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How to Change Careers Without Going Crazy

16 August, 2014 by Matt Goldenberg

Crazy Face
When you’re switching careers, it’s easy to look at an expert and think that you’ll never be at their level. Your heroes and role models combine so many different skills effortlessly that it seems crazy to think that you could ever be in the same career.

With such an outlook, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and decide the cost of learning a whole new field just isn’t worth it. But what if we shifted perspectives?

Instead of trying to get to an expert’s level, let’s start with something a bit more manageable: What’s the lowest level of skills you could possibly learn to still be effective at your job?

What are the absolute minimum skills you would need to see a project through from start to finish, and do it better than the person who hired you? This simple shift is enough to keep you sane in your career change. I like to call it the Minimum Viable Skillset.

How to Determine the Minimum Viable Skillset

Divining the Minimum Viable Skillset is a strategy that you’ll use throughout your job search. When you’re first deciding what careers your interested in, it’s useful to get a broad overview of the different skills involved to determine if you would enjoy and be good at the job.

Later, as you start to actually take on projects and tasks to facilitate your career change, you’ll want an extremely detailed description of exactly how to use these skills in the real world. The methods below are organized with this fact in mind, with the methods that give you a very high level idea of the Minimum Viable Skillset at the top, getting increasingly specific as you move downwards.

The Job Description Method

The first way to determine the Minimum Viable Skillset is by finding a bunch of job descriptions, and looking for the common threads. Then first step is to go to indeed.com and search for your desired job title. Simply take the first ten job listings that look like they match, and paste them into a word document. From there, delete all the “job specific” information, and keep only the skills that are general.

Finally, you’re going to take that document, and use a few tools that can help you to prioritize the information.

Summary
FreeSummarizer.com

Free Summarizer is a tool that will analyze the whole document to find the sentences that best describe the whole document. When you paste your word document into Free Summarizer, it will do an amazing job of giving you a list of the skills you’ll need for your career.

       

Phrase Freqency Counter
Phrase Frequency Counter

When you paste your text into Phrase Frequency Counter, it will find the most frequent phrases in a document, and rank them by how often they appear. This will give you more of an idea of how you should prioritize the different skills

       

Business Analyst Word Cloud
Wordle

Wordle is like phrase frequency counter, but pasting your text into Wordle will give you a visual word cloud display, with the most frequent word being biggest. You can right click on useless words such as “skills” to remove them. If you’re a visual thinker, this will be a helpful tell to give you an at a glance idea of what to focus on.

The Career Research Method

The second method is the classic career research method. The career research method involves using existing research resources to find your Minimum Viable Skillset. Simply find the area that lists the necessary skills, and use that as the basis. Here’s a list of basic career research websites to get you started:

Business Analyst Word Butt

The Industry Organization Method

The third method to determine the Minimum Viable Skillset is to find an industry association for your job, and use their list of necessary skills.

In the case of business analysis, a quick Google search of “Industry Organization for Business Analysts” turns up the International Institute of Business Analysts in the first few results. Poking around their website turns up their “Certification of Competency in Business Analysis”, which leads us to this table detailing the Minimum Viable Skillset.

The Shadowing Method

The fourth method is called job shadowing. Job shadowing involves simply spending a day watching someone else work, as a fly on the wall. This allows you to take notes on the basic skills needed, and also gives you a chance to start learning those skills in context.

To enact this method, first, search LinkedIn or Facebook for friends, or friends of friends with your desired job title. Then, send them a message asking if they’d be open to being shadowed.

The Minimum Viable Project Method

Minimu Viable Business Analyst Project
The fifth method is called the minimum viable project method. For this method, you’ll find a typical project that someone with your desired job title would need to complete, by searching Google or looking at the LinkedIn profiles of people who have your desired job title. Here’s an example found by googling “What projects would a business analyst undertake?”

From there, you break down the project into discrete steps that will take you from beginning to end.

Strategic Planning Flowchart
Finally, you’ll create a list of the skills needed at each step of the project. This can be mapped out on a flowchart, as shown in this simplified example for business analysis.

This is powerful in that it not only shows you the minimum viable skills you’ll need, but also gives you a rough order of when to learn the skills. Once you’ve learned the skills from the very first step, you can use the skill bridge technique to start work on a real life project, and then continue to learn the remaining skills as you go.

The Informational Interview Method

The sixth method involves simply contacting people with your desired job title, and interviewing them to determine the Minimum Viable Skillset. The secret here is to ask questions that give them constraints in order to hone in on only the Minimum Viable Skills. Here are some of my favorite questions that my premium coaching clients have used with success:

  • What skills would you learn if you had only two months to learn your field?
  • What if you only had two weeks?
  • Who are the best thinkers in your field?
  • What’s the best book in your field?
  • Who became good very fast in your field?

Using these questions, you can create a prioritized list of the most important skills.

The Three Books Technique

The final method is called the three books technique. The trick is to find three books targeted to absolute beginners in your field.

  1. Firstly, you’ll find the best step-by-step “action book” that teaches concrete skills to beginners. This will teach you most of the minimum viable skills you need.
  2. Secondly, you’ll find the best abstract “theory” book for beginners in your field, that will teach you how the people in your field think, and allow you to apply the skills you learn in different situations.
  3. Finally, you’ll find most comprehensive “reference book” that help you fill in the gaps in your knowledge, and give you a resource if you run across something you can’t handle.

These three books together will teach you everything you need to find the Minimum Viable Skillset in your field. When combined with the minimum viable project method, you can further prioritize the information you get from the books.

Bonus Case Study – From Salesman to Business Analyst in One Year

This case study gives you the blueprint of how Nick used the Minimum Viable Skillset and the Skill Bridge Technique to go from a commission salesman to a business analyst in one year.

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Action Items

Todo List
  • Determine the Level of Skill Detail You Need
  • Choose the Minimum Viable Skillset Method That Matches With That Level of Detail
  • Follow the Bolded Orange Instructions for That Method


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