ON SWITCHING CAREERS || It's Your Soft Skills That Matter

It is said that nowadays, it is normal for a person to have three different careers in their lifetime. 

With the rapidly changing technology, increasing connectedness of the world, and shortening attention spans, I would say that number will soon enough double. 

Which isn't to say it's a bad thing. I am all about people maximizing what they can achieve and experience during their career(s). If you can work in fashion, finance, tech and then open your own bar in Tokyo in your lifetime - why not?

The perception is that switching careers is daunting and tough, but it's really just moving your set of transferable soft skills to another industry, which is why there is always an emphasis on how important soft skills are.

What are soft skills? 

How you get along with people, how you manage people, your problem-solving approach and processes (collaborative or not), how you handle conflict and criticism... the list goes on, but it's basically everything you can't learn from a textbook. 

As part of my non-profit work with Lean In Canada, I had invited Fereshteh Zeineddin, District General Manager at Tesla, to speak at one of our events in Vancouver. She had illustrated her career path in the fifteen minutes we gave her, highlighting how she went from managing a skincare brand at L'Oreal, to managing a Louis Vuitton store, to department store management at Nordstorm, and then now district management for Tesla. 

Beauty, to fashion, to luxury cars - who wouldn't love a career path like that?

When asked if she faced any challenges transitioning from Nordstrom to Tesla, she said that it's all just still 'business' and 'management'.

The soft skills of knowing how to run a business and how to manage/inspire/lead people in a business doesn't change when you switch industries. 

I heard the same idea a few days ago while listening to an online radio show where they interviewed Apple's Senior Vice President of Retail, Angela Ahrendts, who said the same thing:


"It's always business, and it's the business of serving customers. So whether you do you that in fashion or technology, and you are leading teams of people to do a really great job at doing that, so it's funny...I used to say it at Burberry, it's business that happens to be the business of fashion; this is business and it happens to be the business of technology. But more than anything, we are in the people business." - Angela Ahrendts, Apple Senior Vice President, Retail


So it's important to train yourself in your soft skills, observe how you interact with people, how can you improve on your problem-solving approaches, and how you lead - these are the skills that will determine how successful you are in your career transitions. 

A simple three-step process for observing your own actions will help you improve:

  1. What am I doing now and how do people react/respond to it? WRITE THIS DOWN.
  2. What can be done differently to improve what I am doing now? WRITE THIS DOWN!
  3. Let's try the new approach in the next scenario and see what happens. Note the results. WRITE THIS DOWN!!

I highly encourage you to write all of this down, because your thoughts don't 'stay fresh'. I have more often than not lost what I considered to be 'great ideas' as soon as I was distracted by the next phone call or text. Writing it down also helps you evaluate yourself objectively and systematically. Hone and refine your soft skills so when the opportunity comes for an amazing new career, you will feel ready.