Most of us have no idea what we want to do for the rest of our lives. There comes a point where we take a wild guess — a chance.
This may feel good for a while. Initially you find yourself relieved and confident that you made the right decision. But for most, this feeling isn’t everlasting. Over time we grow. As we grow we crave new challenges or become interested in different things. Or maybe you’re unsatisfied in your current role, curious to explore other things.
Let’s say you reach a point where you know it’s time for something new. Things have got to change. Perhaps it’s time to change tactic, switch paths or course correct.
But waltzing in and declaring ‘I want to do this job now pls!’ isn’t going to be convincing — even if you are shouting it to the rooftops.
Whether you’re applying for a new role within your existing company, wanting to change the services you offer as a freelancer, or applying to work for a new employer, how can you position yourself to acquire a different role?
Surround yourself with experts
Reading articles, books and career advice can be encouraging, but being a passive learner only gets you so far. Actually talking to people in the field is invaluable.
When I decided to move towards product design I filled up my resource bank as much as I could. I’d subscribe to newsletters, read discussion boards, blogs and so forth. Lastly I made the effort to attend local meetups and events. While there I met other designers and began not only to learn more but form relationships.
Find ways to meet and talk to people in the industry. Once you do, use this as an opportunity to ask questions and discuss skills. You might be surprised, over time people you meet might even be willing to mentor you.
To start, as yourself who do I already know in this field of work? You may not know anyone in your immediate circle, so challenge yourself to search wide.
Is there someone you connected with at an event in the last year you could get in touch with? Do you have a friend who works at a company that employs people with the skills you’re interested in? If so, perhaps they could connect you with someone there.
Once you’ve connected with someone, be observant. What mistakes or successes have they had along the way? How did they get to where they are today? What is their process like? Use the opportunity to ask thoughtful questions and learn how to prepare yourself for migrating into this new area.
In the case that you don’t know someone in your local community, ask yourself who do I want to know? Identify places or communities to scout where these people could be; forums, discussion boards, Twitter, local events or meetups.
Do the work you want to be doing
Without sitting down and actually doing the type of work that will be required in your new role, how will you know if you actually enjoy it? Enjoying the reward at the end isn’t enough. You have to enjoy the journey along the way too.
Actually doing the work is going to be hugely valuable not only to confirm you enjoy the work, but to have something to show for it. Without this, your future job interview might be a challenge.
Having knowledge is useful, but experience is powerful. Being able to show that you’ve done the work is going to help instil some confidence in your employer.
Perhaps a freelance opportunity comes along that perfectly requires the new set of skills you want to acquire. How can you use this as a learning opportunity, or a dry-run to see if you actually enjoy this type of work (while remaining professional of course)?
My first taste of product design was through a freelance project that came completely out of the blue. At the time I wasn’t even considering product design as a new direction for me. A client approached me with a brief that required a thoughtful UX/UI process. Hungry to try something new I leapt at the opportunity. While I stumbled a little along the way, I realised how much I enjoyed not only the outcome, but the process.
Side projects are another way to dabble or explore this new skill. The benefit of a side project it that you’re in complete control. You get to define the scope and constraints, allowing you to create a safe space for mistakes.
You can read as many blog posts and how-to guides as you like, but it doesn’t beat actually doing the work.
Know your core skills and abilities
Do you know your real value? I admit that knowing my own worth is something I’ve learnt about myself recently.
Being aware of your unique skills and individual qualities puts you in control of them. It’s up to you to decide how to leverage them and whether to apply them in a positive way.
Knowing that your future employer will have a keen interest in your skills and ability, what can you do about this? Perhaps you have a skill that would complement nicely with your newly chosen role.
For example one of my skills is public speaking. Knowing this, I took opportunities to speak publicly at conferences about being a designer.
Your knowledge and skills are a commodity — people will invest in your personal ability. The best chefs are hired not only for their ability to cook great food, but for their knowledge in produce, flavours, food pairing, presentation and so on.
"We live in a knowledge economy. One that values people’s ability to make informed decisions and pick the right approach. This kind of subjective decision making is not something that will be automated. It will always need an expert to identify the right approach."
There is value in your knowledge and how you apply the knowledge. Consider what qualities you have that you can bring to the table and how these could provide you with a unique outlook or perspective in your work.
Knowing your abilities also means knowing your limit. Where does your competency end? Being self-aware of where you’re knowledge is lacking helps leave some room to be challenged.
While skill is important, so is methodology. How you apply a skill is incredibly valuable as it opens you up to different techniques, processes and methods.
Have a scout of your local meetups, workshops and conferences. Is there anything available that will open you up to new techniques or challenge your way of working? Learning these hands-on provides a glimpse into what your day-to-day might look like. You might also walk away with some tools or new methods to apply into your own work.
One of the meetups I went to was a workshop on how to draw (yes, physically draw!) personas of your product. I walked away with something tangible I could bring into my process and provide to my future team members.
If you can’t find an applicable event in your local area, there’s an abundance of courses online to learn from. The benefit of these is they often let you work at your own pace, and give you a deep dive into a specific skill or technique.
Moving into a different role is no easy feat. A lot of the hard work is going to come down to you actually taking action and showing initiative. Are you putting in the effort to acquire the skills required? Do you know what this kind of work entails? Have you at least dabbled in it already? Do you have anything to show for it? It’s not easy, but well worth the effort.