In a (long) article , I explained why I wanted to change from IT into finance. I moved from IT jobs in Asia into a role as Financial Controller for the retail channel Western Europe of Philips Lighting. That's quite a senior role; in fact, it was a promotion, and I got to move to Europe at the same time (another ambition). How did I change careers, get a promotion and move to Europe at the same time?

  • Be good at something, and be likeable

It starts from this. You need to be good at something, so that you get noticed. If you want to change careers, look first at what you are doing now. Hopefully, your current role is a good fit for you, you enjoy it and you're good at it. First, earn credibility.

Be likeable. If people like you, they will try harder to help you. There are lots of books about being likeable but it's no secret. Be positive, be optimistic, be helpful, be enthusiastic.

  • Exposure

Assume you have five years of experience. You need to be meeting one or two rising stars two levels above you. I was in Indonesia, which reported to ASEAN HQ in Singapore. I had no direct lines into the Singapore office, but when people visited, I was often present.  I made good impressions, and I was invited to join some regional committees on IT matters. The regional CFO was present, in fact he chaired the meetings. With my competence and my enthusiasm, I was being noticed and remembered before I even thought about career changes. This was all very easy, because all I had to do was to be good at what I was supposed to be good at, plus be enthusiastic and likeable. Good senior managers are looking for talent, because talent spotting and development is crucial to their own career progress. That's why I mention rising stars. It may seem a paradox, but people whose careers are moving fast are very likely to be the type of people who want to help others of potential develop. Perhaps it's a natural instinct to create allies for the future.

Note that I don't say "networking". Networking is a relationship of mutual benefit. There is not much benefit a junior person can bring to a senior executive (but there may be future benefit).

  • Be consistent and simple about what you want

 If you want to change careers, say that you want to "be on the CFO track". Say it always. Don't say you want to be controller (even though that's the first role you'll get). You need to show ambition, because you are asking people to take a risk. You take a risk on stocks that have growth potential, you don't take risks on US Government bonds (the definition of risk free investments), and you should position yourself as a high growth stock if you want people to take a risk on you.

  • Skill up, and look for bridging roles

A career change will often imply new functional skills, and also it may imply professional qualifications. For me, I saw a CPA as being a relevant professional qualification. To get a CPA, I needed an accounting degree, even to quality for eligibility for starting the CPA program. So I started a distance education Masters Degree (I was in Indonesia when I started this, and I wanted Australian qualifications). It took me three years to finish. Naturally, at various milestones I let people know of my progress. My Masters degree had the option of a "stage one" qualification called a "Graduate Certificate". I got this awarded to me, because it was a good opportunity to "make a headline", rather than waiting three years.

I initially funded the study myself, partly because it gave me maximum flexibility, and partly because of the signal it sent, but also because of some special and unique circumstances.

As I was completing the second year, I was offered the chance to move to Singapore and join the team of internal consultants supporting the SAP role-outs. I was offered a role as a Finance Control consultant. This was a win/win: I could be productive quite quickly, since it was close to my previous IT experience, but being in a FICO role meant I learnt a lot about operational finance work, such as sitting through month-end closing with controllers are newly migrated sites. 

Note that this role was offered to me because I was good at something, because I had been communicating that I wanted to change careers, and because I was serious about it. At the same time, I joined a very successful and high profile Corporate SAP team that won a lot of global attention for its successes, and was happy to have me on-board. 

  • How is your career move in the interest of the company?

Possibly, this is not quite the right question. The right question could be "how is your move in the interest of the decision makers?".

Every good manager likes to spot talent, and in even to poach encourage talent from other areas of the business.

The risks for the company are not as great as they seem when considering people making career shifts. Hard work and enthusiasm, plus a little aptitude, are enough for a foundation of success. Functional gaps can be addressed (allocation of an experienced sub-ordinate is the best way). 

If you are changing career, you do not start with an empty basket or a blank sheet. I knew little of financial controlling, but I knew a lot about IT, project management, change management and how to implement innovations in processes. My previous career emphasized systems and abstraction. My project work showed that I could be effective in teams and in change management. Usually you won't need to prove this: your sponsor will have spoken for you. 

If you succeed, you will be a credit to your sponsor, and an inspiring story to other talents. And with someone behind you having a stake in your success, you most likely will not fail. You won't get this chance if you are not smart enough, and you need to have made good progress in the functional education. So what's left is knowledge of your new organisation and its secret ways of working. This is what you need support for.

  • Take meaningful initiatives, and be willing to say yes

In my case, studying hard and paying for it was meaningful. And when people in the company offered me a half-way role, I said yes.

  • Do it inside a multinational

I changed careers, and I even changed continents, but I didn't change employer. If you are serious about changing careers, I think you need to find a company where it happens. Multinationals are good for this. You are looking for an organisation that talks and walks "talent management" and "diversity".

  • Know when to say no

If you are talented, you will of course have other internal offers, most obviously to stay on your current track. If you are truly focussed on a new career, you will say no to these distractions. If you say "yes" you are breaking the rule of sending clear and consistent messages about what you want. You probably won't get a second chance.

  • You have to close doors

Similar to the point above: you have to make committments and you have to say no to some possibilities. See this article