Is A Career Change Realistic Or Naïve?

Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC
August 24, 2022

Columbia Career Coaches Network's Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC answers a question about career change and how to negotiate your thoughts versus those of recruiters when considering a career change. 

How do I know if the career change I am picturing is a reasonable aspirational goal or going to be viewed as naïve or arrogant? – Nikki

Who cares what other people think?

Of course, you should care what other people think because people hire people. Unless you’re starting your own company and that’s how you’re going to make your career change—and even then, if you’re going to start your own thing and hire yourself, really, it’s your customers that are hiring you, so you always care in a way about what other people think.

The first step in answering this question about whether a career change is realistic or naïve is to get your arms around whether you think it’s realistic or naïve. Do a pulse check around what it is you want to change—whether it’s you want to do what you’re doing but enter into a new industry or you want to stay in the industry you’re in but you want to do a new role (let’s say go from marketing to sales or go from finance to HR). You might be changing both of these things—you might be entering a new industry and you might be trying to do a different role.

Whatever you’re defining as your career change, what do you think about it? Do you feel like you have the skills and the expertise to do it and all you need is that chance to do it? Or do you think it’s a bridge too far?

The reason why I start here is that the first person you need to convince about your career change is yourself. If you can’t do that, you’re going to walk into not just an interview if you happen to get one, but even a networking meeting or a career fair or a conference in your new career area of choice and you are not going to be convincing. You’re not convincing, not because of what the other people are thinking of you, but because of what you think of yourself.

So, take a step back and remind yourself that this career change is realistic. Remind yourself of all those reasons why your pivot is realistic to bolster your confidence.

What are you going to say about your career change?

The second element to Nikki’s question is what you think versus what you say. It’s not enough just to think a career change is realistic in your heart of hearts. To have that confidence is where to start, but then as you move into the world, people hire people. You will have to say the right things that will get other people to think that this career change is realistic as opposed to naïve or arrogant. What are some of those things that you’re going to say?

The things to say are going to be about your skills and expertise for this new role. You’re going to actually banish the word “new” from your vocabulary because, if I’m looking at your resume and you’ve never been in this industry before or you’ve never done this role, or both of these things, then I’m going to know that you’re new. What I want to hear is:  How are you planning to be productive?

From day one, you want to demonstrate skills and expertise and not just promise that you’re going to learn the skill or expertise. If you say that you’re a fast learner, what employers hear is that you’re essentially going to learn on their dime.

If you don’t have specific examples of how you already know this industry or role, or both, what you say can be a demonstration of how much you know about that new area. In that way, it’s not a new area for you. You’ve already been in and around it, just not in terms of a full-time job.

How you are going to be productive from day one?

Finally, I alluded to this before when I said what you need to say is how you are going to be productive from day one:  how is the most important question to answer.

In the beginning, it’s about your confidence in your new area. You’re trying to clearly define what is it that you want to do—what industry? What role? Where am I going to be working? When am I going to make this transition? Why do I want to do it? What is going to get me through the ups and downs of a career change?

That’s all your planning. Those questions are all for you. For the employer, the recruiters, and the people that are going to be making the decisions to hire you, “how” is the most important question. How are you going to do this job? They want to know that you’re not going to be learning on their time, on their dime. How you will approach the software that they use, the processes that are customary in this line of work, and the ups and downs that you will face on the job.

Addressing the how is where you can demonstrate relevant skills and expertise because you have been researching the industry, that role, that specific company and you can speak to employers, recruiters, and decision-makers as if you are already an insider.

You have a plan for how you’re going to approach your early days in that new job. For the employer, it takes away the risk of hiring you. Minimizing the risk of hiring a career changer is the name of the game.

See yourself in this new career

Really think to yourself, “Yes, I can be in this career” so that others can see you in that new career. You become less a career changer or outsider, but rather already an insider. Get your mindset correct, but also demonstrate skills and expertise by answering that question: How will I be productive from day one?

All of this can happen when you see yourself in this new career and therefore see the strengths that you’re going to bring to your next employer. You can identify the gaps that you have either in your knowledge or in personal attributes, things that you need to learn, and you can start to address these even before you get hired for a specific job

That’s how you’re going to know this is a realistic goal for you. You are doing the work already. You are taking the proper steps and not being naïve because you jumping in and getting some firsthand, real-time experience. You can see yourself doing this as a new career, and therefore others will be able to see you in this new career as well.


Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a longtime recruiter turned career coach and media expert on the job market. She has coached executives from Amazon, American Express, Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, Tesla, and other leading firms. She has been a repeat TV guest on CBS, CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business and has been quoted in major media outlets, including BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, NPR, and Success Magazine. Ceniza-Levine is a career columnist for Forbes and formerly wrote for,, CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of three books, including Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career.

Learn more about Caroline Ceniza-Levine and the Columbia Career Coaches Network.