ATD Blog

Career Empowerment: How to Change, Advance, or Reinvent Your Training Career

Monday, September 22, 2014

Craving something different in your training career? More purpose, more excitement, more challenge, more opportunities for growth and advancement? Maybe you’re ready for a complete transformation like traveling the world to be a leadership coach for Club Med, or leading technical training at Google. 

Whether you want a small or big change, you can do it. In my own career, I’ve reinvented myself four times, including working in the media, finance, retail, and high-tech industries. I’ve also changed job roles from being a radio disc jockey to a regional marketing manager at American Express, then from a technical program manager to a corporate management training program manager, and now as a career strategist at a Fortune 100 company. 

Each career change has led to one of the most exhilarating, challenging, and personally gratifying accomplishments in my career, not to mention a 15 to 32 percent boost in salary. 

So, how did I do it? More importantly, how can you do it? Here’s my three-step plan to getting into a career where you can thrive. 

Determine what you want 

What’s pulling you toward your career right now? What’s pushing you away? The first step in transforming your career is knowing what you want. 

Make a list of the three biggest responsibilities you want in your next job. If someone is going to pay you, what do you want to be doing to collect that paycheck? What kind of work do you enjoy doing? Perhaps you enjoy teaching technical skills, developing organizational training strategies, and working with senior leaders and thought leaders. My personal list includes teaching career empowerment, developing leaders and managers, and helping organizations boost employee engagement.

Make a separate “must-have” list of six to eight critical things you need in your career in order to thrive (and not just survive), such as a salary amount, working for a company you admire, working for a manager who values and appreciates you, freedom, security, professional development, advancement opportunities, etc. My own list also includes having a flexible schedule, telecommuting and international travel. Try to minimize your list to no more than eight must-haves.

These two lists create what I call your personal career blueprint. Just like job descriptions have job requirements, now you have your own “career requirements.” This is the roadmap to your ideal career. It’s your career vision designed with intention and purpose.


Mapping your transferable skills

Now that you know where you want to go, you’ll need to create a path to get there. Do you know what your transferable skills are? These are skills that transition from industry to industry, or from job role to job role. Examples include: 

  • training/mentoring/coaching employees
  • managing people
  • managing projects
  • managing budgets
  • managing vendors
  • negotiating contracts
  • implementing new programs
  • developing new curriculum.

 Other transferable skills may include demonstrating leadership; taking risks; being goal-driven, results-oriented, and a problem solver; showing creativity and innovation; and having the ability to influence senior managers. These skills and characteristics are valued by many companies and industries, and can open doors to new job opportunities. 
The key is to match your transferable skills to job openings. Start by reading job descriptions posted on the ATD Job Bank,,, and company websites. Read a variety of job descriptions to determine if you have the right mix of skills, experience, and expertise. Another excellent resource is the Career Navigator tool, available to ATD members, which compares your skills against the ATD Competency Model. If there’s a gap between the skills required and the skills you currently have, then you may be able gain that experience by taking on an extended assignment in your current job, getting a new certification, or by freelancing, consulting, or volunteering.

Also, attend industry conferences, trade shows, business networking events and association meetings. Talk to people who work in the industry to learn about their career path, key skills, and advice on how to break into the industry.

Create and find new opportunities

The biggest mistake I see training professionals make is looking for a position with the exact same title they had in their last job. If you do that, then you’re limiting job opportunities and boxing yourself into a very small career. Instead, consider looking at smaller companies and going one-level up, as well as larger companies and going one-level down.


Also, many companies don’t require that you have industry experience, only expertise in a specific job function (such as training new employees, or developing leaders, and so forth), so you can double your opportunities by applying for jobs in a variety of industries. For example, if you’ve been working as a training department manager in the IT industry, then be sure to apply for jobs in the high-tech, finance, manufacturing, and construction industries. I was able to jump from the retail to high-tech industry because I leveraged my skills as a video producer in video production, communications, and program management.

Another idea, if you want to switch job roles and go from let’s say a training consultant to a recruiting manager, you could leverage your skills in organizational development, talent development, and program management. I went from being a technical program manager to a management training program manager by leveraging my skills in program management, team leadership and career development. 

Finally, it’s not mandatory for you to meet 100 percent of the requirements in a job description before you apply. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 75 percent of the skills and experience required. I always had skills gaps but that never stopped me from applying. I landed the jobs I wanted because I expressed in my cover letter and job interviews that I’m a quick learner, flexible, and passionate about the position and the company. Your resume will get you an interview. Your attitude and confidence will get you the job. 

Whether you make a few small changes in your career or one big bold change, you owe it to yourself to have a career that lets you do meaningful, purposeful, high-paying work—and work for those who value and appreciate you. You really do have more control over your career than you think. You just have to get in the driver’s seat and make it happen. Club Med is waiting for you.

Be sure to join Sherri Thomas on Dec. 12 for a webcast on "How to Change, Advance or Reinvent Your Training Career".


About the Author

Sherri Thomas is a career strategist. As the founder/president of Career Coaching 360, Sherri teaches training professionals, managers, and executives how to change, reinvent, or advance their careers. She teaches others how to think differently and more proactively in their career. Her book, The Bounce Back –Personal Stories of Bouncing Back Higher and Faster After a Layoff, Re-Org or Career Setback  was named “2013 Best Career Book” by the Indie Book Awards. Her first book, C areer Smart – 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand has been #3 on AMAZON’s TOP 10 LIST for personal branding books. 

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