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How to Change Careers Easily and Painlessly – The Career Graph

7 March, 2014 by Matt Goldenberg

Career Graph
Career change isn’t easy. You have to learn new skills, make new connections, and to top it all off – You’re competing against fresh faced college grads with relevant degrees.

But just cause career change is not a walk in the park, that doesn’t mean there aren’t tools and techniques that can cut down drastically on wasted time.

Today, I’d like to share one of those tools that I use with my clients to drastically cut down on the time and effort it takes them to switch careers. And I’m including a little something extra for you today… a free workbook that will take you through exactly how to use the tool.

The career graph is a simple technique to help you change careers easily and painlessly. Understanding and using the career graph has saved my students dozens of hours of frustration, and cut the time needed to switch careers. Here’s how it works:

Reading the Career Graph

There are four aspects of the career graph above that I want you to focus on.

  • The bottom axis represents the skills and job title of your current (or past) job.
  • The left axis represents the people and industry of your current (or past) job.
  • The circle of prestige shows how prestigious or well networked you are within that job.
  • The red dot is your current or past job itself.

How to Use the Career Graph to Plot a Career Change

The first use for a career graph is to see how hard it’s going to be switch fields. I don’t think that each and every person has to actually create a physical career graph (although the visually minded people will likely want to create it, that’s why you can download the printable workbook at the bottom of this post). Rather, take this article as a mental exercise to help you figure out the major factors that will effect your career change.

You should put your own red dot on the very bottom right corner, then estimate your own circle of prestige. If you are extremely well-networked, your company is very well known, or you’re very respected in your field, these all contribute to making the circle bigger. President Obama would likely have an extremely huge circle, a Barista at a local coffee shop might have a much smaller circle. If you’re looking for a more specific way to quantify you’re circle of prestige, download the workbook at the bottom of this post.

Career Graph Example
Finally, you’re going to try to place your desired job as a dot on the graph. The way to think about this is in terms of similarity. If you use roughly half the skills from your desired job at your current job, your new (green) dot would go halfway along the bottom axis. If it would cause you to interact with none of the same people, it would go all the way to the top of the left axis. Finally, draw your circle of prestige around the new job. It should be the same size as your current circle, due to a principle called credibility transfer.

Determining the Difficulty of a Career Change With the Career Graph

As you can see in this example, the two circles are rather far apart, and don’t overlap. This tells you that this will be a relatively difficult career change. The closer these two circles are to overlapping, the easier the transition will be. However, we can ensure that the career change is as easy as possible by choosing the right approach.

How to Save Time and Effort with The Career Graph

There are now three different situations that you could encounter. The first is that your circles overlap. The second is that your circles don’t overlap, but are very close together. And the third is that your circles are very far apart. What you may not realize is that each of these three outcomes suggest a very different approach to your job search.

Career Graph

If Your Circles Overlap – The Traditional Approach

If your circles overlap, you’re in luck! You can use relatively well known job search techniques to get hired.

Your focus should be on three areas:

  1. Activate your existing network and let them know what you’re looking for. Ideally, you’d like to get referral for whatever position you’re applying for.
  2. Write a great resume and cover letter. You should have enough relevant experience to knock this out of the park.
  3. Practice and refine your interviewing skills. Your goal is to project confidence, competence, and ability to solve the companies problems.
Career Graph

If Your Circles Are Close – The Transition Approach

If your circles are close but don’t overlap, the quickest and easiest way is to take a transition job from which you can move to your desired position.

You have a number of options for transition jobs, but here are a few of your most useful options:

  1. Aim for a promotion at your current company, in order to grow your circle of prestige and move your skills to be more in line with your desired job along the bottom axis.
  2. Apply for a job with the same job title, but in an industry that is closer to your desired job. This will move you closer to your desired job along the left axis.
  3. Combine 1 and 2 to go for a slight promotion in a slightly different industry. This will move you closer to your desired job along both axes.
Career Graph

If Your Circles are Far Apart – The Recipe Approach

If your circles are far apart, trying to move linearly from your current job to your desired job will involve more time and effort than it’s worth. Instead, it’s best to think of the three elements needed to get your job as ingredients which can be acquired separately, and then combined into a recipe.

  1. Focus on raising your skills by taking on projects and building your portfolio. Rather than getting all the skills through one job, take on multiple projects that earn you a few skills at a time.
  2. Focus on meeting the right people through networking at conferences, volunteering, and doing freelance work. You should be able to build up a decent network by consistently practicing these activities, and following up with everyone you meet.
  3. Build up your prestige through personal marketing, joining prestigious organizations, and volunteering for prestigious people. When added up, these should give you enough credibility to be selected for a job.

If you want to download the Career Graph Workbook, just enter your email below. It will take you step by step through creating a career graph of your own.

Action Items

Todo List
  • Estimate the Size of Your Circle of Prestige
  • Estimate the Distance of Your Desired Job
  • Figure Out Which Approach to Use for Your Job Search
  • Choose One Action You Can Do Tomorrow That is Consistent With That Approach


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