A woman called me from out of state. “I want to apply for this call center manager job I found,” she said, “but I don’t have call center experience.”
“Do you have another kind of leadership experience?” I asked. “I ran an animal shelter,” she replied.
Hurrah! Now we were in business. An animal shelter has lots in common with a call center. My client and I wrote a pain letter that said to the hiring manager, “I wouldn’t be surprised to find that your new call center manager’s typical day will careen between on-the-ground fire-fighting and long-range planning. When I ran a high-volume animal shelter I juggled the same competing short- and long-term priorities, enabling an average of 150 adoptions per week. At the same time, I trained and coached the staff, oversaw the animals’ health and vaccination schedules and navigated a web of complex regulations. I’m happiest in high-energy, high-stakes environments.”
No shock — the woman got an interview for the call center manager opportunity. She didn’t conclude that because she’d never set foot in a call center before, she had no chance at the job. She found the relevance between her old career and the one she was pursuing, and laid it out on paper. Who could resist a candidate who already has a strong sense of what her target job requires – who tells us clearly in her letter that she’s already played a role in that movie?
For twenty years or more, job seekers have been fed and have swallowed the Kool-Aid that says that only title, function and industry carry any relevance weight in a job search. That is a ridiculous fiction. There are huge areas of overlap between roles in completely different industries and business sectors. Our task as career-changers is to find that relevance between past and future, and spell it out. Once we do, hiring managers will roll along with us. They know what life on their open job is like. When we say “Yeah, I have a pretty good idea of what that new hire will be up against, and I’ve actually slain a similar dragon more than once in my career” we have a massive advantage over the typical candidate whose letter reads “I have sixteen years of progressively responsible experience in yada, yada, yada and poached eggs on toast.”
We have a name for the process of spotting and articulating the relevance between roles in different functions and industries. We call it framing. If you’re looking at performing work that is in any way different from work you’ve done in the past, you‘ll need a new frame. You have to first see for yourself, and then describe for the reader, how the Old You will fit comfortably into the New You’s chosen profession. It isn’t hard to find relevance. But if we don’t do that work, we won’t get hired. Employers will say “Why should I hire someone who comes from outside the industry and hasn’t even worked in this function before?” The relevance — the familiarity with the movie that plays out in the hiring manager’s organization every day — is the key, the bridge and the missing link. As soon as we see it, it seems obvious.
Thus a lifelong software engineer can build and step into the frame that says “I’m passionate about helping non-technical people understand and enjoy technology, and excited about the opportunity to become a math and science teacher at the Oakfield Academy” and get nary a raised eyebrow back from a headmaster, although the software engineer hasn’t officially taught school in his life so far.
A former Wall Street money manager can start a business helping artists, thought leaders and public speakers realize their creative and financial aspirations and say with 100% sincerity “I’ve been guiding people to plan for and reach their dreams for over twenty-five years.”
It is 2010, and left-brain thinking is reaching the limit of its usefulness in the career and workplace arena. Linear, data-driven analysis is out, and relevance, context and meaning are in. (Thank goodness.) Complex humans like us have every right (and thanks to whatever entity or evolutionary mechanism created us, also the ability) to see connections between situations and activities that might look disconnected on the surface. We don’t do it just for ourselves, but also to help employers gain the advantage that a fresh pair of eyes and non-stale perspective can bring. Framing is an essential ability for any job seeker in 2010, but a mission-critical tool for career changers. Try it!