By Luz Carrasquillo-Frazier | Principal at MiLuz Leadership Development & Consulting
You say that you’re ready for a career change? It’s likely that you reached this conclusion only after much consideration and agonizing debate. Getting to the point where you know that you’re ready for a change is easy. Knowing how to go about making the transition is where the real challenge lies, and that will depend on your current situation. There are a couple of scenarios. In one, you work within an organization that is investing in your development and growth. In the other, you work within an organization that isn’t. The truth of the matter is that both of these scenarios require a strategic action plan to achieve your goal.
Let’s explore the first scenario: You work within an organization that is invested in your development and growth. As a professional of color, landing a role within an organization that cultivates a true culture of belonging—where you can fully express yourself and apply your talents in ways that add lasting personal and professional value—is what we all strive for. Should you achieve this, Bravo! It’s now easier for you to explore, target, and confidently act on opportunities outside of your current career track.
While the odds of successfully managing a career change within this kind of work environment are in your favor, there are no guarantees that it will be an easy transition; you must make the time and effort to convert your goal into a reality. Let’s face it, demonstrating capability in a role and being well-known is just not enough. When it comes to advancement or promotion, professionals of color need to work harder to break through the personal, cultural, and structural biases of corporate America.
Expanding the perception of your ability to succeed in a different career track is your mission. Your manager (and other leaders) need to believe that you’re capable of succeeding outside of the realm of your current discipline. To shift their perception, you’ll need a strategic action plan. Here are three areas of focus to include in your plan:
- Get the low-down – Learn how your organization manages its talent
- Mind your business – Exercise conviction
- Ask for help – Activate supporters inside and outside of the organization to aid in your transition
Learning how your organization manages its talent will allow you to evaluate from your current position to where you want to be. Most organizations have career development maps–a process for identifying, assessing, and preparing talent, to fill critical roles at various levels of grades or bands. A grade or band is a particular level of capability and work experience that organizations use to determine compensation. These maps are designed to help individuals to reach their desired roles and internal sponsors to help facilitate the process. The key is to know how your organization identifies its high-potential talent. A sampling of what organizations may look for consists of an arrangement of leading performance and behavioral indicators, such as high performance, drive, thinking ability, learning agility, and emotional intelligence. Why is this important? If you are identified as someone whose capabilities can be leveraged in various areas across the organization, you’ll have a greater chance of navigating your career transition.
Exercising conviction is the center of how you mind your own business. When I say “mind your business,” I don’t want you to keep your head down. I want you to stand up for yourself. You’ll need to be committed, consistent, and prepared to spend time acquiring new knowledge and skill sets. Minding your business requires you to take an active role in your professional investment. Take the first step and seek out professionals doing the work you’re interested in, or volunteer with a project team to gain insight into your interest areas or close experience gaps.
Lastly, ask for help. I know what you’re thinking: My good work and loyalty to the company speak for itself. It’s okay to think I’ve got this, but you don’t have to manage alone. In fact, you shouldn’t. Activating your supporters must be an integral part of your strategic plan. Truth be told, meetings about new, open, and soon-to-be-vacant roles, as well as who will fill those roles, often happen behind closed doors. Conversations and decisions regarding who are taking place right now. Activating your supporters is a great way to ensure that you are represented when opportunities arise and a part of the who conversation.
If you have a sponsor, mentor, or current or previous manager with whom you’ve built a relationship, these are the individuals with whom you want to discuss your professional goals. They can be supporters. Only good can come from letting them know what you’re aspiring to achieve and asking for their help. Ask for guidance, feedback on your brand, or to be introduced to an influential connection. An activated supporter can keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities and–most importantly–advocate for you as they interact with other leaders.