Dawn Graham knows the challenges and joys of career switchers. She literally wrote a book to help them make their transitions.
The author of Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers—and Seize Success and director of career management for The Wharton School’s MBA Program for Executives, Graham has seen the rise of EMBA students who are looking for a major change in their career focus.
“We have more students who are wanting to switch—to make career changes—and are looking to take the degree and catapult into something different,” says Graham.
In fact, workplace trends point directly to the likelihood that switching careers is the new norm for the foreseeable future.
“Everybody is going to be a career switcher,” says Graham, a licensed psychologist who also hosts Dr. Dawn on Careers, Sirius XM Radio’s weekly call-in talk show that focuses on career transition advice. “It’s becoming more and more the case that you no longer start a career and stay with that career the rest of your life.”
While education helps prepare students for new challenges, it is not the only preparation they need, she says. Enter career services, which helps students navigate the tricky world of moving from say, physician to health care executive, or engineer to senior management in a technology company.
Wharton’s career management team offers a full slate of career services for EMBA students, including workshops and seminars, one-on-one coaching, networking activities, industry panels, and other career events. For career switchers, though, career coaching stands out as one important key.
“One-on-one coaching has become a greater a piece of what we do,” she says. EMBA students have access to both career coaches and executive coaches, who both use assessment results to help guide students and offer valuable perspectives.
Career switchers face some unique obstacles, including long-standing hiring perspectives. “I think the challenge comes from hiring managers and employers who are not open to hiring a switcher,” says Graham, preferring instead to find talent with experience that directly matches the position. The advent of automated human resource tools that filter out candidates who don’t exactly fit the qualifications also makes it harder for switchers.
On the flip side, switchers are entering new territory and the old job search rules don’t necessarily apply in the same way. “They don’t have the roadmap they used to have.”
To combat these forces, Graham counsels career switchers to rebrand and present themselves in a different way to their targets, even though that’s not necessarily easy. “It’s difficult to see yourself in a different way,” she says.
Switchers also may need to search out experiences and opportunities that relate to their career goals, whether those take place as part of the EMBA experience or outside of the classroom, and bolster their transferable skills, she says.
After rebranding, the next step involves building a network.
“But it’s not just a career network,” she says. “It’s about creating a group of people who believe in you and understand what you can do and sell that to others. We build networks all our lives. As we start having conversations, we find out that we have more ambassadors than we think.”
The EMBA experience helps career switches in many ways—from skill-building to support for career development and advancement to a new network, says Graham. “Students experience many opportunities through the program and classes they take. It all makes a difference.”