Ready to switch careers? The pain-free way to transition from a technical to a non-technical role
March 6th, 2019
Why do you want to change your job?
It sounds like a simple enough question. One you’ll hear from your boss, your co-workers, your friends, your family.
It’s tough enough to answer it when you are moving jobs within the same field or company but it gets harder when you decide to make the shift from a technical to a non-technical role. Especially if you are switching industries too. So let’s take a look at how you can make that leap in the simplest way possible.
In this post, we’ll walk you through all the steps you need to take to transition from a technical role into a non-technical role. Let’s start with the reasons you are doing this in the first place.
Reasons to transition into a non-technical role
Maybe you spent years studying computer science, mastering data analysis or dedicating yourself to all things Python. Despite all that, staying in your tech lane no longer feels like enough. You want to try something new. To explore new career options. Maybe...
1. You want a leadership position
Chris Lilley spent over 30 years working in commercial software engineering before transitioning into his current role as the sales and marketing director at Black Pepper.
The shift started to happen organically. As one of the senior team members of a growing company, Lilley wore a lot of hats. As well as being involved in the tech side, he began to handle management and HR.
As it became clear that Black Pepper needed someone to lead the sales and marketing team - someone who was invested in the company’s growth - Lilley realized he could take on that role full time. By this point in his career, he was more interested in helping people and leading a team than in developing new tech. So when the time came, he took the leap.
2. You crave a new challenge
Whether you want to move into management, become a business analyst, go into consulting or tackle a completely different field, mastering a new skill can help you stave off stagnation. It can keep you from feeling stuck.
Taking on a new role will push you to learn new skills. To get out of your comfort zone and explore dormant sides of yourself.
3. You want to make more money
While roles in tech do come with lucrative salaries, so do non-tech roles. And in certain non-tech roles- like those in the executive suite, business analysis or high paid consulting - the earning potential can be greater. Making the transition can help you earn that higher paycheck.
Mapping out your transition
Making a change isn’t easy.If you want things to go as smoothly as possible, you'll need a sturdy roadmap. So before you start the job hunting process or hand in your notice, it’s important to come up with a plan.
1. Decide on the non-technical role you’d like to transition into
You are making this shift for a reason. Sometimes, like in Lilley’s case, your shift will start to happen organically. You’ll evolve into your new role as you take on extra responsibility and grow your skill set.
If you work at a young company that embraces the agile, all-hands-on-deck approach like Black Pepper, you can make that change from the inside.
However, if your employer has more defined roles and departments in place - or you aren’t sure what role will be right for you yet - you’ll need to decide what kind of opportunity you are looking for and then make a plan to relentlessly pursue it.
If you are thinking about a transition, you probably have an idea in mind. It’s time to make this idea clearer.
Make a list describing your ideal non-tech role. What will you be doing? What will the role look like? What attracts you about it in the first place? Getting your wishlist on paper will help you match that up to potential roles.
2. Identify the skills and qualifications you’ll need
What skills do you need to do well in your new role?
The best way to find out? Speak to successful people in that field. What skills do they have? What skills do they wish they had when they started? Ask someone in this position to walk you through their typical day and workflow.
But what if you don’t know anyone with the kind of job you want? Use professional forums or check out Reddit and Quora threads. Go through the existing threads or start a brand new one. Look up people with the right job title on LinkedIn and connect with them there.
If you don’t feel ready to reach out to specific people just yet, you can reverse engineer the skills you’ll need by looking up job ads.
Let’s take this job ad from Zapier for Director of Advertising and Paid Media and break it down into the skills they are looking for.
If you break it down the absolute basics, what Zapier are really looking for is someone with a proven ability to build and lead a team. Someone who can coach, teach, draw the best out of different and diverse people and has successful ad campaigns to prove that.
The interesting thing about this ad is that Zapier doesn’t mention a specific college degree or qualification in marketing. They want “relevant experience” and proof you can do the job- proof that you know how marketing works out in the real world.
