What is the most graceful and diplomatic way of saying you're leaving an organization or rather, an entire career? – Former teacher
When you make a life-altering move like changing your career, people you know will want to hear about it. In addition, people who can help you with your career pivot will need to hear about it. So it makes sense that this aspiring career changer is already thinking about how to tell her story. Yes, you want to be graceful and diplomatic if you’re talking about leaving your former career. However, you also want to be excited and enthusiastic when you’re talking about your new career.
There are four groups of people you’ll encounter as you make your career change, and you’ll want to tailor your story differently for each:
1 - To colleagues in your former career
You may or may not want to share any details about your career change. Your job search, whether in the same industry or a new field, should be confidential to all but your closest confidants until you’re ready to announce you’re leaving. You never want your current employer to hear about your efforts to leave before you’re ready to quit. Your employer may question your loyalty, making it difficult to get your job done, or worse, they may ask you to leave before you’re ready.
Even if you can trust your colleagues not to call out your job search, be respectful that they’re choosing to keep this career while you aren’t. Don’t trash talk your employer or the field overall. If you know they’re also unhappy, that still doesn’t give you license to rejoice in your escape plan. It may come across as gloating or insensitive, if they’re not in a position (mentally, emotionally, financially) to make a similar switch. Only say the nicest things you can about your former career. Ideally, minimize saying anything about leaving your old career, and instead emphasize why your next career is the logical next step for you.
2 - To connections you’re making in your new career
Too many aspiring career changers feel the need to explain in great detail what brought them to this new career interest, but your future colleagues already in that field don’t really care. Your goal should be to be accepted as a peer, so that they’ll share insights with you and possibly introduce you to other helpful contacts or outright job leads. (Introductions are so important for career change to get over the career change catch-22 that you need experience to get a job, but a job to get that experience.) To engender that level of trust, talk about yourself as if you have already arrived at this new career, and not so much the journey to get there.
If someone asks you outright, “So what made you decide to leave teaching?” then of course you want to answer that question. However, do it concisely and move on: “I loved my 10 years of teaching, and I think I’m still going to be using the [insert translatable skills and expertise] that I gained from my time there. But I felt like it was time to move on OR I felt like I accomplished what I set out to do, and as I started exploring new fields, I realized that [insert target new career] is what I want to do now.”
3 — To prospective employers and other decision-makers
When you’re talking to people about actual job openings in your new field, you will likely be asked to tell your career story (e.g., “Walk me through your resume” or “Tell me about yourself”). Your story to date includes both your former career and this new target. Since you’re new to whatever job you’re talking about, the temptation will be to spend a lot of time rehashing your old experience. However, you want to give as much or more weight to your new target area – even though tenure-wise it seems you have less to talk about.
Rather than just a summary of your former experience, practice talking about your past while highlighting the skills and expertise that are transferable to your new career. This shows that you understand your new field, and it also emphasizes why your past experience is useful and valuable. If the most relevant parts of your past job were ad hoc projects, rather than what you did day-to-day, so be it. They’re not hiring your former self – they’re hiring what you can contribute today. To that end, spend a good portion of your story about what you’re doing, learning and working on today and most recently. Even if it’s volunteer work or pro bono consulting or simply reading and learning about your new career, tell the story of you in your new career as a present-day story. Employers hire people who can contribute from day one, not some unspecified time in the future.
4 — To worried family and friends
You don’t have to justify your career decisions to your loved ones. However, your significant other and dependents will be disrupted by a job change so you can’t just spring this on them at the last minute. (A recent Forbes post includes tips for navigating career discussions with your romantic partner.) Even if you have no one in your immediate household to involve, it’s nice to have the support, and friends and family probably want to be helpful.
When you explain your career change, focus on the positives – why your new career is so exciting, rather than why your old career no longer fits. Remember that they might not know much about your new field so take time to answer questions even if they seem basic (unlike you, they haven’t been spending the last weeks or months on this new field!). If you don’t want advice and just want an encouraging word, let them know that is what would be helpful for right now. Then, pivot the conversation to how they’re doing – both to minimize having to talk about your career if you don’t really want to, but also to rightly share the stage with what they’re working on and how you might help them.