How can I change career direction?

Many readers have written in asking for advice on career changes. Here
Professor Bennison provides general tips on moving discipline.

Many of your questions concern issues to be considered when changing career.
I have made some major changes in the direction of my career over the past 40
years, and have learnt a few important points which you may find helpful.

You need to demonstrate that you have the skills, knowledge and experience
needed to fully perform the tasks inherent in a new job. A switch from HR to
finance, for example, demands a basic qualification in a financial discipline
before you will be considered for a post. Such a change commits you to a period
of study for perhaps three years.

This length of study is normally required when switching jobs between
professions that control entry by their own qualifications. If your new career
doesn’t require professional qualifications, you will still have to demonstrate
you have the skills, knowledge and experience to be fully effective. Ask
yourself ‘How can I acquire these skills?’ You’ll probably have to look for an
organisation which provides on-the-job training.

You might, however, want to become a consultant within your existing area of
expertise.

In joining an existing consultancy, there are two issues to be faced. Many
consultancies prefer to recruit highly-qualified graduates and train them. Some
years ago I applied to join such an organisation and although I was recognised
as a leading figure in HR planning, and had built up and managed a team of
successful consultants, I wasn’t considered for a position because the firm’s
policy was to employ only newly-qualified graduates. If you graduated in the
last two years with a first or upper second in your degree or have an MBA, take
a chance and apply.

Consultancies that recruit people with experience in the areas the company
offers will demand high levels of skill, knowledge and experience and a proven
track record in implementation. They will also be judging if you have the
necessary managerial process skills – organising, influencing, communicating –
to deal with their clients.

If your current company operates a management development policy and you
have been in your job for some years, you may have received training in these
skills. If not, there are many short courses offered by a wide range of
organisations. They are good for acquiring an appreciation of what is involved
in a particular managerial process, although longer programmes, that teach skills
using work-based assignments, not only develop these skills more effectively
but also provide the evidence you can use to convince an interview panel that
you have the consultancy skills required.

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