In the first of our three-part series on career change, we look at the principle of “walking the walk,” and explore how demonstrating the skills you’ve learned can differentiate you from the crowd.

Walking the Walk - Changing Careers - Udacity

We recently had the opportunity to explore the topic of career change with two Udacity alums, and learn how they were able to successfully move into new careers. Over the course of three articles, we’re going to draw on these discussions to cover three principles behind making a successful career change: Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk, and Networking with your Network.

Today, we begin with “Walking the Walk!”

Walking the Walk

What does “walking the walk” mean in the context of career change? It means not just learning the skills you’re going to need in your new role, but actually using them. Now. Before you even launch your job search.

You can do this by volunteering, or working on open source projects, or independently creating and publishing content. And you can embrace a learn-by-doing approach, in a project-based education program.

The main goal is that you want to be able to provide evidence of your skills, experience, and commitment. That’s what the principle of walking the walk is all about.

Three Challenges

To get a better sense of the importance of this principle, put yourself in the mind of someone conducting an interview with you. What do you look like to them? Chances are, a lot like everyone else (at least at this stage of the game). So, that’s your first challenge. You have to stand out. What else? You probably seem passionate. But then again, so does everyone else. Everyone’s there because they want the job. So, that’s your second challenge. You have to prove your passion is legitimate—that it’s real. And what about when it comes to the really tough parts of the interview? Those instances where your skills are tested in real time? Again, most of the other candidates are going to be able to match you skill for skill—they wouldn’t have been invited for an interview otherwise. So, that’s your third challenge. It’s not enough to have the skills. It’s not even enough to demonstrate your skills in the interview. You have to be able to talk about your skills, share you thinking about your work, and communicate the value of your experience.

How do you do it? How do you stand out, prove your passion, and communicate your value?

That’s where walking the walk comes in.

  • You can stand out, by not just having the skills, but the portfolio to prove them.
  • You can prove your passion, by presenting a track record of commitment to the field.
  • You can communicate your value, by sharing use cases where you delivered quantifiable value through your efforts.

The Job Search Catch-22

At this point, you’re probably thinking about that classic job search Catch-22: “I need experience to get a job, but I need a job to get experience.” It feels like an insurmountable challenge. The good news is, though, there’s a solution. It’s all about the “walking the walk” mindset.

In a recent panel discussion, Udacity’s Jane Sheppard, who oversees Udacity’s alumni community, spoke with Jamaal Davis, a graduate of our Digital Marketing Nanodegree program, who is now working as a Digital Coordinator for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Jamaal shared how his version of “walking the walk” helped him land his dream role.

“After I graduated from my Nanodegree program, I reached out to Engineers for a Sustainable World, which is a global non-profit. They were looking for somebody to help do digital marketing and advertising campaigns. It was a volunteer position, but I took it because I knew that gaining the experience, having the relationships, and growing my skill set, would ultimately be a whole lot more valuable than whatever actual funds I might have earned in a different role at that time.”

The experience Jamaal gained, combined with what he’d learned in his Nanodegree program, definitely did pay off. Here’s Jamaal, describing the interview experience that resulted in his getting the job with Goodwill:

“I think with all the skills and experience I’d been able to add to my resume, the recruiters could see I was able to really use my skills at a high level. It meant it was a little more difficult to ignore my application when they shortlisted applicants! And when I was invited to interview, I felt really well-prepared to explain all the projects I’d worked on, and was confident I could answer any questions.”

Career Change and Transferable Skills

Jane also spoke with two-time Nanodegree program grad Xi Palazzolo. Xi originally trained to be a veterinarian while still in China, but today, works as an Advanced Analytic consultant in Detroit, Michigan, helping to develop machine learning algorithms for business clients. Xi gave some really valuable advice on how to communicate value, speak about career change, and advocate for your transferable skills:

“Whenever I went into an interview, people were always very curious about my desire to change careers from veterinary medicine to machine learning and data science.  And I would then tell them I was starting to get ‘sympathy fatigue’, and that I was looking for a new career where I could continue to use the data skills I developed in the world of medicine. I would explain how, in medicine, we collect  so much data, and then I would make clear that what I was really interested in was using new techniques to better use data to draw insights, in order to help people make better decisions, lower costs, and increase results.”

The “Walking the Walk” Mindset

What we have in Jamaal and Xi, are inspiring examples of how you can prepare for the future, by being proactive now. Remember that Catch-22 above?

“I need experience to get a job, but I need a job to get experience.”

The first half of that sentence is pretty true. But you can get around the second half through volunteering, internships, personal projects, and even teaching or mentoring. You can also perform an honest self-audit, identify your transferable skills, and learn to communicate their value. And of course, you can learn. Nanodegree program students start building on day one. That’s why we call it “learning by doing,” and this is what we mean when we refer to the “walking the walk” mindset. It’s about finding the opportunities that are there, and putting your skills to work.

You also have to remember that It’s not enough to just learn the skills. You have to use them, and you have to be prepared to showcase your expertise in effective ways. When you walk into that interview, you want to be ready for anything. And by the time you leave, you want to be confident that the interviewer knows everything about you that you want them to know.

Stay tuned for the next article in our series, when we discuss “Talking the Talk!”

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To view a video recording of our conversation with Jamaal and Xi, please see below!