Career changes can be daunting, especially if you’re already a seasoned leader in one industry and are now making a midcareer leap into another. As many senior leaders who make a switch find, reconciling one’s extensive background with the unfamiliar territory of a new-to-you field can feel disorienting and, sometimes, overwhelming.
Here, 18 Forbes Coaches Council members discuss common challenges that more mature, experienced leaders might encounter when making a career, company or industry switch and how to effectively overcome these obstacles to thrive in a new space.
1. Walking An Unfamiliar Path
The analogy I use with leaders I coach is that of walking. During a career switch, you might move ahead and can continue walking with that sense of having made progress. You see different landscapes, but you know what they are. With an industry switch, you might move several steps back in your career. You will encounter new landscapes and might have to learn what they mean in the context of the new industry. – Vinesh Sukumaran, Vinesh Sukumaran Consulting
2. Succinctly Communicating Your UVP
Packaging one’s unique value proposition and communicating it succinctly in ways that land with future decision-makers is the biggest challenge for career switchers. To stand out and compete against people who may be a more obvious fit on paper, the career switcher should prepare to explain how they are the right solution to solve the company’s challenges today. – Gina Riley, Gina Riley Consulting
3. Rebranding Yourself And Reframing Your Strengths
One challenge to rebranding yourself within a new industry is that these switches may be something you have thought about but not planned for. Individuals need to rebrand themselves and reframe their strengths and UVP as a leader who has repositioned to the industry. Creating the runway matters, so volunteer in the new industry, ask for speaking opportunities, and so on, so that you aren’t restarting, but are instead building on an existing foundation. – Georgette Zinaty, Corporate Class Inc
4. Navigating A Major Shift In Your Identity
A major challenge is the identity shift such a switch requires. Our identity is our understanding of who we are, our beliefs, values, experiences and roles. A switch as a mature, experienced leader can be humbling, as we have much to learn and understand in our new environment, so we’re often renegotiating significant aspects of our identity, letting go of some elements and embracing new ones. – Julie Jungalwala, Academic Leadership Group, Inc.
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?
5. Embracing A Beginner’s Mind
Embrace “shoshin,” or what is known as the beginner’s mind in Zen Buddhism. It’s a concept of having a learning mindset, being open, being curious and taking in ideas from coworkers, bosses, trusted colleagues and key stakeholders. A beginner’s mind allows for discovery, curiosity and an expanded experience. It can pave the way for a fresh and powerful start as a new leader and create a learning environment for all. – Gina Lavery, Gina Lavery Inc.
6. Building Out A New Network
Our network elevates our net worth. When changing industries, mature leaders need to leverage their connections and expand their reach to gain key contacts and alliances in their new industry. Mature leaders who take time and invest their energy to build out their network within their new industry do better, faster, and with more confidence. – Tanya Chernova, Tanya Chernova Global Corp
7. Building Self-Awareness
Leaders need to build self-awareness about how they relate to change and what stability is needed in their lives, or about whether becoming an entrepreneur, with its inevitable uncertainty, would suit them. Take the time to reflect on how to honor the past and give it the appropriate closure, as well as how to build the desired future, keeping in mind that the neighbor’s garden is not always greener. – Judit Ábri von Bartheld, CHN LLC – Coaching Without Borders Hungary (Coaching Határok Nélkül)
8. Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone
One major challenge is stepping out of your comfort zone, which means facing your fear and risking compatibility with both the people and content in the new line of work or new industry. Heading into something unfamiliar is challenging, uncomfortable and worrying, but it’s also one of the most valuable things you can do because you will discover a lot about yourself. It’s part of growing leadership maturity. – Dr. Wasit Prombutr, 10X Consulting
9. Believing In Your Own Ability Do Something New
A big challenge for leaders is believing that they can channel their experience and background into another industry or even an entrepreneurial opportunity. Many can’t seem to think “out of the box,” and thus limit their ability to consider exploring something that might be their perfect “next life” fit. – Eddie Rodriguez, The Franchise Tailor
10. Discovering New Approaches In A New Environment
Develop humility and listening skills. Don’t assume that what worked over there will work over here. You’re jumping into something new with (understandably) limited information. Don’t be afraid to ask new colleagues and bosses, “Can you help me understand?” Of course, you shouldn’t hide in a corner, but you should be humble—let others teach and guide you. They’ll respect you for it. – Gregg Ward, MCEC BCC, The Center for Respectful Leadership
11. Adapting To An Unfamiliar Landscape
Making a switch such as this involves navigating a steep learning curve to understand evolving industry dynamics, trends and technologies. Intentionally building a network is a crucial step within the new industry or career field, which can significantly ease the learning curve. – Foluso Gbadamosi, FolusoGbadamosi.com
12. Embracing How Business Is Done At Your New Company
The most successful integrations happen when a new leader embraces their new organization and shows the desire to learn and accept the potential quirkiness of how business is done there. Too-frequent references to the past (“at my old company, we…”) lose their appeal very quickly and may project the image that the leader is not fully embracing their new reality. – Edyta Pacuk, MarchFifteen Consulting Inc.
13. Accepting A Potential Reduction In Pay
You have to be willing to accept there may be a price for a significant career shift, including a potential reduction in pay or additional costs to retrain in exchange for new opportunities. Leaders are usually well-compensated for their knowledge. Still, if you are moving to a new field or working arrangement, professionals often need to make their peace with a step back in remuneration to step forward in a new direction. – Gillian Kelly, Outplacement Australia
14. Facing New Challenges At A Ground-Zero Level
You’re going to have to access a new level of mastery and face challenges at a ground-zero level. You will very likely feel resistant to this because it’s going to require doing away with the image and reputation you had crafted up until this point. You have to be willing to ditch what you know, and the challenge to overcome will most likely be not wanting to be the fool in the room. – Sonika Asif, Lush Empires
15. Dealing With Self-Directed Ageism
One major challenge some seasoned professionals tend to have is a negative mindset about their age. Their age is often cited as a reason to not make a move or change. This limiting belief is typically outside of their awareness and often shows up in how they speak and present themselves. Negative energy enters the conversation before they do! Flip the internal script, and mind your leadership! – Melissa DeLuca, DeLuca & Willow
16. Facing The Unknown And Uncertainty
One major challenge is the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty that comes with it. This fear can prevent individuals from pursuing a career that aligns with their passion. People may be apprehensive about beginning a new career in a new field because they may feel that their skills do not transfer. This can be a significant challenge after they have already spent years building their existing skill set. – Richard Chiumento, The Rialto Consultancy
17. Making Sure You Are Switching For The Right Reasons
Making sure you are making a career or industry switch for the right reasons can be a big challenge. Take a step back and ask yourself if this is the right problem to solve: “Why do I want to make a switch?” Many people want to make career switches for money, but research tells us that this will not make one happy. Moving for a purpose and finding your niche will make people happiest in their careers. – Carmelina Piedra, CareerCoachingPro
18. Staying Confident Without A Track Record
Seasoned leaders who pivot might experience a lack of confidence that hits them particularly hard because it’s something they are not used to feeling. It happens because many of us tend to build most of our confidence on our expertise and track record—which, in a new career or industry, can feel nonexistent. Focusing more on personal qualities and strengths helps to restore confidence. – Micha Goebig, Go Big Coaching & Communications, LLC