Have you ever wanted to switch fields, but whenever anyone looked at your resume or listened to your pitch the only suggestion they could offer was more of what you already knew or what you’dve already done? We don’t like it when we’re put in a box, but we do it others all the time, latching onto existing information as reference points.
If you tell someone that the distance between two cities is 1,280 miles and then ask him to guess the distance between two other cities, he is likely to guess a number closer to 1,280 than 128. Our assumptions about the transferability of skills aren’t all that different. If you want to switch fields, anchor evidence of your transition to a reference point. Make it easy for people to see how your desired career is a reasonable transition from where you’re currently at.
When my husband first moved to Washington, DC he joined a volunteer group as a way to integrate into the community and broaden his network. In the last of his three years with the group, he served as Director, in addition to working full-time, of an annual event held on the National Mall gaining some impressive event planning and fund raising experience. Shortly after the event he began looking for another job. In most every conversation he had with those in his network it was recommended he pursue a career in fundraising.
Though he thoroughly enjoyed his volunteer experience, a career in fundraising was not his goal. Interested in impact investing, he began to study for the CFA and take numerous classes from Coursera related to his field of interest. No one in his network now suggests a career as a fundraiser.
If you want to recreate yourself create a reference point. Not only will you then be able to control the direction of the conversation, you’ll also being gaining valuable insights for yourself.