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A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common-Sense Questions to Find Your Career: What Do You Know How to Do? (Knowledge and Experience!)

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In this fifth question in his Career Changer’s Checklist series, Warren Wyrostek asks you to determine what you know how to do (and how you and others perceive what you know how to do) as you move toward changing careers. He analyzes the top 10 questions that will help you define what you know and then presents you with the top 5 strategies for leveraging your knowledge, experiences, and skills into a new thriving career.
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Over the course of the last five articles in this Career Changer's Checklist series, you have looked at your career by asking several diagnostic questions. You have gotten through the money issues; and you know what you want to do, what you like to do, and what you can do. That is a lot to consider.

You now have to come to grips with what you know how to do. You have to examine the experiences you have had that support your plan. In short, what do you actually know? (Talk about a broad question that is wide open!).

Do you have any relevant experiences or knowledge to lay a foundation for what you want to do in your new career or do you have to work on it?

This is the age old Catch-22: You need skills and experiences to get a job, but how do you get the job if you don't have the skills, knowledge, and experience?

I have struggled with this question since I got out of college in the mid-1970s. And you know what? It is not any easier years later.

It is all well and good to want to do something or like to do something, but it sure helps if you know what you are doing—or what you're getting into. We expect that others have knowledge of their trade, and others expect us to be well-versed in our trade/career.

As discussed in previous articles, this series is presented to an IT audience, but its intent is relevant to those contemplating changing careers in other sectors such as healthcare, finance, business, education, and so on.

The questions covered will explore a wide range of issues that envelop the concept of what you know. As I ask the diagnostic questions, record your thoughts, ideas, and feelings in your Word doc.

Don't hold back.

In this article, I present the top 10 questions that will help you define what you know how to do. Then I will present you with the top five strategies for leveraging your knowledge, experiences, and skills into a new thriving career.

You have some ideas about what your new career should be from the previous articles. Will it be the same after this series of questions? After you come to grips with what you know? Maybe, maybe not!

Knowledge and one's experiences are very important when considering a new career. But you will be surprised how they can be framed to present you with a completely different view of the possibilities in front of you.

Two people with the same skill sets, experiences, knowledge-base, can be in polar-opposite careers. Why? Perception!!!! How do you and others perceive your skills, knowledge, and experiences?

Two people have excellent hand-eye coordination. That is a skill set. One is a computer troubleshooter; the other is a cardiac surgeon. Both are mechanics. One operates on computers; the other operates on human beings.

So what do you know and how do you perceive what you know? Put on your glasses—you have some questions to consider!!

Top 10 Questions to Help Define What You Know How to Do

When I ask you what do you know, I imagine a number of thoughts come to mind. The first might be, "This is a joke." But according to media reports, that's the question the late moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, always asked his reporters when he spoke to them on the phone.

What do you know? That is an important question when you are a reporter and when you are a career-changer.

Tell me what you know. And write down what you know, which is just as important. Not everything you know will be relevant to your career search, but you might be surprised to see how something you view as insignificant is golden to a future employer.

It is all well and good to want to do something and to like to do something, but employers today want documented proof that you know how to do something.

What do you know? Here are 10 very important questions to ask to help you analyze what you know and how to present what you know.

  1. What have you done?

    This is the most fundamental question you have to answer when you are looking to change careers. What is your history?

    If you have ever filled out an annoying application or developed a resume, the main part of the process is detailing what you have done. What many forget is that you have done much more than comes to mind.

    Before you fill out another application, or revise your resume for the hundredth time, sit down and write down what you have done.

    Don't just think about what "official" jobs you have had, but look at what you have done throughout your life. Think about what you have done in college, in church, in athletics, in your social networking, in your family life, in the military, in your hobbies. What have you done?

    Have you administered a Windows network? If so, you know something about how to administer a network.

    Have you done public speaking, singing, or speaking at church? Well, you know how to communicate with large groups of people.

    Have you used Microsoft PowerPoint to generate a presentation? You can claim that you know something about the Microsoft Office suite.

    Have you worked with Habit for Humanity? You know about working as a team, working in construction, working collaboratively, working toward a goal...the list goes on.

    Sit down and list all that you have done. It will take a while.

    List the experiences that can be used to document what you know. Do you like to talk with people? Write it down. What has been your experience talking with people?

    Make like you are writing your ideal job description for a pay raise.

    Many years ago, I had to do this as a manager for the safety division of a medical college. I was in charge of a new division, and we did not have job descriptions. I had to not only write my own job description but also my employees' job descriptions so that I could justify pay increases for all of us. It was a long, time consuming, intense exercise that I hated at the time but learned so much from.

    I had to ask myself and my employees what we individually had done for the college and what we had done as a team. I had to look at all of our experiences.

    Then I had to present each of us on paper so that the administration would be able to go WOW! The one thing I learned from this process is to look at even the smallest detail.

    At the end I could say that I not only knew the technical aspects of safety but also the human resource issues associated with developing a major division.

