What to Do When You’re Ready for a Career Change

UPDATED: October 21, 2015
PUBLISHED: August 5, 2015

Looking to shift gears at work? These answers to questions from SUCCESS readers can help you make smart professional moves.

Q: I want to move up from the clerical staff at the small family-owned business where I currently work. I’m not a good fit there, so I plan to change jobs, but I don’t want to make a lateral move. I think I’d enjoy (and be good at) marketing, but it’s a challenge to move forward in my career. What should I do? How do I assess my skills and figure out which ones to acquire?

Sandra A., Sarasota, Fla.

A: Let’s start with your last question. To figure out what skills you need for any position, talk to people who do that kind of work every day.

An easy way to conduct this research is to connect with a few marketing professionals through LinkedIn. Ask them whether they’d be willing to answer some questions about the field. Find out what knowledge, skills, abilities and experience are needed to excel in today’s marketplace; also ask them their likes and dislikes about what they do. Developing a detailed understanding of the field is always a smart move because sometimes a position seems more appealing in the abstract than it is in reality.

In terms of finding a new job, here are two options that might help you land what you want.

1. Pursue a clerical role that mirrors your current one at a marketing firm or in the marketing department of the company of your choice. This approach will give you a relatively easy way to jump ship from your employer based solely on your current experience. And it will allow you to get your feet wet as you work in marketing and learn the ins and outs. Let it be known upfront in interviews that you are interested in a career in marketing and explain why you’re confident you’d be good at it.

2. A second option is to do an inventory and assessment of your current skills and duties. In a small business, you’re almost certainly doing far more than you give yourself credit for. In other words, you might already be engaged in a variety of marketing tasks without realizing it.

For instance, in my small company, our administrative staff members help write and format newsletters, plan and execute social media content, create fliers and handle various creative projects. All of these are marketing functions.

Write down your day-to-day and weekly tasks and look for keywords that apply to marketing activities. Then craft your résumé to highlight those responsibilities and results while minimizing your unrelated administrative tasks and skills.

Q: How can a small business such as a doughnut shop formalize disciplinary actions? Isn’t that environment too informal for rules and policies?

Carlos Jimenez, Dallas

A: Every summer when college interns take a break from their books to get real-life experience in my office, I have them sign a simple one-page document that spells out codes of conduct and the parameters of their internship. This ensures that everyone is on the same page from day one.

Just because your workplace is an informal doughnut shop doesn’t prevent you from having formal rules and giving performance reviews every six months (or however often you want). Consistency in enforcing these rules will help you formalize the professional behavior that you’re striving for.

Here are some steps for setting up policies and procedures.

Start by putting your workplace rules in writing. Include scheduling, breaks, sick days and paid time off; the expected code of conduct; safety precautions and requirements; protocols for sharing compliments, complaints and resolving conflicts; frequency and methods of performance reviews; and any other issues that may be relevant to you and your workplace.

Once you’ve mapped out your rules, be sure they comply with the law. Start your research by visiting the website of your state’s department of labor. Most have staff on hand to answer labor-related questions from employers.

Have your employees review and sign the finished document. Keep the hard copy in a safe place, or scan it and file it electronically. Reinforce your rules by hanging poster-sized versions that serve as visual reminders of the issues that are most important to day-to-day operations.

Performance reviews are so important that I want to emphasize a few related points.

First, use those reviews to identify and share your expectations with all of your full- and part-time employees. By assessing everyone, you advance your goal of reducing the appearance of a too-casual workplace.

Also broaden your thinking about performance reviews. Although you will need to point out areas for improvement, you should look upon reviews as opportunities to praise what each person is doing right.

Finally, reviews serve as a terrific opportunity to solicit feedback for ideas about making your business a great place for both employees and customers. By giving your workers a voice in your operation, you’ll maintain high morale, which is crucial to growing the business. As another morale-booster, I  suggest that you hang a bulletin board in a back room or somewhere else that’s prominent yet behind-the-scenes. Use it to post employee raves by peers and management, which will help foster a culture of people who take pride in their jobs and want to excel at work.

We all receive feedback on our performance at work. Find out how to react to the negative critiques.


Editor’s note: This article appears in the September 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine. We gave you, the reader, the opportunity to ask the SUCCESS columnists anything—and these are some of your best questions answered.

Tory Johnson is CEO and founder of Spark & Hustle, a weekly contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and a contributing editor of SUCCESS magazine.