Here’s what very few people in hiring will tell you: The same qualities that make you an ideal candidate for a job today can also be the qualities that limit your prospects tomorrow. If everything you do is static, you’ll end up with a flat, conservative journey, with few shots at meaningful growth. You can go through the motions without every making a significant career change—but if you don’t take any risks, there won’t be a payout. The Manager of FP&A becomes the Director of FP&A becomes the Senior Director of FP&A…you can advance through steady, monotonous work, but it will take decades. Meanwhile, you could have launched an empire.
To become an industry leader, you need to take risks. When it comes to your career, that means pursuing roles that challenge you. The first step to a major career change is winning over a new employer.
How to Change Careers and Land a Leadership Role as an Unconventional Candidate
1. Position yourself as having everything except the job title.
No one hires a candidate because they want to “give them a chance.” Why would a hiring manager assume that risk if there’s nothing to gain by it? Don’t wait for someone to go out on a limb. Instead, rethink your brand.
Learn who the top 1%-3% of candidates are for the position you want to assume. By using LinkedIn, you can research their skills and experiences and find out what sets them apart from their colleagues. Look at the keywords they use in their “Skills and Endorsements” section on their profile. Think about how they frame their professional brand in their “Headline” and “About” sections. Flip through their recent activities—do they post or share content that reinforces their reputation as an industry leader?
Apply what you learn through competitive analysis to your professional brand. By mirroring the practices you see from the top contenders on LinkedIn, you’ll boost your credibility.
2. Turn a perceived flaw into a competitive advantage.
What about your unconventional background gives you an edge over other candidates? When everyone in a company comes through the same pipeline, it generates blind spots. Noncomformists have the advantage because they bring in a unique outside perspective. They find opportunities that other people miss.
Here’s an example of an effective resume opening from a candidate who is a jack-of-all-trades:
Trusted by CEOs and Boards for finding a clear path forward in dynamic, high-risk situations. Singular mix of broad cross-industry expertise (Manufacturing, Computer Hardware, Medical Devices) combined with the end-to-end project management and negotiation skills necessary to re-prioritize, execute, and consistently surpass strategic targets.
It would be easy to see a generalist as a hiring risk, but with this example, we subvert those expectations. When you’re preparing for a career change, you need to control the narrative and convince the employer that your differences are also your strengths.
3. Build relationships with senior executives—not HR.
Numerous studies show roughly 70%–80% of job openings don’t ever go public. Often, these are the most lucrative positions at the top of the leadership board. Why can’t you find these opportunities on Glassdoor? Because these positions are filled through networking.
As you build your professional network, which relationships do you cultivate:
- A tenuous connection to a risk-adverse HR recruiter who wants to check all the boxes for an ideal candidate profile and move on
- A senior executive with business insight and the clout to drive the offer stage forward
The choice seems obvious when you lay out the details. If you don’t know anyone in the C-suite, it’s time to get started. Optimize your resume and LinkedIn profile to speak to an executive’s needs and concerns. Establish your credibility as a thought leader. Generate buzz through publishing and on-site events. Then prepare to have your brain picked—as an unconventional candidate, you’ll need to prove yourself. Be ready to embrace new challenges, like figuring out a consulting engagement or flat-out creating a role from scratch.
Business leaders want to shake things up. They don’t play someone else’s game—they write their own rules. And that innovative drive is what makes you an executive’s ideal candidate. If you frame a career change as an asset instead of a trade-off, nothing will be off limits.
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