    The protocols that I implemented 30 years ago are still in place today. The only difference is that then I had four people to deal with all of the issues; now there are 13. And they are paid a lot more!

    What have you done and what experiences have you had that document what you know? Write them down. Take your time. You will overlook some things.

    Make like you are justifying your job to an employer. Details! Details! Details!

  2. What are your skills?

    Now that you know what you have done, you have to confront what your skills are:

    • What skills do you have?
    • What are you good at?
    • What do you like to do?

    These are typical interview questions that many folks don't ever consider. When you are looking at a position as a programmer, for example, you have to identify what programming skills you have. As a network engineer, you have to identify the skills that help you to stand out.

    Consider what your top three or five skills are that make you the ideal candidate for the career you are looking at.

    As a trainer, my top five skills are the following:

    • I am able to explain complex concepts in understandable terms.
    • I am flexible and approachable. Students feel very comfortable asking me questions and contacting me in off hours.
    • I have a broad field-based knowledge of networking environments and platforms.
    • I am very comfortable working in front of large audiences
    • I always try to make the learning environment a place that is fun.

    What are the top five skills you should have for your new career?

    What are the skills you don't want to share with others? This is between you and you. Be honest. There are skills that I have that have nothing to do with my ideal job. I need to come to grips with them, but not necessarily share them with anyone but myself.

  3. What are your talents?

    This is a key question that many do not consider. The word talents throws a lot of folks into a tailspin, especially IT folks.

    To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, think of talents as attributes and aptitudes that help to define "who you are."

    What attributes or talents define you in your new role, or for that matter as a working professional or as a human being? Now that is heavy stuff.

    You might also look at your talents as aspects that define you as a person or that define who you are. For example, some of my talents that are relevant to a career change include these:

    • A love of openness, honesty, consistency, and stability
    • A deep love for my family and the life they gave me
    • A love of laughing and learning

    Why is defining talents important? If you are looking for a new career, and you are looking at a given sector to know what you know, you have to know your talents (who you are) as well as what you do.

    If your talents do not fit into a new career, look elsewhere. There is no sin in not fitting in with a group of folks in a given field.

    For example, I know that I would fail miserably if I pushed myself into politics. My talents prevent me from doing well in this field. My talents are an aspect of what I know and my experiences. My talents define who I am. They define who you are!

    When one has a flair for something, you might say that s/he has a real flair or talent for it.

    Some folks love interpersonal relationships and that makes them good salespeople, account executives, business leaders, and so on.

    Some folks hate to work with people but love to work in solitude. Research-oriented folks would have this talent.

    What are your talents? Write them down!

  4. What are your gifts?

    Gifts are a whole other ball game. Every one of us has gifts that we bring to every job, relationship, and situation that we encounter.

    You need to know what your gifts are when you are examining what you know.

    In IT, some have a real gift for troubleshooting. Others in programming have the gift of being able to see the logical progressions that are demanded to complete a task.

    Others have the gift of sealing a deal and making a business grow. Others can manage projects with ease. Others are great followers, while others have the gift for leadership. Others have the gift of being a great teacher.

    What are your gifts? One of my gifts is the ability to write in a way that makes readers feel very comfortable. Another gift is that I can easily interact with medical professionals and feel comfortable with them while at the same time garnering respect from them. This opens up a host of doors as I try to win their business.

    Write down your gifts. They will help you to understand what you know as you search for your new career.

  5. What are your accomplishments?

    This question is one that always makes me uncomfortable. I feel like I am patting myself on the back, which doesn't feel very professional. But it is an important question when you go to present yourself for your new career.

    What have you accomplished? What have been the highs and even the lows? You don't necessarily want to share the lows, but definitely if they are significant to the position, you want to share the highs.

    Don't just think of career accomplishments; also include educational accomplishments and social accomplishments. They are positive bullets when presenting what you know.

    Were you in an honor society in school?

    Have you had anything published?

    What is the name and impact of your thesis/dissertation?

    Have you been written up in a favorable way in the media?

    Have you been recognized by a professional organization?

    Did you accomplish something no one else has been able to accomplish?

    Have you been the president or in a leadership role in a not-for-profit environment?

    Have you done hundreds of hours of volunteer work and been recognized for it?

    Have you worked with the elderly in nursing homes, assisted-care facilities, or rehab centers and been recognized for it?

    What have you been recognized for?

    Write them all down. And don't be shy. After you get them all on paper, identify the ones that will support your quest for the new position.

  6. What societies, organizations, and groups have you been affiliated with?

    This is a key question when you are trying to answer some of the previous questions. When you are looking at your skills, gifts and talents, many of them are a direct result not of job-related experiences, but of experiences in groups, organizations, or societies.

    I cannot tell you how much e-mail I receive from career changers and IT folks who have been members of the military and yet feel at a disadvantage when changing careers. Being a member of the military is a group or organization that has earned the respect of countless employers whether you have worked on a given project type or platform. Employers know how hard the military folks have to work and are confident that when faced with a task or project, they will do it successfully.

