When I left my job as a recruitment consultant in 2003 I had some vague ideas about what I wanted to do next - but I wasn't totally clear. I knew it was going to be some kind of consulting / coaching / training 'thing', but looking back, I wasn't really that clear. But if I had waited around until I knew precisely what I wanted and had all my 'ducks in a row' I would have stayed stuck in the same place for years.
But if I shared exactly what I'd got planned (or NOT planned!) with others, I'm sure they would have thought I was mad and attempted to hold me back. So I came up with a 'cover story' - a vague (yet plausible) answer to that awkward question: "so what are you doing these days?" or the "what are you planning to do next?" question.
I believe everyone that makes a career change or starts up in business needs a cover story at some stage. A cover story is a 'line' you use to answer the "so what are you doing these days? or "what do you plan to do next?" question when your making a change but are not totally clear about what you're going to change into. You could say it's a little white lie or half truth you tell others (and yourself!) because it speeds up your career transition.
Here are 5 reasons why career changers need a cover story:
1. The cover story stops you from 'hiding'
Many career changers (and indeed job searchers) avoid social functions or networking opportunities simply because they can't answer the "so what do you do?" question. But avoiding such situations slows down your career change. You need to be meeting more people, not less in order to make new contacts and gain new ideas.
But once you have a plausible cover story and can answer the 'so what do you do?' question, you'll have the confidence to get out there meeting people and identify different opportunities. All of which (in time) will help you make a faster career transition.
2. The cover story stops you worrying about what people think
Partners, family, friends and colleagues may mean well - but they sometimes become the biggest barrier to a successful career change.Their own fears and concerns about change and uncertainty translate into holding you back. You're so worried about 'what people will think' that you get paralysed and just do nothing. Or you simply drag your feet out of fear.
But a good cover story helps keep those around you calm whilst also helping them answer the "so what's sital doing these days?" question.
3. The cover story buys you some time and space to explore/experiment
Anyone making a major career change needs both the time and space to investigate, research, experiment and figure out what it is they want to do.
Having a cover story buys you this time and space. It stops people constantly asking "so have you decided what to do yet?" (so annoying) and stops you telling yourself "...right, I have to make my career change by xyz date" (career transitions rarely work to a timetable).
4. The cover story enables you to change your mind
I don't know a single career changer that hasn't got 'flaky' at some stage and changed their mind about what they planned to do. That's just part of the process. Which is why having a broad cover story gives you some breathing space to change your mind as you know the cover story is just that - a cover story.
5. The cover story helps you create opportunities
When I left my job 2003, I spent time catching up with friends and contacts over coffee/lunch (one of my favourite pass times!). Whilst I wasn't totally sure about what I was going to do next, I did have a cover story - and it was that cover story that helped me secure my first consulting project through an ex-colleague who I'd lunched with.
Although I wasn't totally clear on what I planned to transition into, she a) knew me well and b) she had a vague idea of what I was planning to do next because I had a cover story.
From personal experience I know that making a career change can be a scary, lonley and frustrating journey to go through - especially when you don't really know what it is you want to do. But here's the thing, you don't need to know!
You don't need to have it all worked out. You just need a cover story that enables you to get out there taking some next steps, meeting people, investigating ideas, test driving different career options and jobs. And when you keep taking those next steps the ideas, the clarity and opportunities will start coming to you.
So what's your cover story?