ATD Blog

5 Strategies for Switching to a Talent Development Career

Tuesday, September 29, 2015



Switching careers is a challenging step in any field, and particularly in talent development. For the most part, the “community” can seem relatively small and well-networked in most geographic areas, so you typically need to gain experience and become a “known quantity.” Here are five critical success strategies for moving into a career in talent development.

Step #1: Join Your Local Association

Become active in local chapters of professional associations, such as ATD or SHRM. Start off by attending local chapter meetings, but do not go with the intent of giving your resume to every potential employer you meet. Instead, determine a professional question or issue you would like to gather more information on so you can present yourself as a serious professional—rather than a frantic job seeker.

Step #2: Pay Attention to Your Online Professional Presence

Be sure that all of your online professional networking profiles (such as LinkedIn) are well-written, accurate, and present the image you want. Be aware of “hot” terms and phrases, and try to use them in your profile naturally. Many recruiters do searches on professional networking sites before even posting a job (or even in place of posting a job). Your profile will help you get noticed!

Also, be very careful about any information that you post on social networking sites like Facebook. Although I do not advocate using social networking sites for professional networking, many employers search them when conducting informal background investigations. If they find something “embarrassing,” it could affect their willingness to consider you for an available opportunity.


Step #3: Seek Out Internships

If you are pursuing an additional degree to help you break into the field, find out what internship opportunities are available through your degree program. Most talent development managers not only look for a degree, but also for experience. Having a high-quality internship helps conquer the challenge of getting experience when you don’t have any.

In addition, many corporate employers use internships as a recruiting tool. Internships enable potential employers to review your skills on the job, as well as discern what kind of “fit” you are for the company. Likewise, you can get a feel for the organization’s culture and whether it is a good fit for you. Some retention statistics indicate that employees recruited through internships are more likely to stay in the long term.

Step #4: Find Ways to Volunteer

If not currently pursuing a degree, look for volunteer opportunities that will provide related experience. Remember: Experience does not have to be paid! Many nonprofits and community organizations can use the skill sets of aspiring talent management professionals—not to mention, they provide exceptional volunteer experiences.


You should also look for volunteer opportunities within the local chapter of the association you joined. These opportunities might range from being a greeter at chapter meetings to volunteering on a professional task force or committee. In a volunteer capacity, you will have a “purpose” to meet more people, and become known as someone truly interested in the profession.

Step #5: Conduct Information Meetings With the Pros in Your Area

Seek out opportunities to have informational meetings with people currently working in the talent management field. I find that offering to take a potential contact out to breakfast or lunch is a good way to get them to agree to a meeting.

When you do sit down for an informational meeting, have a carefully prepared list of questions. Do NOT treat the opportunity as a job interview. This meeting is simply an opportunity to learn more about the talent development field and expand your network.

Bottom Line

Switching careers can be a challenging and frustrating experience. Simply pursuing an additional degree, although it may help, will not guarantee success in making the switch. Using these strategies to gain experience and become a known quantity in the talent management community will increase your prospects for success.

For more career advice, join Alan De Back and Barbara Seifert on October 30 for the webcast, Leveraging Your Degree in Talent Development.

About the Author

Alan De Back is an independent career counselor and learning consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. His experience includes more than 20 years in career counseling and learning- and training-related functions. In addition to his current independent role, Alan has served as director of global learning for an Internet consulting firm and manager of leadership development for a major aerospace corporation. His experience also includes roles as a career counselor, trainer, and program manager for a local Northern Virginia government, and assistant director of career services for a major Upstate New York university. Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and history from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a master’s degree in human resource development from Rochester Institute of Technology, and a graduate-level certificate in Industrial Labor Relations from Cornell University.

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