Before she was a chef, Julia Child was a spy for the Office of Strategic Services (the World War II intelligence agency that preceded the CIA). Singer Elvis Costello started out as a computer programmer “ operating an IBM 360 in an office next to a lipstick factory.” Whoopi Goldberg, a trained beautician, worked make-up magic in a mortuary.
Okay, those are romanticized examples. But today there are too many degrees and not enough jobs in certain industries. The passion a person has entering a profession often turns into practicality by the time they hit the job market. Many people graduate with a psychology degree and then start their career in human resources. Graphic designers may morph into front-end developers down the line. Account executives become account managers and vice versa.
More and more you’re running into resumes that, at first glance, look like the candidate is trying to make a huge career swing with the risk falling squarely in your lap. There is risk, but there’s also opportunity. There are seven questions to ask, three of yourself and four of the candidate, to determine if serendipity has brought you your next great team member.
1. You’re clued into their career switch, but are they?
Not every career sticks, especially when you’re young and trying to balance passion and priorities. However, when you’re reviewing Julia Child’s application for a role as a sous chef and all you see on her resume is espionage investigation and wartime spying, you’re going to need her to come to the table with more than just an eagerness to cook. As the hiring manager, you need to start by gaging how clued in she is regarding her 180-degree career switch.
2. Does the candidate see the elephant in the room?
It’s a red flag when someone applies for a job they’ve never had before or wants to be considered for a role in which they have no experience. If you come across an unlikely resume as a hiring manager, your first consideration should be whether the candidate has pointed out the elephant in the room. It can be as simple as an objective or summary statement in their resume or cover letter that says, “Experienced spy with a passion for French cooking hopes to transition into a new career in the kitchen.”
3. Do they understand the challenge of the career switch?
If they’ve established credibility by addressing the obvious, your next self-awareness assessment is to gauge whether they understand the challenges they’re up against in entering a new career, like gaining new domain expertise, working with different functional teams or mastering new skills. The five-foot-seven, 130-pound freshman trying out for varsity basketball better say more than “practice hard” when asked what he thinks he needs to do to make the team. He’d better show you he has a realistic, strategic plan to compete against the more likely players.
A resume is only going to tell you so much, so to find out if they’re aware of these challenges -- and furthermore, if they have a plan of attack -- get in front of the person and ask them directly. Here are four questions that can help you evaluate their qualifications and the thought they’ve put in to the challenge of switching careers:
1. What is driving you to make this career change?
This question helps you understand their impetus. They should be able to demonstrate that they’re passionate about the change they’re making.
2. What skills from your previous position will help you be successful in this position?
This helps you understand if they’re aware of how their skills cross over. They should be able to provide examples of how this is the case.
3. What skills do you think you need for this position that you didn’t need or use in your previous role?
This helps you see if they understand what they might be lacking. They should be able to articulate what they’re missing and how they plan to fill the gap in experience.
4. How can you make a greater impact in this role?
This helps you see if they’ve given thought to the more philosophical aspects of their career switch. If the candidate is passionate and qualified, like Julia Child applying for her first cooking job, they should be able to explain why ultimately they’re much better suited in a kitchen than a cubicle.
If the candidate has the right answers, you’ll both become truly aware of the challenges ahead if the two of you agree to head down this increasingly common path.
True Performers Can Prove They’re Worth the Risk.
Performers don’t often fit into tidy boxes. The last thing you want to do as you’re building teams and growing your company is overlook a top performer simply because they haven’t had the chance to prove themselves in a new role.
Keep an open mind and an honest gut or you risk missing out on exemplary employees who know both why they’re making the switch and how they can do it successfully. After all, the skills may be there, and so may the passion, drive, and qualifications; you just need them to show you.