Use job ads like this one to build a list of the skills and qualifications you need. Now, let’s talk about how you can get those.
3. Getting the right skills
You have more experience than you give yourself credit for. So before you start filling in the gaps, take stock of what you’ve already got. Think through (and write down) all the projects you’ve worked on so far and see how they tie into the new role you want. Next, identify the gaps. Here are some things you can do to fill them.
1. Take digital courses
You can start with free courses on platforms like Coursera or eDX or affordable courses by individual experts through platforms like Udemy, Skillshare or Lynda. A lot of these platforms also offer certificates which you can add to your LinkedIn profile or portfolio website.
2. Volunteer for relevant projects
Volunteer to help out at your own company in exchange for someone showing you the ropes. You can also volunteer in your local community and get involved in projects that will help develop the skills you need.
Need to show you can from strong partnerships? Why not set up and host a couple of fundraisers for a charity you support? This shows off your ability to work with others and persuade them to come on board with something you are passionate. And it highlights your project management skills from start to finish.
3. Find or hire coaches and mentors
Remember Chris Lilley? To transition into his role as the sales and marketing manager, he hired a sales expert to help him interview and hire his new team. He also hired him as a coach and leveraged that expertise to develop a successful strategy.
Look for someone who's already great at what you want to do and then ask them for help. You can use a platform like Clarity.fm or ask colleagues for recommendations.
Freelancing as one of the best ways to gain and solidify your new skills because you can apply what you’re learning to real-world projects. Plus, it’s a way to hone the non-technical skills you’ll need for that new job you want and get references and testimonials you can leverage along the way.
While this path isn’t easy - it will test your dedication and commitment every step of the way when you do it right - it is effective. As a freelancer you’ll:
- Negotiate. You’ll have to negotiate projects with your clients. Often, that’s down to persuading complete strangers to work with you. This builds up your ability to work well with others and form relationships fast.
- Lead. Someone always needs to take lead on projects. You can be that someone and use it to build the leadership skills you’ll need to earn that place at the decision-making table.
- Execute. You’ll practice the skills you are acquiring out in the real world. This will help you test and optimize them a lot faster.
- Gather results. At the end, you’ll have real-world results you can share with potential employers.
4. Learn the language
You've chosen the role you want and started picking up the relevant skills. There's just one thing left to do. Every industry, field and specialization have their own language.
When I first started working in conversion marketing (after graduating in the totally relevant field of Archaeology) I had to quickly master acronyms like TOFU, BOFU, MVP, USP, UVP... And then there was all the field specific language. Phrases like "stage of awareness", "conversion optimization" and "heuristic analysis" that carry specific meanings.
Get to know the jargon your new colleagues speak and you'll get comfortable in the role much faster. You can do that by reading popular niche blogs, listening to podcasts, going to meet-ups and conferences and just chatting to people in your field.
Campaigning for the role you want
When it comes to landing a role in a brand new field, applying the old school way might not be your best bet.
The algorithms most companies use aren’t designed to recognize non-linear, non-traditional work experience. So even if you are a fantastic fit, you might not make it to the interview just because a resume isn’t a great way to show that fit.
If you are switching roles, it may be time to do what consultants, journalists, entrepreneurs and politicians do every time they want to gain a client, make a deal or earn your vote:
Craft a pitch and campaign for the role you want by showing why you are uniquely suited for it.
Unlike traditional job applications pitching is hyper-targeted. You aren’t just listing your skills without context- you are showing how you can help solve company-specific problems. How you can add value to the company. Most importantly, you are showing your potential employer that you want to specifically work for them.
If you’ve never pitched before, it can be hard to figure out where to start and how to put together a pitch that gets you noticed.
That’s why we made it easy for you. With JobFit, we’ll help you design your own fit story. Instead of listing out your strengths and weaknesses out of context, our fit stories give you the context you need to show why people should choose you for their team.