by Jennifer Alice Jackson, August 13, 2017
Last week I was having lunch with a good friend. It was one of those lunches where the conversation randomly flows from serious, to silly, to insightful. During our wandering talk, I began talking about my “Degrees of Difference” theory. A degree of difference is simply a noticeable characteristic that does not match the composition of the whole. In diversity and inclusion circles, we’d be talking about “in-group” characteristics. My theory is simply that groups with a common interest will embrace (or at least tolerate) members with two or fewer degrees of difference. Those with more than two degrees of difference need to cultivate and display excellence in a material way to be accepted. Without excellence, those individuals – much like pre-flight Rudolph* – will not be invited to play any reindeer games.
Back in the yonder times (early 2000’s), I was a practicing mixed martial artist. Most of my fellow students were 25-to-30-ish years old, fit, white men. As an African American woman who joined the school because I was tired of buying clothes in larger sizes, I walked in the door with all kinds of difference. Thankfully I’ve always looked young for my age, so that didn’t count against me. But to be Black, female, unfit AND unskilled? That puts you on the fast track to being partnered with the instructor after the class is told to pair up. A lot. Note: having the instructor pick you as a demonstration partner is an honor. Being Rudolphed is not.
But I’m a warrior at heart and an excellent student. So I struggled, and trained, and managed to injure something at least once a week. Eventually I got both fit and skilled – and after about a year I was the highest ranked member among my classmates. And having been Rudolphed, I made sure to work with the newbies who were uncoordinated, female and/or not in the best shape.
But what’s the career correlation, you ask? Quite simply – the fact that you are changing careers makes you a Rudolph. The only way you’ll be invited to “play” in a new industry or career is to commit to the struggle, study hard and know that you’ll probably endure some bruises along the way.
Degrees of Difference: Your Enemy
You are NOT what a potential employer is looking for. Your standard resume won’t get past a resume review bot or HR screener. Submitting your resume to countless online application portals will make you feel like you’ve done something – but it’s mostly an exercise in futility because you are not the ideal candidate.
Rudolph was cast aside until Santa needed a light source to guide the way on that foggy Christmas Eve. Suddenly Rudolph’s wacky glowing nose was the solution to a major problem. So what’s your glowing nose and what solution does it provide to future employers?
Degrees of Difference: Your Friend
The fact that you’re an outsider can be an advantage if you know how to articulate your value in a way that is meaningful to your new employer. If you’re not quite sure how to do that – you’re not ready to play the game. Yet. But if you’re willing to put in the time to research your new career, map your fabulous transferable skills to that new career and get clear on what unique value you bring to the role – the only thing that remains is hustle. You’ll have to be willing to develop a strategy, put in the work and overcome setbacks along the way. But with perseverance and resolve, you’ll master your career transition.
*The Rudolph Red-Nosed Reindeer analogy runs thick through this piece. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, click here.
Jennifer Alice Jackson, the Career Pivot CatalystTM, is an artsy nerd, entrepreneur and a master at making career pivots. My 25+ year non-linear career spans engineering, management consulting, arts management, diversity and entrepreneurship. I provide guidance to professionals who are ready to change careers but don’t know their answer to “what next?” I also coach clients to efficiently navigate the personal, professional and financial hurdles that stand in the way of realizing their new career goals. If you’d like to apply for a complimentary Career Pivot Discovery Session ($450 value), please complete the linked application.