Maybe you’re the best Java programmer on your team, or your company’s go-to resource for complex network issues. As a recognized expert in your field, it’s normal to want to spread your wings—but you’re so good at what you do, prospective employers won’t even consider you for a different role than the one you have now.
Face it: you’ve been pigeonholed. But don’t despair; following a basic strategy can help you fly the coop.
Learn Complementary Skills
Acquiring complementary technical skills can help you transition into a new field, even if you don’t have years of experience. For instance, a C++ programmer might want to learn a database or how to troubleshoot the network, said Tom Henricksen, development services manager for Zirous, an IT consulting firm based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Henricksen noted that peer training, combined with side projects, could help an aspiring professional segue into a new role at another company: “Develop a baseline proficiency with a new program to negotiate a transition… Start as a tester on an open source project and work your way up or get a certification.”
Since working professionals may need to train on the sly, find a learning partner at user groups, meetups or conferences, Henricksen added: “I know a Java developer who successfully transitioned into .NET that way… He met a guy at a conference who gave him coaching and some small projects to work on. Having hands-on experience helped him land a .NET position at a small Web development firm.”
When you submit your resume for an open position, you’re just another applicant. If you apply for a job outside your “regular” skill set, your resume probably won’t pass muster with human resources (or the company’s resume-screening software), since most employers look for seasoned professionals who can hit the ground running.
Work around the forces that are holding you back by developing relationships with influential IT professionals; being referred for a position greatly increases your chances of success. Network with meetup organizers, conference speakers and highly engaged pros, all of whom can serve as conduits for specialized technical knowledge and jobs.
Also, don’t overlook recruiters who specialize in placing candidates with small companies. “Small companies like to hire people who are willing to learn,” Henricksen said. “If you explain your goal to a recruiter, he can steer you toward companies and IT managers who are willing to consider you.”
Update Your Image
If you haven’t updated your professional brand or your social media profile, and your resume focuses on your prior work history and job titles, you’re partly responsible for your lack of mobility.
Makeover your image pronto to reflect the position you want, not the jobs you’ve had. Start by creating a forward-looking resume that reads like a proposal instead of a regurgitation of yesterday’s news. Focus on transferable skills and newly learned tools. List relevant boot camps, conferences or training courses near the top of your resume; remember to prioritize achievements and projects that emphasize your qualifications for your new role.
Recruiters find candidates by searching the Internet, so cement your new identity by participating in online communities, posting your code for review, following recognized gurus on Twitter, soliciting endorsements, and touting new certifications or projects on social media.
How you position your expertise can make all the difference. It’s hard to pigeonhole someone when they present a diverse set of technical skills, experience and characteristics.
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