How to Switch Careers Like a Pro

Sponsorship, Direction, and Uncertainty

“I was supposed to end my assignment in the first quarter of 2020 after three years working in the same business division. In a rotational program, the organization encourages me to surf through multiple departments to gain a broader perspective and find what fits me best. However, I insisted on staying in one business area to realize its digitalization vision to which I had dedicated myself from the very beginning. Now, with a relatively small professional network and a unique skillset, how should I plan for my next career move? “

Career changes happen at some point in everyone’s lives; many of us have been there. It can be as small as getting a new job within the same organization or as big as taking a completely different career path. You get home one day and feel it’s time for a change. Regardless of how you got to this point, you decide to set sail on a new journey, and I’m here to help you do it.

In our previous post, “Run towards your next career change, ” we discussed major career transitions with Sunny Alam, the go-to-market program leader for international markets at Philips. Thus in this post, we will be talking more about finding your way in the same corporate environment. With reflection and learnings from my recent career move, I hope to provide you a new perspective to champion your own journey.

Switch Careers Switch Careers

Getting a Sponsor

According to Havard Business Review sponsorship is “the advocacy by senior leaders of rising talent”. Furthermore, Forbes explains that the sponsor’s role is to “highlight more junior employees for opportunities or recognition within an organization.” 

Working in a large corporation while having a relatively small network, I needed a sponsor who could help connect me with the right people and endorse me for the right opportunities. However, sponsorship requires more than just my proactiveness to ask for support. Fundamentally, excellent performance is the prerequisite for getting sponsorship. With this in mind, I lined up a few strategies to find my sponsor.

  • Build relationships with the closest senior leaders: Personally, I’m at my best in a one-on-one setting and know that my potential sponsor should be well aware of my performance. Thus I started to nurture the relationship with my closest senior leaders, who could become my sponsor. To do so, I planned idea pitchings and regular catch-up with them to reflect on my career progress and aspiration. 
  • Exceed expectation: I work for my people and have their best interest at heart is the principle for everything I do. It meant putting extra effort in designing quality customer-centric solutions, tailoring training based on individual knowledge gaps, and providing emotional support to overcome organizational changes. By following my principle consistently and doing these activities with utmost creativity and care, I was able to exceed my own standard and thus the expectation of my leaders. 
  • Pick the right moment to nudge for committed sponsorship: During my second assignment, I had one major challenge that considerably drained my energy and motivation. However, looking from a more positive perspective, I saw that challenge as a rare opportunity to nudge for sponsorship. Therefore, instead of solving the issue myself, I set up conversations with my senior leader to ask for advice. Through these advice sessions I made sure to give off the best impression of myself.  . I carefully framed the way I spoke to reflect the company’s values and my personal values. The result was fantastic. The leader offered to be my sponsor, and referral for any opportunity without me asking for permission in advance. 
How to Switch Careers Like a Pro

Switch Careers Switch Careers

Shaping the Direction

Be clear on what you want, where you are and what your job options are.

Besides professional skills, I wanted to work on something that would continuously challenge me, fulfill me and entertain me. At the same time, I also care about the financial stability and reputation that a job can bring me. The important thing is to find the right balance between my passion and the practical benefits that come with it. 

Whilst searching for a framework on how to guide my thoughts and reach that balance, I came across a well-rounded concept called “Ikigai”. Ikigai is a Japanese lifestyle that enables you to find your “reason for being”, emerging from the balance between “your passions, talents” and the skills “the world needs and is willing to pay for” (more here and the book here). Using this concept, I did a small reflection to shape what I want in a new role. 

Next step is to understand where I am. In my organization, it was challenging to evaluate myself against my colleagues since we all have different talents and work in different areas. Thus, I tried to benchmark my skills based on the requirements of available jobs in the external market. At the same time, I ran a 360 questionnaire to get feedback from my managers, peers and stakeholders on my leadership attributes. Those two activities gave me an insightful picture on my current capabilities and ideas for future development. 

The final piece of the puzzle is to figure out my job options. Knowing what I want and where I am already helps to narrow down some areas to explore. Thanks to my mentor’s arrangement, in sep 2019, I flew to the London office to talk with some teams there and learn about their work. In December 2019, I arranged face-to-face meet-ups with other teams from other departments. In January 2020, I started shortlisting options and had conversations with various people related to those opportunities. What I found helpful during the process was to have several customized elevator pitches ready and a general extended self-introduction ready for conversations. It is also important to discuss your interest with the right mix of people to obtain a balanced perspective and well-rounded exposure beneficial for your career move. 

How to Switch Careers Like a Pro

Switch Careers Switch Careers

Keep Options Open and Embrace Uncertainty

Having a focused range of job possibilities does not mean crossing out opportunity after a quick skim. I still keep my options open for anything that ticks even just one box. But prioritizing boxes are sometimes super challenging, especially when you are under a lot of uncertainty. For me, asking the question “What can I compromise?” instead of “What do I want most?” made it easier for me to shuffle the options order.

My coach also helped me set clear priorities by asking me repeatedly “‘If you only get to choose one job, what would you choose and why?”. Each answer halves the number of options. When reaching the final choice, I know very well my preference for each option and what to pick next if one option could not materialize.  

When hearing the first outbreak of Coronavirus in China, my gut feeling told me that there would be major disruptions to not only the field I was working on but also my original long-term plan. Therefore, keeping the options open would also help me to shift more swiftly from long-term goals to short-term ones. And by asking the question “How does the next role build on my current skill set?” instead of “How does the new role fit into my long-term plan?”, I have created a greater flexibility in finding a new job.

How to Switch Careers Like a Pro

Switch Careers Switch Careers Switch Careers

Final Thoughts

“In February 2020, I successfully landed a new role in a completely different business area from where I was. The job was expected to build well on my skillset according to my coaches. It also allows me to work in one of the most exciting areas that are business-relevant even under uncertainty.”

Reflecting on my experiences, I have learnt that a career move needs a well-thought-out plan from getting a sponsor to shaping the direction and all the while embracing uncertainty. A close leader who is aware of and impressed by my performance would be more likely to offer sponsorship when the right moment arises. A clear picture of my personal wishes and capabilities will narrow down my options, which can be further shortlisted by conversing with key people in those fields. However, remember to stay flexible with a clear priority and to adapt to uncertainty along the journey. 

With this, I hope you find some interesting ideas to apply for yourself. Thank you for reading until now. Let us know what your key takeaways are and how you navigate your own career move in the comment box below.

Authors note:

Besides sponsors, my coaches and mentors have played a tremendous role in guiding my thoughts, nurturing my characters through time, and shaping my career moves. Viet Make It. and I will dedicate separate posts to discuss the topics of coaches and mentors, how to find them, and how they can help you to find success in more detail. So keep in touch and stay tuned with our next posts.

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