Thirty years ago, an applicant with a string of 1- to 2-year tenures with previous employers may have been a big red flag for a hiring manager. That kind of job hopping has traditionally been seen as a lack of commitment or a sign of someone who simply couldn’t figure out what he or she wanted in a career. Today, though, it’s extremely common for employees to job hop throughout their careers, using the transition as an opportunity to increase job levels and compensation.
However, although the norm has been to job hop within the same role or industry sector, employees are increasingly switching not just jobs but also careers.
Making Wholesale Shifts
“Following the Great Resignation, millions of workers are shifting to new roles,” writes Alex Christian in an article for BBC Worklife. “Some are seeking better pay or flexibility; others are job hopping to accelerate their career progression. However, a swathe of workers are changing their vocation entirely. According to a July 2022 global survey of nearly 2,000 workers by McKinsey & Company, 48% of those who quit their job in the past two years have moved to a different sector.”
This trend got us wondering: What do employers think about career-switching employees or job applicants? After all, just because employees are interested in switching careers doesn’t necessarily mean employers are eager to indulge in their career aspirations. We reached out to recruiters and HR insiders to get their thoughts on this growing trend.
The Timing Has Been Right for Employees
As an initial note, it’s important to consider the tremendous strain many recruiters and employers have been under throughout the Great Resignation. Employers that wouldn’t have even considered an applicant with less than 5 years of industry experience just 5 years ago are now happy to find just about anyone to fill an open role. In this context, the timing couldn’t be better for employees looking to try something new, and employers are often forced to give career switchers a shot just because there aren’t many applicants to choose from in some sectors.
The Impact of a Dynamic Economy
Instead of being seen as a potential red flag, Richard Harless, managing partner at AZ Flat Fee, sees career switching as a natural and expected consequence of a dynamic economy. “Career changes are becoming common,” he says. “A 30-year-old woman will likely have 12 different occupations over her lifetime. In ten years, some of the most prevalent jobs of today might not exist, and the prevalent jobs of that time might not exist now. Because of these factors, we must all change our occupations over time in order to maintain the workforce.”
The Importance of Soft Skills
“When it comes to hiring someone who’s switched careers, the areas of a candidate’s background that should be explored during an interview are transferrable skills and working styles,” says Mark Pierce, CEO of Cloud Peak Law Group. “Transferrable skills are the key to a successful career switch, and many basic business functions rely on the same set of base skills,” he says. “This means it’s quite likely that even if it isn’t obvious from their resume, career switching candidates likely have the right set of skills to be proficient in a new field. What they’ll need to learn are technical skills, but those can be taught, either on the job or by taking certification courses prior to starting.”
In other words, soft skills often transcend specific industries, and those who possess those soft skills (such as communication skills, leadership abilities, time management, and others) have a strong chance of being successful in any field once they learn the basic technical or “hard” skills needed to perform the specific job functions.
In addition to these transferable skills, Pierce says working style is another key aspect of an applicant’s qualifications that isn’t necessarily industry-specific. “Learning about a candidate’s working style is very important because that can help you determine how easily they adapt to change, deal with challenging situations, and how adaptable they are. If they show high ability in these areas, they’ll likely be successful in changing careers as they’re able to adjust and learn on the go.”
Particularly in smaller organizations, it can be easy for a company to get stuck in set modes of thinking and fixed concepts about how its company, industry, and the world in general work. One of the biggest advantages of bringing someone onboard from a different industry is that he or she will likely have unique perspectives and new lenses through which to consider challenges and opportunities.
Not Ready for Prime Time?
Despite many of our respondents saying their organizations are very open to career-switching job applicants, some have qualified that openness by pointing out that career switchers may not be ideal for more senior roles, simply because they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop the experience and industry expertise that is so valued in senior executives.
“Hiring managers may be more inclined to hire candidates who are switching careers for entry-level positions,” explains Brian Nagele, CEO of Restaurant Clicks. “While it’s true that previous experience in a related field can bring useful insight into another position, it’s not usually enough to handle an upper-level job,” he says.
Nagele points out that in any position, “there are unspoken details that only seasoned professionals will know, understand, and easily implement within a high-paced environment.” Hiring managers, he says, need to consider the learning curve involved in transitioning to an unfamiliar field. “The odds must remain in the favor of the company’s productivity while you transition into the role,” he says. “If not, then it might not be worth the risk.”
It can be a leap of faith for employers to take on workers who are in the process of switching careers. However, many employers find themselves with few options in the midst of a tight labor market, and recruiters have been increasingly receptive to the importance of non-industry-specific soft skills when evaluating candidates. While recruiters may prefer applicants who have a solid background in their organization’s industry, many are willing to at least consider career switchers. Some may even value the fresh perspectives these outsiders can bring to the table.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.