71. Moving lanes: How to make career changes without going backward, featuring Donna Burr.

career change career planning job hunting women's career Mar 01, 2021
The Job Hunting Podcast Episode 71

It's entirely possible to change lanes in your career, and you can and should consider changing sectors, industries and even transferring your skills to a completely different profession. 

But how can you do that smartly? And when is the Right Time to do it?  How do you position yourself for a significant change? 

  1. It's essential to be on the lookout when opportunities come knocking at your door. They may pass you by, and you won't even notice. Or
  2. You need to want it and strategically prepare yourself for the move. 

We address both of these strategies in this episode (number 71) of The Job Hunting Podcast. I interview Donna Burr, a Partner at Watermark Search International. In addition to being an experienced recruiter in the interim executive management practice helping professionals transition careers day in, day out, Donna herself has successfully changed lanes in her career a few times. Donna has cleverly used opportunities to springboard herself into different roles, sectors, and industries. 

Listening to this episode, and reading the blog below, is an opportunity to learn from her experience. How did she transition from one profession to another? What tips can you get from her to help you do the same?

How did "Donna, the accountant" become "Donna, the human resources expert"?

  1. She realized what she liked and what she didn't like to do. Donna realized that she was not passionate about accounting and auditing, and it was not something she wanted to pursue for the rest of her career. She realized she was more curious about other parts of the business. 
  2. She had a mentor. Donna had a mentor who identified her transferrable skills and pointed out that a world beyond accounting and auditing was within her reach if she was willing to make a move. 
  3. She found a stepping stone into her new area. Her step into human resources was through training and development: she was training accountants in the organization, which allowed her to transition into human resources smoothly. After that initial entry, she transitioned into other areas of human resources management.

How to identify your transferable skills?

In Donna's case, she had a mentor point out what her traits or superpowers were, which helped her transfer her skills and develop new expertise. But you don't need a mentor to do that. Here are her tips for other ways to find out what your superpowers are:

  1. Ask the following question to friends and colleagues you trust, worked with, and who have known you for several years: What kind of problem or job would they immediately think of you to help them with? 
  2. Self-reflection: During your career, what type of problems are continually thrown your way to solve?

Once you get the answers to these two questions, look for patterns. Your superpowers will be in the answers. Then, you need to develop a narrative and understanding of what they mean in terms of skills you can transfer to a different workplace.

Be ready to accept the answers you will get. Those superpowers might not be what you expected or wanted to hear. Most likely, it will not be "leadership" or anything grandiose! It would be best if you took the feedback on with interest and curiosity. Listen and spend time reflecting on it; it's what people have seen over a long time. 

What to do when you don't have industry experience?

What happens when you have been working in an industry all your life, and now you find not many jobs advertised in that industry? You need to start looking for jobs in sectors and companies unfamiliar to you, but the job title and the responsibilities are within your skills and experience. How do you position yourself to compete with other candidates who have industry or sector experience?

  1. Don't just send job applications anywhere are everywhere! Find out which industry or sector you want to work for, and focus on one or two only.
  2. Once you have niched down, think about what problems that sector is facing. Do your research, read the news, ask your network, be informed. 
  3. Connect with professionals who work in the sector or industry you are targeting. Are there people in that sector that you can meet? Are there professional bodies that you should be connected to within that sector?
  4. Now that you know the sector well, what skills can you use to help organizations solve their critical problems? Donna says, "You've got to take the time to understand and marry how your superpowers can come and support them."
  5. Will you be comfortable helping this sector solve its problems? Is working for this sector aligned with your values? Your head may be in it, but if the heart's not in it, that will come through in your job application or interview. 
  6. Donna reminded us of something we have heard before in previous interviews of The Job Hunting Podcast "Never answer a prospective employer and tell them, 'I can do anything.' This is not helpful. The Tighter you can be about your strengths or superpowers, the more likely it is that people will be able to help you, and an employer will be able to see where you could potentially fit."

Parenthood and career transitions: finding the work-life balance through career changes.

I asked Donna if some of her decisions to change lanes in her career were driven by a need to find a work-life balance, managing motherhood, and career progression. Her answer was yes: "Time is finite. When you're spending time on something, you're trading it off somewhere else. You need to be consciously aware that you're trading that off. Without a doubt, everybody needs to do their inventory with their partner around their energy and capacity for work." 

Professional women often feel torn between making decisions about motherhood and career advancement. Many self-doubts and feelings or expectations that mothers need to step back when their kids are young. There's also a cultural belief and workplace assumption that they will not be able to manage motherhood and career progression. 

"It's two separate conversations: a) whether you're capable for the senior role, and b) how much time, the working arrangement, and the flexibility you need to deliver to that role is a very different question. Work out the boundaries that work for you, be clear on them, and do not be apologetic for them," says Donna.

Dealing with ageism when job-hunting?

There are two ways to address ageism when job-hunting:

  1. Stay current - Donna often hears a candidate that says, "I've been a CFO for 40 years. I've got 40 years of experience.' Although that shows extensive experience, it is important to showcase what you have been working on for the past three to five years. What are problems have you solved? How are you getting across digitization in your area of expertise? What are the fundamental changes you're seeing? In the example, Donna used above, "What are the global issues that are impacting CFOs these days?"

    Donna agrees that age gives you the war wounds: the experience and perspective to come into an organization and stay calm under pressure. But staying current and up to date will enable you to hit the ground running and blend it with the team.

    So how are you skilling, re-skilling, or cross-skilling? Are you involved in networking groups or professional organizations? How are you improving your digital literacy?

