Rutendo asks: I am a Medical Doctor, trained and currently working [outside the US]. I want to make a move into Clinical Research, and I do have related experience when I was working in one of our teaching hospitals. We’d have several studies running concurrently, so in between admitting patients and so forth, we had to keep each study in mind, recruit patients, do the data entry, and help with procedures. With the fact that there are visa issues, and that it’s a career change, how do I get companies to see that I am a worthy investment? I know that I can do the job and well.
Rutendo asks the right question – how do I get companies to see that I am worthy INVESTMENT. Companies are making an investment when they hire, and investments entail risk. When you are changing careers and relocating, the company takes on even more risks – the risk that you can’t do the job as well as someone who already has done it AND the risk that you will not be worth the time, expense and effort of a relocation and visa sponsorship (or whatever the process is for moving from where you are to where you plan to work). Rutendo is staying within the healthcare field, but if he were to move into another industry, that would be yet another risk to the hiring company.
So your job as an aspiring career changer is to mitigate these risks, convincing the employer to take a chance on you by addressing their fears:
Can you do the job as well as someone who has already done it?
It is not enough to show that you have strong overall skills, expertise, and experience. Other candidates will also have strong qualifications and will already have done the job. You, on the other hand, have no track record. So you have a higher bar to reach. You must show that your skills, expertise and experience translates to the job at hand. This means you need to understand very closely what the job entails — not just how effective you were in your last job, but what this upcoming job is and how you will be effective in this upcoming job.
When Rutendo gives an example of how his work approximates that of a researcher, this is the right first step. I would look at how similar patients are to research study participants, how similar the medical data is to research data and how similar the procedures are between the two disciplines. You want to make sure that the research company realizes how closely your fields align. Do not assume that the company understands or appreciates the similarities between your areas.
Will you fit in?
It is also not enough just to be able to do a job functionally, but you must also fit in with the culture and relate to your new colleagues. Just as you want to draw similarities between what you did before and what you will do, you also want to show similarities in the pace of your work, hierarchy and structure of the workplace, level of collaboration with colleagues, boss and management.
As a doctor, Rutendo held a power position. As a researcher, he may be one of several team members. He will likely not be managing his first project so he needs to share specific examples of when he’s been able to collaborate and work in a team. Depending on the area of medicine, Rutendo’s work schedule might have been fast-paced and unpredictable (emergencies, being on call). Depending on the research area, studies may be long-term with established routines for the foreseeable future.
How will you lower our risk?
If you show you have the qualifications and the fit, then this lowers the company’s risk significantly. But you can lower their risk even more by answering all the outstanding questions about how you might transition smoothly. In Rutendo’s case, which involves relocation and visa issues, this means that he has a clear plan for when he is moving to the new geography and clear instructions for how the visa issue can be handled in his case. Visa issues vary by country, so all relocating job seekers need to know the specifics of their situation.
For a functional or industry career change, lowering a company’s risk may include a learning plan for how you will get up-to-speed on specific industry expertise or technical knowledge you’ll need in the new role. You can further lower the perceived risk to the employer by increasing your value. As an outsider, you provide a fresh, objective viewpoint. You also bring in new ideas from your other area. A high-enough perceived extra value can offset the perceived risk.
I suspect many of our readers will be thinking about making career moves – maybe not as drastic as Rutendo’s with its relocation, visa, and change of function complexities – but transitions nonetheless. Focus on demonstrating your qualifications, fit, and value over risk proposition. Employers always encounter risk when they hire – make sure they want to take their chance on you.