Last year, after six years in government contracting, I decided it was time to make a change. My previous role was fairly specialized, so I wasn’t sure what my professional options were—but I was looking for a new kind of challenge. I began the job search by casting a wide net, focusing most on what I knew I wanted (and didn’t want) in a new company and new career—and hoping for the best.
I joined Relativity's legal team in February, after the company came highly recommended as an employer. The tech industry overall has always interested me. It’s ever changing and fast paced, and in the context of searching for the next step in my career, the possibility of being involved in an industry that can truly change the world was invigorating.
Still, it’s natural to be nervous about entering a new industry or making a career change. I certainly was! After all, we are often our own biggest (and sometimes harshest!) critics when it comes to realizing our worth, and it can be really difficult to overcome the imposter syndrome that comes along with that. Plus, especially after a long tenure in the same role, it’s easy to forget the multitude of skills we have obtained—and struggle to see how they can apply to new opportunities. But our lives and our jobs are filled with character-building moments and lessons learned that can serve us well in the next step on our career paths, no matter what that looks like.
So, what does it take to make the leap into a new industry—mentally and professionally?
First and foremost, as someone who recently made that leap, I’ve learned that it takes courage. Once you’ve got that, a handful of transferrable skills will pave the way into a successful and fulfilling career in a new field.
Must-have Skills to Support a Career Change
When you’re trying to move into a new industry, it is nerve-wracking to think that you will be “starting all over,” and anxiety about not being experienced enough can prompt really powerful hesitation. But we are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. So, first things first: please understand that a step into a new field isn’t going back to the starting line—it’s propelling you forward as a professional.
That’s easier said than done, of course, so make sure you’re prepared for a change as you begin to discern your next steps. In my move from the public sector to the tech space, some of the skills and proficiencies that I’ve discovered were the most helpful include:
To forge a new path, you need to know where you excel and where you may need to amp up some of your training. It’s okay to make mistakes, and it is even more okay to ask for help. Your coworkers, mentors, and managers don’t just want to see you survive; they want to see you thrive.
Starting any new project or position will always mean that you will make mistakes. When you’re starting a new role in an entirely different industry, it’s just a matter of when and how many times. It’s really easy for these moments to be discouraging, but taking responsibility for our mistakes is what helps us grow the most.
3. Time and Project Management
This is one of the most transferable skills you can build as a professional. When you get down to the nitty gritty, most jobs involve both time and project management. Even thinking back to my jobs as a server, bartender, retail worker, or catering manager, every single one of them involved the ability to plan out my time and resources to complete my tasks efficiently.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to determine what we want to do; if so, start with what you don’t want to do. We tend to hold onto the bad memories from previous experiences more than the positives, so use that to your advantage to determine what you are looking for in a career change. Either way, be honest with yourself about your feelings and hopes for the future.
How to Strategize Your Next Career Move
That honesty is a good place to start when building your plan for your next move. If you know you want to make a change but aren’t quite sure what’s next, ask yourself a few important questions to help you figure out where to look:
- How do you like the industry that you’re in? What about the daily work (maybe it’s too much paperwork and not enough collaboration)?
- Do you want to work with more people, or maybe with fewer people?
- Is the culture of your team the most important to you or do you tend to lean more towards benefits and compensation as a motivator?
- Are you open to the same kind of work as long as you are in a company culture that is supportive?
Additionally, examine what you’ve learned and where you excel in your current role and consider how these skills might apply to other companies or industries. For me, I did a lot of work examining lease agreements in my previous position—a pretty specific application of skills that were more broadly useful than I realized.
When I came across Relativity, I heard about the “legal tech” industry and initially thought about it at face value: software or services that law firms and legal entities needed to use during legal proceedings. But thinking on it deeper, I realized that this need for legal efficiency exists in just about every industry: corporations, all levels of government, law firms, universities, even non-profits! It comes into play a lot more than I realized.
Likewise, when I considered my experience reviewing those leasing contracts, I began to see other areas where that type of skill set could also be useful. The possibilities I uncovered included getting new employees onboarded and properly background checked, revising and sending out sales contracts, approving language for marketing giveaways, reviewing fine print on liability for games hosted during events, activities surrounding M&A work and NDAs, and plenty more.
Embark on a similar exercise to zoom out to see how your existing skills might also be applicable in new spaces you haven’t thought of before. Start by thinking about a dream company or job description, and take some time to consider how you might be able to jump into that role and hit the ground running.
And if you need to, make sure you enlist the help of a mentor (or even a peer in your desired industry) to do this exercise with you. I bet they’ll be happy to offer a helping hand!