signpost with knowledge, skills and experience

Top Tip 1: identify relevant skills and experience

Do you want to get into change management and are looking for your first business change role?

Are you a victim of the age-old conundrum: you can’t get a job until you have experience, and you can’t get experience until you have a job?

Luckily, business change management requires a lot of similar skills as many other people-facing jobs. This means that you may have more relevant skills and experience than you think. Let’s look at two of the most common business change job requirements:

 Experience of stakeholder engagement

Business change management is all about dealing with people. You will need to be able to identify all the people who will be involved in or affected by your change (your stakeholders). You will then need to be able to engage effectively with them, taking into account a range of personalities, motivations, attitudes and expectations. Misunderstandings, conflict and resistance can be rife in business change.  Behavioural skills needed include:

  • relationship building
  • empathy
  • managing conflict
  • influencing
  • communication

Employers will be looking for the ability to identify, understand and work positively with a wide range of people. They will want examples of where you have coped constructively with difficult personalities and differences of opinion. A common business change interview question is “Give an example of when you have had to deal with a difficult stakeholder. How did you handle it?”

Stakeholder management skills are needed in many jobs outside of business change management. Therefore, you may find that you have plenty of experience in this area, especially if you have ever done any of the following:

  • Team/line management
  • Customer-facing roles such as sales, customer services, account management
  • Teaching and training
  • Any roles where you have to work with other people, either as part of a team or as a leader

One of the most successful business change managers I ever appointed had a background in catering. She had spent years dealing calmly with a wide range of staff and customers under pressurised circumstances. The skills and experiences she had developed translated wonderfully into the tricky world of stakeholder engagement during change.

What if I do not have a people-facing job?

Even if you do not have a people-facing work role, you may have lots of experience of stakeholder management in other areas of your life. For example:

  • did you hold an organisational role in a society at school or university?
  • do you sit on your local school’s parent-teacher association?
  • do you volunteer with a local community group, e.g the Scouts?

I once interviewed a young office administrator who wanted to get into business change management. Whilst his job was very desk-based, he spent his spare time volunteering for a local community youth radio in a deprived area of London. He spent most of his time motivating disaffected young people to work as a team. It was an excellent grounding for the challenges of working with difficult stakeholders in controversial change initiatives.

Experience of managing business change

Initiating change in organisations is difficult and risky. Understandably, employers will want evidence that you know what is involved. When you work in change, you need to cope with uncertainty, perform under pressure, deal with last minute changes, solve problems and take risks. And this is before  you even start engaging with your stakeholders!

Employers will be looking for an understanding of the effort that is needed to manage people through change, including:

  • the need to keep everyone updated and involved
  • dealing with people who may be unhappy with the change
  • supporting people through uncertainty
  • building support by explaining why the change needs to happen and creating a positive vision of the future

They will want to see that you understand that change can be difficult for people, and recognise the need for them to be involved and their opinions and feelings respected.

Think deeply and you may have more experience of business change than you first think. For example, have you:

  • led a team when your organisation has been going through a change?
  • been the super user, change champion or subject matter expert for any changes in your oganisation?
  • held the role of staff or union representative when company policies or processes have changed?
  • ever had a good idea for doing something differently in your team which you then successfully instigated?

All these are legitimate examples of managing business change and could make great illustrations for most applications. For example, I have employed a teacher who represented her school when the national curriculum was updated, and a legal case worker who managed her team through an office move. Both gave excellent accounts at interview of how they supported their colleagues through difficult and emotional change.

What if I have no experience of business change?

If you don’t have relevant experience of business change, you may need to actively seek some. The best way is to get involved with any changes that are happening at work. For example, could  you instigate some improvements to the way your team currently works?  Or perhaps you could volunteer to represent your colleagues in any formal change programmes within your organisation.

If this is not possible, you could gain experience outside of work.  There are many charities and community groups who need help and would give you valuable experience of managing change for a few hours a week or month. As a regular recruiter of business change staff, I would look with great interest at an applicant who wanted to get into business change so much that they volunteered outside work to get experience.

What do I do next?

As this post has illustrated, you do not need to have worked formally in a business change role to get many of the skills and experience needed to work in business change.

Go through the list of required skills and experience for the jobs you are interested in and try to find examples from any aspect of your life. Think laterally about all your experiences, not just the obvious work-related things. Go through the list with a friend or colleague who knows you well and they may come up with something you would not have thought of. If there are any gaps in your experience, see if you can fill them imaginatively at work or outside. Use as many varied and interesting examples to illustrate your skills and experience as you can  – this will help attract the attention of your potential employer and may lead to you securing your first business change role.