Changing careers: don’t expect to be schooled on the job for the same paycheck

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As a people manager, I’ve met a lot of people wanting to shift their career and expecting the company to provide both the opportunity and the training for the new position. I also hear quite often people wanting to pursue company-sponsored training or certifications according to their own personal interests.

If you want a career change, you need to consider first your current paycheck and the skills for which you are getting that money. Second, the skills you have for the desired role. Let’s say you got hired as a senior database admin or as a senior tester and in the meantime, because you took some afterhours class, you realised you would like to do some front-end development. But right now, your level of skills as a front-end dev is that of a junior or not even that. While a big enterprise might have the possibility to offer you a chance to take on a different career path, small companies usually can’t. Some positions may require only short-term training, but that’s something generally paid out of company’s pocket, meaning it makes no profit by paying you and that kind of shifts away from the concept of business (unless it’s an investment).

The problem arises in the unrealistic expectation to get the same salary you have now as a senior in whatever-you’re-doing, while working on a role for which you have entry-level skills. It might seem like a no-brainer (and it actually is, in my opinion), but I often see a lot of frustration emerging from such cases. It’s simply not profitable for a company to do this sort of move. I also see little interest or initiative on the employee side, in trying to build that new skill on the side, even when flexible arrangements are offered – like working with a partial allocation in the new role or accepting a payment downgrade to move to a different role. Think of it this way – assuming all industries would pay the same – if you’re working as an IT guy now and you suddenly want to be a car mechanic, do you have the same level of skills in both positions? Although I can empathize with these demands and the desire to make a change, a lot of people are missing a very important point: the company is not a university, nor an educational fund. Think business. It’s there to make a profit.

A second hard pill to swallow is that your experience has most likely earned you some respect. A respect that an “apprentice” (intern or entry-level position) doesn’t get. So be ready to re-learn humility, because few people stay humble as they work their way up the corporate ladder.

Similarly, any company sponsored training must align with the business’ strategic direction, especially technical ones which are usually tool-centric or technology-centric. If the company aims to deliver cloud services or security as an added-value, and this is the strategic direction, it’s not going to invest in QlikSense training. Even if you have a project using that tool or technology on which you require training, if its GP is not that great, management might just let go of certain customers and re-distribute people to more profitable initiatives.

Many companies are reluctant to invest in professional certifications. The chain of thought is that it would bring the employee an advantage on the labour market, which basically means a higher chance of having the employee hi-jacked by recruiters. It’s a really, really, poor retention policy to try to keep your employees… “under-educated” to prevent them from receiving offers. If what’s keeping them in place is the lack of opportunities to jump the fence, you’ve lost them already.

The thing I always recommend if you want to succeed / promote in your company: try to understand the business model first. Understand what your company sells and how it makes its profit. Once you get that, the road to your dream position becomes clear. Or on the contrary, you might realize it’s not for you. And that’s ok. Really. It’s better to fail fast and learn the lesson. Fact is, realizing you took a wrong path is not a failure. Even if you must go back, it’s still better than going deeper on the same wrong path, into a wood you don’t even like.