Career Shift: Be Strong Enough to Ask for Help

If you're planning a career change, it's best to have a team to back you up

Career change can seem like an especially lonely task because it's such a personal process. It's easy to think that only you, by yourself, can answer the central question: What work matches my unique talents and interests? Furthermore, it's tempting to think of career change as a private matter, best conducted without many others knowing that you're going through it. Worse, we are taught that we're supposed to show our character by deliberately "going it alone"—proving we can handle things by ourselves.

Believe it or not, career change is best performed as a team sport—and part of your task is to enlist the team that can be most helpful to you.

Reimagining your career is a three-part process: you must understand what makes you unique, then brainstorm where you can find matching work, and learn how to locate that opportunity. The Career Team you put together can help with all three legs of your career-search journey.

What: Figuring out what makes you unique involves answering two questions: what transferable skills do you most love to use?; and how do you combine those skills in ways that are different from what other people do? To find the answers, you should choose team members who know you well enough to offer insights. That's your best option. But here's a back-up strategy: sometimes you might choose for your team other job-hunters or career changers who are going through the same process, or perhaps counseling or coaching professionals.

Where: Next, as you're determining where you can find matching work—that is, work and work environments where you can perform at your highest level—the most helpful people to add to your team will be brainstormers, friends and others who can provide suggestions for different options you might explore.

Look for creative people who can envision work ideas that blend various fields. People who work in fields that interest you can be useful during this stage too, because they can tell you in detail what that work is like and point you to others who could be helpful.

How: Finally, as you're determining how to approach the opportunities you've identified, you'll want to recruit "bridge people" to your team—friends and others who know you and also know people at organizations that interest you. Bridge people can make introductions for you, spanning the distance between you and your organization of interest. These are often people with large networks of contacts, relationships with people in multiple fields, and 500+ connections on LinkedIn. By describing the kinds of organizations you're looking for, or specific people you're trying to find, bridge people can often make useful connections. You can enroll in Jobs with Friends, a website for finding people who know both you and the organization that interests you.

Remember that some people you enlist for your Career Team will be going through their own career search now—or sooner than they think—so you'll have the opportunity to repay their help by joining their career teams.