers, take time to:
- Understand how the business or organization you want to work for makes money and figure out honestly how you can add value to this process.
- Build the skills you need to add value and find ways to showcase your abilities.
- Network with others in the business and industry you want to be in to gain visibility and agreement that you’re an insider.
If you’re willing to work hard on the right things, your lack of experience is a non-issue.
For many job functions, pre-requisite knowledge or skills may not be required as different companies have different methods and processes. Most likely, you’ll get training from your company and support from your manager to help you learn and do your job well. Any extra work you put in will only fast track your learning and if you sustain your hard work past year 3, you’re going to begin surpassing others with more official experience.
You might also consider developing evergreen skills, skills that are useful everywhere you go. Your ability to communicate, make decisions, size up a situation, lead, motivate, sell and build relationships are core to being successful everywhere you go.
Don’t get me wrong, proper work experience is valuable. Just because experience is overrated doesn’t mean that it doesn’t count. For those who continuously learn and find ways to build on their experience year after year, they are the ones who make it to the top of their professions. The point is that work experience is not weighted as much as you would imagine.
If your lack of experience is stopping you from going after your dream job. Take comfort that it doesn’t take long to catch up and surpass others in what you want to do. The faster you get started, the faster you’ll get there.
Photo by Sabrina