With the increased demand for automation professionals over the past year, many of you might be considering a job change, perhaps even a career change. Career changes are much more difficult than simply moving from one company to another and performing a role similar to what you currently do.
Many engineers often contemplate getting out of a purely technical role into another kind of position. In my role as a recruiter, I have worked with many candidates who have wanted to do this, but it can be very difficult, especially if you want to also leave your current employer.
Employers are reluctant to hire someone for any role in which they have no prior work history because there is a high cost associated with training for this new role. Most people take three to six months to become effective in a completely new type of position. Your current employer is much more willing to invest in you, since you have already proven yourself to him or her. In addition to the cost, there is the risk of failure. Not everyone can succeed in making career changes, and many successful engineers have failed in non-technical roles. Your current employer will most likely be able to assess your capabilities and determine whether they align with the new role.
Two good examples of career changes that can be made with your current employer, but are rarely made when changing companies, are:
- Changing from a technical role into sales: This is actually a very logical career step for those technical people who have great interpersonal skills and are able to step away from the purely technical role they previously played. Your current employer and coworkers will be capable of evaluating whether you possess the personality to make this change, but a prospective employer might not feel comfortable choosing you for this new role after just a few hours of interviewing.
- Moving into a management or supervisor role: The biggest issue here is a company cannot hire someone from outside the company to manage a group of their employees if that person has no prior management experience. If they do this, their other employees will feel slighted that they were not given the same opportunity. Nearly every management position is filled with either a promotion from within the company or a seasoned manager moving from one company to another.
Prior to starting my business, I worked for an automation products distributor for 11 years and made some radical job changes within that company. I started out in a technical position (automation specialist), and after four years I took a position as operations manager. Then a few years later, I moved into an outside sales role. I was able to do that because the owner knew me and trusted me when I said I could be successful at the new jobs. When you are looking at positions at other companies, your abilities are unknown to them, so all they have to go by is your work history.
A couple of other ways to make a drastic change in your career are to start your own business or go back to school and acquire another degree pointing towards the new career path. I know two automation engineers who went to law school after a few years of work and became patent attorneys.
Getting an MBA on top of an engineering degree is a great step to get into either sales or management. Acquiring an MBA will not typically help you land a management position outside of your current company; however, it could help you stand out from other internal candidates and help you land a promotion at your current company.
Most technical people will eventually move out of a purely technical role sometime during their career. My advice to you is to focus your attention on doing this within one employer where your risk and theirs will be minimized.