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Lost in Translation


Narrator Voice: It wasn't actually magic.

One group I consistently work with is professionals who, mid-career, want to change jobs or completely change industry.


The question is always: How do I do this specific magic?


The first thing they are wondering is how to get from one track to another. There are multiple answers to that question -- you can go laterally over into the new industry and then move up, you can choose to move to a similar job in your current employer and then move over, you can take the time to develop a new skill or acquire a certification or something of the sort, you can strategically develop and engage your network, and you can translate your current work (which you should probably do anyway) and leverage that.


What do I mean by translating your current work?


Well, when we are in an industry, we tend to fall back on jargon and acronyms that are specific to our job or our office. We describe what we do in a way that would make sense to others in that industry. We craft our resumes and LinkedIn profiles to reflect an expert-level understanding of our job, but the thing that we often don't realize is that in doing so we make it hard for those outside of our current job/office/industry to understand what we really do and the value we could bring to a new opportunity.


One of the most important steps we can take is backing out and away from that if we want to move on.


To start, imagine explaining what you do to someone who has no idea about your industry, and imagine doing so in a complimentary way. This is so much harder than it sounds! We all have trouble speaking about our work in a complimentary way, for some reason.


What does this look like? Let me give you a personal example:


I worked in research administration in contracts management for many years. That alone is a statement that many people wouldn't understand. If I was to try to translate that, I would just start the process of thinking through it by focusing on the component pieces:

  • Working in research administration implies to those inside the industry a knowledge of financial, legal, and scientific compliance, the ability to work on a large volume of projects at a high speed and with a focus on details and precision, and working with different versions of compliance expectations from the federal government, foundations (like The Gates Foundation or Susan G Komen Foundation), and other entities, and an ability to manage competing deadlines.

  • Within that sphere, saying that I worked in contracts management would let people in that industry know that I negotiated contracts, reviewed complex multi-million dollar budgets for compliance and feasibility, worked with departments and stakeholders at multiple levels to problem-solve the issues standing in the way of completing the negotiations, managed complex administrative processes, and juggled multiple agreements and communications at any given time. I knew how to determine what obligations had to be passed down to anyone we were giving some of the work and money to and how to make that happen with the appropriate documents.

That is a lot packed into "contracts management in research administration" that many people wouldn't know or understand, but you have to unfold all the things you did, and not just your accomplishments. Unpack your day-to-day tasks into their component skills.


AND THEN (because that isn't the only piece to the process), think about what your goal employer or job needs. What are they asking for? When you map those things out compared to what you just unpacked in your own skill set, what is there? I promise, if you have been doing anything complex for any amount of time, you have skills that could translate to other industries. Make sure you identify those, and start to rewrite your documents to reflect those specific skill sets that you have already mastered.


Finally, you may spot a very important thing in this new job or industry that you do not have as a skill set yet. This, then is where you spot what you need to develop and determine the next step you may need to take to move over to the place that you want to be.


I know it sounds difficult, but it is definitely doable. Let me know if you want help! Skill translation is, like a bunch of the things up above, a skill set that can be learned.

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