I remember getting out of boot camp and being terrified.
Oh crap! Now I have to get a job doing this. How do I convince someone to hire me? Would I hire me? Do I know enough?
I just spent a ton of money and turned my life upside down. What if it doesn’t pay off?
I have a four year old to take care of who is relying on me. Oh my God, I really can’t screw this up!
This too shall pass
To any of you who are in that spot right now, I feel ya. It is a scary thing to step way outside of your comfort zone and experience. To lose any cred you have built up so far so you can forge ahead on a new path. I had already done the whole just out of college and trying to break in thing and that was hard. It was nothing compared to making a change mid-career.
When you are fresh out of school, no one expects you to have your act together completely or know everything. You look young and hopeful with a little dash of “fake it till you make it” and that’s okay. It is completely expected.
When you walk in at “mid-career age” people are expecting past experience. They expect you to have a track record and some successes behind you. The fact is, you probably do have successes but they are not in the field you are trying to break into. So do they count for anything? It is just so … strange. As someone who successfully made the change and helped a few others do it too, here is my advice:
Embrace the weirdness
Yes, your background is going to be different than other people applying for this role. Your previous jobs and education will probably not shout “good fit” at first glance.
It is what it is.
Highlight what you have learned and how you have used it so far. Own it and use it to start a conversation.
If you have focused on learning skills that are “hot” right now or that a lot of companies are looking for, you will probably still get some phone calls.
Tell your story
I talked to A LOT, and I mean a TON of HR folks and recruiters to make my switch. I got really good at telling my story.
- Why did I make this switch?
- What was my boot camp like?
- What did I learn?
- What projects did I do to gain my skills?
- What was I hoping to get in terms of a role?
By the end of these conversations, I think half of them were thinking about changing careers themselves. I spoke passionately about what I was trying to do with my life and my goals. It made people want to help me succeed. They retold my story to get me interviews and were able to “sell me” to others who would have passed me over without a second thought.
Be humble enough to be ‘entry-level” again
I didn’t try to pitch myself as a “software engineer” or paint myself as some kind of guru. I embraced where I was in the process. This can be a big dose of humble pie after already working your way up from “entry-level” in a previous field. Here I was again looking for that first break so I had to be willing to take a step back.
That can be a financial step back for some. For me, entry-level in tech paid more than I had been making at my old job so that was no problem.
For everyone, it is an attitude adjustment. Being willing to listen more and ask questions more. I had to say the words “ I don’t know” followed quickly by “I will look that up and learn more. Are there any resources you recommend?”. It was uncomfortable at times, but you have to use that discomfort to keep you growing.
Keep growing your skillset
Getting out of a boot camp is just the beginning. You have much to learn grasshopper, so hop to it. Figure out what you need to get a deeper understanding of and go after it.
There is this sigh of relief that happens when you finish camp, like whew, I made it. Then there is another one that happens when someone hires you. You are tired, burned out and mentally fried.
Take a brief pause (…I mean like a few days or a week not a major vacation : ) and enjoy the moment. Then get back to work growing your skills. Keep going at it hard until you are as confident in your new field as you were in the one that you left. That was my measure for myself to gage if I had really made the transition to a new field completely. When I was just as skilled and just as hirable in my new field as I was in my old one, the switch was complete.
Point of no return
I still have more growth to do and more to learn, but would I ever go back to the old gig?
I have enough skills and projects as a software developer that I can easily job hunt and enough distance between me and my old skillset to have a tough time going back.
Was it a lot of work? Was it scary? Was it worth it?
Yes, yes, and absolutely!
It can be done, so you can do it.
Keep on coding!
Susan … @LadyCoder