How to Work with a Candidate Who is a Career Changer

February 27, 2015

The New York Times recently looked at the topic of candidates reinventing themselves after “career interludes” – e.g., time off for travel, education, training, freelancing, welcoming a child, reinventing oneself, or following a hobby or passion.

The article notes, “Part of what’s driving career breaks is that so many industries are in upheaval: law, media and financial services, to name a few.” Candidates who are able to respond to such market conditions, and rebrand or reinvent themselves, can find themselves with “tremendous opportunities in the future,” says the article.

This can create a conundrum for recruiters, as such reinvention may seem to spell out the end of a relationship with a candidate. You may feel you’ve lost a motivated, steady mid-career performer and gained an entry-level candidate in a completely different field.

All is not lost 

So, that software engineer you’ve known for years has decided to open a food truck and sell cupcakes. Or, a candidate you’ve been building a relationship with for over a year has decided to cease pursuing jobs as a lawyer – and wants to work in non-profit management.

This does not need to spell the end of your relationship, by any means. In recruiting, the importance of maintaining a network cannot be underestimated – and career-changer candidates can continue to play a role in your rich web of a network.

Here are 6 tips to help you manage and maintain a relationship with a career changer in order to bring about a positive outcome for everyone involved.

1. Stay informed. 

While it’s always a good idea to stay in touch with candidates throughout their career, it can be especially useful to remain in frequent contact during any “interlude” they may take. Then, when they return from sabbatical and announce their new intent, you won’t be caught off guard. And, you can even be prepared with ideas on hand.

2. Try to connect the dots.

Retaining a career changer in a new role within the same company can deliver huge benefits. They’re already indoctrinated in the brand, and have an internal network of contacts. You trust their experience, and there’s no need for them to have to prove themselves.

Think about openings you might need to fill, and if it’s worth taking a gamble on this reinvented, unproven-yet-proven person. You may have suddenly acquired an unexpected candidate who ticks a lot of boxes. What’s more, this person is likely already engaged and ready to contribute in new ways.

3. Be honest.

If the candidate asks you to help place them in a job in their new field of choice, and their skillset is simply not appropriate or it’s not an industry in which you’re connected, be honest. While this conversation can be both difficult and delicate, it’s in the best interest of the candidate. This is especially relevant when an overconfident candidate expects to transition into a position equivalent to their past experience – when their skills are now entry-level. Which leads us to…

4. Be helpful.

Offer to serve as a reference for the candidate if they will be seeking jobs in a new field. Think of your own network; perhaps you have a recruiting colleague who can be of assistance to this career changer and you can make an introduction. What comes around, goes around. By being helpful, you’ll also likely leave a great impression with the candidate – which might make them more likely to refer their friends to you. Again, it’s all about your network.

5. Leverage your marketing skills.

Those who undergo career transitions often have a difficult time marketing themselves and translating all of that previous experience into benefits applicable to the new position. Sometimes it feels forced. Sometimes they rely on jargon appropriate to a previous industry, but no longer applicable for the new sector. And sometimes it’s difficult for them to communicate how their time off can equal heightened value for a company.

This is where can come in and help them pull together oft-disparate pieces of a career into a clean package. If the career changer is struggling to redefine himself but you still see potential, help the him rebrand. You can put your expertise to good use - and the rebranded candidate that emerges may be the perfect fit for a role you need to fill.

6. Monitor progress.

Stay in touch with the candidate as they embark on the new phase of their professional life. It may not turn out as they planned, they may decide to return to their previous career – and you may be among the first to know.

The bottom line: careers may no longer follow a typical trajectory. A job seeker who reinvents or rebrands himself may change the recruiter/candidate relationship. But relationships can continue on, and be of value to both recruiter and candidate in new ways.

*Image by Michael Vallejo

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