    Don't hide your memberships. I have a buddy who is an ex-Navy Seal. He does not have all of the certifications that I do, but I would not hesitate to have him work on any project that I would tackle. Why am I so confident of his talents? He was a Seal. Period.

    Have you been an Eagle Scout, a YMCA Counselor, or a Red Cross Volunteer working on one of the latest natural disasters? Have you worked as a deacon in your church or as a member of the Boys and Girls Club of America?

    If you are not a member of a lot of groups, that is okay, too. The way to remedy this is to get on LinkedIN.com. As a member of it you can connect with many professionals who can help to expand your career options.

    You can check out the hundreds of groups that are represented by the folks in LinkedIN and simply join those groups to interconnect with like-minded professionals. You never know when one of them will have your next best career option.

    Write down which groups, organizations, and societies you have been a member of. Don't leave any out. You may be surprised what that will do for you.

  7. What honors, awards, certifications, degrees, classes taken, do you have to demonstrate what you know?

    Just as accomplishments are a bit tough to handle for some when looking at what they know how to do, you need to be aware of all of the honors, certifications, awards, degrees, diplomas, and so on that you have to your credit. Each of them, including the classes you have taken, help to demonstrate what you know.

    Don't be shy. When someone asks me about my educational background, I simply say I have two master's degrees and have earned close to 50 IT certifications. If they want to know more, I can detail that for them, but I prefer to just leave it at that.

    List all your awards. Were you teacher of the year? Did you graduate with honors? Did you graduate summa cum laude or as a member of an honor society?

    What continuing education classes have you taken that will help to let the hiring manager know what you know?

    Not every award, degree, certification, or class taken will help you land your new career. But write them down. And be the editor. You might be surprised how one honor could open up a door.

    When I walked into an interview to teach in Florida 20 years ago, the interviewer, who is a great guy, greeted me at the door and introduced me to everyone as the magna cum laude teacher from NY. What got his attention was when I graduated with the BA I had received that honor. WOW! Three little words got me a job that lasted eight years.

    So list your honors, certifications, awards, and degrees—and then list which ones demonstrate what you know for your new career.

  8. Who knows what you know? References!

    So far we have been looking at what you know and what you know how to do by asking "you" a number of diagnostic questions. But now the real question comes up—who knows what you know?

    Who have you worked with or socialized with who really knows what you know? And can they be used as a reference or will they give you a recommendation?

    Folks, you and I do not live in a bubble. We might want to, or think we do. But nothing is further from the truth. You need to have folks who can validate your claims to what you know. You do this with references and recommendations—whether it is for entrance into a degree program or to get a job.

    Who are your references? Who can write a recommendation for you? List them and then ask them to write a reference/recommendation for you. This can be a pencil and paper document, or it can be a reference/recommendation that is placed on a business networking site such as LinkedIN. I have been more than surprised in the last few months how many clients/employers are checking my references on LinkedIN.

    Gather anywhere from 3–6 references/recommendations from employers/co-workers who know what you know. Minimally, keep a folder on your computer with these in them for future reference.

  9. How do you present what you know on a resume?

    This question is probably the one that most folks mess up. After you know what you know and you have answered all these questions, how do you present it in a way that is attractive on a resume?

    That is the million dollar question. Not everyone is looking for the same skills and knowledge. There is the issue of putting too much or too little information down on a resume. Either way is disastrous. Why? Because HR folks and recruiters will dismiss you without cause.

    You have to present your skills, knowledge, experience, awards, and talents in a way that catches the eye and has the right keywords.

    I have written hundreds of resumes, but I am no expert. In the last few months, I was using several resumes that were not getting any hits. I had a friend look over one the other day, and he gave me six recommendations for edits. I got 19 hits and 4 phone interviews within 6 hours of posting this resume. No joke!

    Have someone else who is objective and has a fresh set of eyes look at your presentation. Without passion, then take their constructive criticism. You might not be seeing what others are seeing and if you want to get your dream job, you might have to change your marketing strategy.

  10. What is your perception—and what are others' perceptions—of what you know how to do?

    Perception is everything. How you perceive yourself—your skills, knowledge, and experience—is one thing. How others perceive you, your skills, knowledge, and experience is something else. You have to take a cold hard look at what you perceive your direction is, your goals are, and your dream job is. You then have to take a look at what others might be seeing.

    One of the nurses' aides who helped take care of my mom was absolutely dynamic and the most caring person on the planet. She had reasonable expectations for her career based on her own perceptions. When she asked me, I told her about a completely different direction, which caught her off-guard.

    What I perceived she knew and what she perceived were different. I had much higher expectations for her than she did. She had to go back and reevaluate the direction she was going. It made a big difference getting in touch with someone else's perception.

    Write down what you perceive your direction is and then ask others in your family and network. Write their perceptions down. You may be surprised.

    Now that we have looked at these 10 questions, here are 5 strategies for leveraging your knowledge, experiences, and skills.

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