Considering A Career Switch? Here’s The First Thing To Know

In 2018 when I was seeking my first job post-NYSC, I ended up having job offers for 3 different roles. One was an Investment Banking position, another was a Cybersecurity position which I later changed to Data and Analytics and the last was for a Project Finance position.

For the initiated, you will know that each of those 3 roles requires a completely different set of skills to thrive in them. Does that mean I have all the skills? Or how come I have offers in the three areas? The answer to this question lies at the heart of this article.

I later changed my Cybersecurity offer to data and analytics where I worked with ambitious organisations to transform their data assets and worked with them to realise their data ambitions. Because of my experience, people often reach out to me to ask for advice on how to also switch to Data and Analytics. Granted, I am in a good place to share insights. However, their premise for coming to me is often always wrong and that’s what I tend to always set right first before an even more extensive conversation.

Today even though I work within the data space, there are still some data jobs that I wouldn’t apply for. And if I did, I won’t be surprised if I don’t get feedback from the recruiters. Why is that? How come the same person that got offered three jobs in completely different industries and functional areas cannot even get a job with his similar competence today? 

It’s simple, today, I exist on a different benchmark than I was 4 years ago.

How your benchmark affects the opportunities you attract and its place when you are transitioning career 

4 years ago when I was applying for those jobs, all that was required of me was my university degree, evidence of some level of interest in those areas and the ability to tell my story on an interview panel. Plus, the interview at that stage had a different goal. It wasn’t to assess my technical capability, rather it was to see if the hiring manager is comfortable hiring me notwithstanding my probably zero knowledge of the technicalities of the job. Simply put, it was an entry-level job and zero knowledge is assumed for nearly all entry-level jobs.

For such jobs, you are then expected to go through some onboarding training and continue learning on the job. In fact, in your first year, you likely will not be held responsible for any material contribution. When I joined PwC, we were told that we can make all our mistakes in year one and all sorts. Essentially, the expectations then are different. It was the bare minimum.

That’s what I meant by my benchmark. On a scale of expectation, there was zero on me then. It explains why I would get Investment Banking, Cybersecurity and Project Finance positions in the same period. 

As someone transitioning to a new career or say switching careers, your reality will be different from mine. You are switching most likely at the end of your entry-level, middle or late stage. All jobs at that level would require that you bring some experience if not near perfect experience to the table. An experience that as a switcher, you are likely not to have. Then it becomes tough to navigate. Some people grow frustrated at this point.

You need to think about it this way though. If you needed someone in your team as well as a senior or manager or director, would you prefer someone with the perfect experience for the role or another with zero experience for the role? I have used perfect and zero as the extreme example here deliberately. And I can imagine that 9.5 out of 10 times, you will prefer someone with the perfect experience. “I’ve done it before” is easier to sell than “I am passionate about this and can do it.” You are the latter in this scenario.

The task for you is to bridge the gap between zero experience to some experience since it would be impossible to have the perfect experience until you actually have the job.

Can we call what I had a career switch?

People consider it a career switch because I studied Accounting and now I am doing Data and Analytics. 

Yes, we can call it a switch and it is indeed a switch. But in the hierarchy of switching difficulties, I switched when it was easiest. I did so when expectations from me were near zero. 

Understand the stage of career that you are

Here, I’ve given my idea about different stages and the ease of switching based on what would be expected of you.

Entry-level:– easiest to switch because of assumed zero knowledge for nearly all jobs and only a few expectations. Please be aware that zero-knowledge doesn’t mean you should not attempt. Towards the end of my Investment banking interview, the MD said “we are looking for who to train but you seem to know it all.” That’s to tell you the kind of preparation I did and the impression I left.

Senior Level:- here, the least that’s expected of you is the core technical knowledge of your functional area and industry. My advice is to try as much as possible not to make a functional switch here. The reason is that you need to deepen your technical skills well and you are likely not to have done that yet. However, if you feel confident there is nothing more to learn or altogether it’s not even a part for you, then, by all means, move. And it’s fine to move industries. You can still leverage your technical skills. Data Science in Google for instance is very likely to be different from Data Science in Dangote Cement. About the difficulty, this is probably the toughest in my opinion. 

Manager level:- you own technical skills already and that’s out of the question. People skills, business development skills, sales and so on are the additions here. I will say it’s easier to switch at this stage compared to the two stages above. All the soft skills here can be immediately utilised in another functional area where your technical skills may not be relevant.

Top management level:- Director, C-Suites etc: where network, vision and people management is the most important things. Few people get to this stage and want to switch careers. But for those who wish to, I’d like to believe it is somewhat easier for them as well. They have a lot to bring to the table and no one would require them to be hands-on. More leadership.

There’s more to know about navigating career switch

The inspiration to write this article came after someone asked me the question of switching careers again. I get the question a lot. While working on this article, the research that I did produced close to 10,000 words. This article is just about 1,000 words. Imagine what you will get from 10,000 words. The content is a rich one filled with some intuitive and counterintuitive nuggets, guides and principles and strategies and blueprints. I am compiling it into an e-book already. I expect it to be ready in a matter of weeks. More details later.