Why Career Changers Make Great Hires

January 13, 2015

Natasha Murashev is a candidate that almost any engineering team would want to hire. She’s currently an iOS Engineer at Capital One Labs in San Francisco, with experience as a full-stack software engineer at Manilla, an internal startup within Hearst Corporation. She describes herself as ‘addicted to learning’ and spends her free time building apps, blogging about coding, and teaching a beginner’s course to iOS programming within the San Francisco community. Software development is her passion, and she is a rising star in her field.

But Natasha’s background isn’t in engineering and computer science -- in fact, she hadn’t touched a line of code until several years into her career. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in psychology in 2008, she joined the SBI as a staff operations specialist -- followed by a tour at Google as a sales operations coordinator.

It was in 2011, after an experience co-founding a startup, that she realized her passion for coding.

She started learning by completing the free online Stanford CS106A course and then learned the Ruby programming through RubyLearning.org After completing Dev Bootcamp, a training program for aspiring developers, she landed her first role as a software engineer.

Natasha is an example of why recruiters should actively seek out career changers. Individuals like her are highly motivated, independent, and incredibly hard working -- passionate about what they do and extremely focused on their goals. Their skills will never be obsolete, as they are always trying to learn new ones and adapt to changing market conditions.  Here are three more reasons why career changers make great hires.

1. Career changers bring new perspectives and added creativity to existing teams

Jeannie Yang, chief product and design officer at Smule -- a technology startup building a network of innovative music apps -- has recruited team members with a variety of backgrounds. One design team member came from a cognitive psychology background, another had previous experience in architecture, and another came from the fashion industry.

“As you assemble a team from different perspective, it brings a richer dialogue in terms of communication within the team,” Yang said in an interview. “At times, they may clash, but these situations yield extremely creative outcomes.”

When Yang began building her team, recruiters sent her resumes with traditional product and design backgrounds. On paper, the candidates looked great, she explained -- “but there was something missing.”

Yang realized that the ‘something’ was her team’s commitment to a shared mission and set of values -- in Smule’s case, it was a passion for music.

“The app industry is challenging, and our eclectic group helps us stay competitive.”

2. Career changers are extremely passionate about their goals

When Yang recruits new team members for Smule, she looks at more than their resumes, education, and career histories -- she pays close attention to their hobbies and side projects.

“These projects help me understand how candidates think and what they enjoy doing,” said Yang.

Many career changers uncover their passions later in life -- and instead of sticking to their initial career trajectories -- decide to try something new. This decision can be scary -- and it can be risky. It’s a sign that the candidate really loves what he or she is doing.

“This is someone who is motivated to learn,” said Yang.

These candidates bring energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas to established teams -- even strong teams grow stronger with their presence.

3. Career changers inspire existing team members to become mentors

Yang explains that the decision to hire career changers can sometimes be risky.

“There’s a risk on both sides,” explains Yang. “The new hire may have trouble adapting to a brand new team and organization or discover that the role isn’t quite what was imagined.”

Before hiring career changers, teams need to make sure that they have the right training programs and resources in place.  New team members should not be expected to hit the ground running on day 1, nor should they be left alone to ‘figure it out’ on their own.

At Smule, Yang ensures that every new hire is paired with a more experienced team member.

“We make sure that everyone -- especially career changers -- have someone to shadow on an existing project,” she said. “We define projects and tasks so that new team members feel empowered.”

Yang encourages fellow hiring managers to avoid hiring too many new team members at once. At Smule, she brings them in one-by-one so that new hires receive the attention and training that they need to succeed.  An unintentional result is that existing team members gain on-the-job management experience -- both new and experienced employees grow together.

Final Thoughts

Career changers bring new perspectives to established companies and teams -- but they need the right training and resources to reach their full potential. According to Yang, however, these challenges are worth it -- they’re individuals that hiring managers will want on their teams.

“People who change careers have unparalleled drive and passion,” she said.

* image by Christopher Michel

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