  2. Network - According to Donna, your network's strength will be a lead indicator of your success in finding your next role. If you're in the market for a job, you need to let your network know. Therefore, it's important to keep your network current and connected, regularly engaging, not expecting it to be transactional, or only connecting with people when you need something from them. It's a two-way street. Make sure you're helping others as much as asking for their support. 

What are the 2021 job market trends?

Donna believes the market has been slowly bouncing back since November of 2020. The disruption caused by the pandemic in 2020 showed organizations that they can rely on their technology, people, and systems to continue operating under extreme conditions. It wasn't perfect, but the changes we experienced at concise notice, such as a large proportion of the workforce working off-site, showed amazing strength and trust in the systems in place. Donna believes that in 2021, as we bring workers back to the office, we may be able to launch a different proposition in the way we work, operate, and service customers. There is cautious optimism in Melbourne at least, and this is good news for job-hunters. 

The optimized job search schedule is gold dust.

Donna and I discussed the importance of a tremendous job-hunting routine to speed up results. If you're an executive or a job hunter in transition, be disciplined about your week. You need a reason to get up in the morning, a rhythm to the week. It would be best to read the news, map out those sectors you're interested in and who you need to connect with. You should be looking at your digital profile, your resume and seeking the help that you need. If possible, you should be getting out and speaking to people, be it virtually or in person. Be disciplined about it. There's no short, quick, fast way to do this.

To help you understand what tasks you should be doing each week to optimize your job search and choose the best routine for you, download the Optimized Job Search Schedule for free.

For some, the job market is still very competitive. It can be frustrating and demoralizing when you're getting knock-backs or just feeling like you're not making progress. Still, be patient, keep the discipline, believe in yourself, surround yourself with people who will help and support you.  Donna and I firmly believe that if you focus on all those things, you'll start seeing conversions, leads, and opportunities coming your way! You have to put in the hard work. No one's more interested in you finding a job than you. It's not the recruiter's job; it's not your friend's job; it's not your network's job to find you a role.   

Episode Timestamps:

  • 08.24 - Donna's career journey
  • 12.05 - Donna's career transitions
  • 16.31 - How to identify your strengths and superpowers?
  • 19.07 - Accepting your strengths.
  • 21.29 - What is 'executive search'? Is it the same as recruitment?
  • 25.22 - How Donna helps executives change sectors
  • 30.25 - How to niche down into another sector
  • 32.45 - Parenthood and career transitions
  • 37.51 - Ageism and job-hunting: How to address it
  • 43.46 - 2021 trends in the job market
  • 50.26 - Optimized job search template is gold dust 

About our guest, Donna Burr:

Donna's experience and passion for seeing businesses thrive have led her role at Watermark Search International, placing senior executives into interim assignments within companies which can benefit from their vast experience, professional guardianship, and excellent specialist skills.

Her background combines 25 years in chartered accounting, assurance & advisory, and human resources partnering with businesses. Early in her journey, she acquired local and global experience across financial services, manufacturing, utilities, and the not-for-profit sectors. She has curiosity, authenticity, and a passion for making things better, which has seen her involved in major transformational and performance work for many corporates. She advocates for purpose-led business management, well-being, and economic empowerment for women.

Donna has been a partner in Watermark's Interim Management Practice since 2018, deploying senior-level interim executives in both private and public sectors. She focuses on CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CIOs, change & turnaround professionals, senior Finance, HR, Operations, Legal & IT executives. She has completed interim management search assignments across various industries, including Financial Services, Government agencies, Peak Member and Regulatory bodies, Not-for-Profit, Healthcare, Energy, and Utilities.

 Links mentioned in this episode:

Are you new to The Job Hunting Podcast? 

Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach corporate, non-profit, and public professionals the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress. 

If you are 1) an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, 2) looking to find your next job or promotion, or 3) you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running – then this podcast is for you. In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients. 

So there is no excuse – I’m determined to help you! I want you to feel empowered, nail your next job, and have the career you want.

Enjoy the episode, and ciao for now!


Renata Bernarde | Job Hunting Expert

[email protected]


I cannot recommend it highly enough.

To my friends and colleagues who are currently job hunting, this podcast is for you. Renata Bernarde and her stellar line up of guests very generously share their perspective, advice, behind-the-scene secrets, tips, and anecdotes. "It's called The Job Hunting Podcast (it is what it says on the tin!) Guests include Anita Ziemer, Michelle Redfern, Mohit Bhargava. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Run. Don't Walk." - LinkedIn post shared by Amber Knight.

We listened, and we both got jobs!

"I am writing to let you know that I got a job. I found The Job Hunting Podcast because a friend of mine recommended it, and he also was successful in his job search. Your podcast tips and chats with guests helped me prepare for my job interview. My new position is a gateway to the organization and will allow me to grow as a professional. Thank you for the incredible work you do! We listened to your episodes and assimilated all the learnings." - Listener from New Zealand.

207. Modernizing Job Applications: Leveraging AI, LinkedIn, and Exp...

206. Strategies for Managing Career Transitions

205. Unlocking SME Career Opportunities: Navigating Small Business ...

204. How to become a gig executive: An interview with Werkling foun...

Don't miss my weekly newsletter! 

Every Tuesday, I'll send you the latest episode of The Job Hunting Podcast, as well as a curated list of news and articles. This way, you will have the best collection of career tips and advice automated to your inbox. You can now focus on assimilating the best content rather than searching for it. And have time to enjoy your life as well!


"I wanted to pass on the news that I start my new role on Monday - and to thank you for the great resources and inspiration you provided, which I found so helpful." - Kate, newsletter subscriber.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.