Visualizing a “New You” is Essential to Changing Careers

One of the more difficult hurdles to surmount when making a career change is to begin thinking and talking about you in a new way. When we have been in a role for a very long time, we have an ingrained way of thinking, communicating and acting that reflects this. If you want your prospective employer to see you play the part for which you are “auditioning,” it is essential that you take on the persona of that “character”.

I was so entrenched in my previous role, that knowing how to look, act and talk like a professional was challenging.

When I initially went out on my own as a single mom with the intent of changing “careers” (from full-time wife and homemaker to professional), I struggled with this concept. I was so entrenched in my previous role, that knowing how to look, act and talk like a professional was challenging.

I recall the time I was headed out the door for my first job interview. I was dressed in a suit and wearing heels and make up. My seven-year-old daughter looked at me and said, “You don’t look like my mom. My mom is all scrunched up.”  Although she was just a child, I quickly recognized her insight as a metaphor for how I saw myself and interacted with the world around me: “scrunched up” by my self-image and belief that I could never rise above my current state of affairs and succeed in the workplace.

Yesterday, I was coaching “Becky,” a lovely woman who had spent her entire career as a registered nurse – more than 21 years. She had recently earned a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management, was currently pursuing an MBA, and eager to transition to a new career in healthcare administration. Becky’s overriding job-search concern was how to let employers know that she is qualified for a management position.

We located and evaluated a healthcare administrator job announcement and identified the duties and required skills. Then I asked Becky to select from the announcement one duty she has performed or skill she possesses.

She chose “ensuring quality of care” as an essential area of responsibility and something that she does consistently. When asked to support this with an example, she shared the following: “I am very compassionate and always go above and beyond to help the patient. I had one patient who was upset by how the previous shift nurse treated her. I listened to her concerns, apologized for how she was treated and later bought and delivered her a gift from the hospital gift shop.

It was a lovely story and certainly illustrated that she is indeed “very compassionate.” Unfortunately, it also positioned Becky as a nurse, not an administrator.

I stressed that she needed to mentally and emotionally “step away from the patient bedside” and into the “board room.” Healthcare administrators ensure quality of care by providing adequate resources, training and supporting staff, enforcing Joint Commission standards, and leading change. I was looking for an example of how she did any of those things and suspect that the prospective employer would be looking for the same.

Becky immediately grasped this distinction and shifted her thinking about how to market herself. Although she had listed several healthcare administrator skills in the core competency section of her résumé, she had neglected to take the time to think of examples from her career, which illustrate that she indeed possesses those skills.

As we went through the list one-by-one, I coached Becky through the process of formulating “stories” that illustrate her skills and experience relevant to those of a healthcare administrator and I could sense her concerns melting away. She may not currently hold the title, but Becky IS a healthcare administrator – she just needed someone to help her see and believe it.

She thanked me for boosting her confidence and I silently thanked her for the reminder that many years ago I successfully transitioned to a new career. No longer “scrunched up,” I now empower clients to make their own successful transition!

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