So you’re thinking about moving from your current career path into a brand new space? Good news, it’s totally possible—no matter where you are on your professional journey! I started my career more than 20 years ago in a lab and am now enjoying my role as a Product Manager in the digital tech space. Along the way, I took several detours, learned many lessons, and made some mistakes.
Here are five tips that can help you navigate the pivot into the vast and ever-evolving world of Digital Technology.
- Choose a focus area: Technology is a huge field with hundreds of different jobs and dozens of career paths. When deciding to move from a career in commercial insurance underwriting into “technology,” I spent quite a bit of time learning what jobs were offered in the tech space before leaning into Product. Given my customer-facing background, my interest in improving products and experiences for end-users, and my inexperience in the more technical aspects of the industry, Product seemed like the best fit for me—and that fit continues to evolve the longer I occupy the space.
- Learn the terminology: I wish I could say transitioning was as easy as deciding I wanted to move into Product, but it wasn’t. I needed to establish some credibility and show I was serious about making the leap. For me, that meant reading dozens of job descriptions in the Product field, picking out the keywords and required skills, and deciding which of those things I had and which I needed. I also had to learn the logistical structure of Product, various execution models (Scrum, Waterfall, Kanban), and understand how Product fits within organizations.
- Expand your Network: Now more than ever, this is one of the easiest ways to plug into the technology community. A quick internet search will pop up a myriad of tech meetups, seminars, talks, communities, and conferences that have both virtual and in-person options. This is where the work you put in starts to come to fruition. Differentiate yourself from all the folks using the “so how do I become a Product Manager?” lead-in line.
Instead, use the connections you make to ask specific questions on how to put your skills and talents to use in your chosen field, on what the best certifications, classes, and information sources are, and how to find mentorships, plug into job boards, and get real-world experience. Which brings us to my next and favorite tip…
- Identify and cultivate those transferrable skills: As an experienced hire, you bring all the tools, knowledge, tips, and tricks you’ve collected over years of employment. Rarely do these skills exist solely in a vacuum. With a degree in Biology, my first professional job was in a lab for a chemical manufacturer. I brought my analytical skills and knowledge base from my degree, and people skills from many years of working retail.
My second professional role was as a commercial insurance underwriter; I brought leveled up analytical skills, tuned up people skills, and sales skills from working with clients of my former company. At the insurance company I pivoted into a Business Analyst role (using the tips above!), and brought with me those same analytical skills, people skills, sales skills—and added in an understanding of the ways businesses run, negotiations, and leading via influence from my time on the underwriting desk; all skills outlined in the job descriptions I read for analysts and product owners and managers.
Time after time, my base skill set has proved foundational in my ability to succeed, irrespective of the role. The trick is to identify what you’ve got and connect it to what’s required. What got you here can help get you there.
- Take a risk: Changing careers can be exciting—and scary. Embrace the uncertainty and take a risk! By making a calculated decision on a focus area, learning the terminology and skills required, plugging into relevant communities and networks, and honing your transferrable skills, you’re giving yourself the best chance possible for success.
Look internally at job postings in your area of interest; talk with your management and find out if you can shadow; take on a side project to gain the skills and visibility you need; volunteer to participate in focus groups, user acceptance testing, and other opportunities that gain you access and insight.
That’s our list! Remember, you’re not starting from scratch: You’ve got know-how, experience, and a valuable perspective to bring to the work. Whether you’ve been working for six or 16 years, it’s never too late to help shape our world and Be Digital.