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Interview With Ana Billian ‒ How To Change Careers Successfully

Ana Billian is the founder of Workmazing, a career and personal branding strategist, and a diversity and inclusion leader at a Fortune 100 company.


Having designed and led numerous talent and recruiting programs—including targeted initiatives for candidates with a nontraditional background—she made it her mission to make the hiring process inclusive and open to candidates with non-linear career paths.


Ana has developed a signature framework for helping career changers reinvent themselves professionally and position themselves as top choice candidates at their favorite organizations, without having to start from scratch. She has coached hundreds of professionals, helping them get clear on their unique awesomeness proposition, step into more prominent roles, or make a successful career pivot.


Ana’s career advice was featured in Business Insider, Thrive Global, and prominent podcasts and radio shows. Her Workmazing vlog features conversations with the world’s leading experts in career and leadership.

You’ve built an impressive career at Fortune 500 companies—from finance to a VP of learning and development, to a diversity and inclusion leader, to a coach to top executives and high performers. What would you say has been the defining moment in your career so far?


There were many defining moments in my career, but there is one that stands out to me because it led me to aligning my work with my personal why: Helping professionals and leaders reinvent themselves professionally so they can create a career that matches their personality, lifestyle, and values.


As someone who has reinvented herself multiple times, I know that feeling when you’ve outgrown the old you but have so many doubts about stepping into the new, future you. Many people never create the life they truly want for themselves because they are afraid to make that change. And they are not to blame: One of our brain’s main goals is to keep us safe, and often we are more willing to tolerate the pain we know than to face the fear of the unfamiliar.


This is a lesson I learned while collaborating with experts in neuroscience to develop learning and coaching programs for high-level leaders and top performers. I was fascinated by how insights from brain research helped these individuals transform their career from good to great. That’s when I realized that such knowledge should be accessible to everyone, not just the elite group of people who have access to million-dollar learning budgets.


Fast-forward to today, I founded Workmazing and continue to use this knowledge to help professionals make the leap toward the new challenge and life they know they are ready for.


What are the greatest challenges you see people face when wanting to make a big career transition?


When I ask my clients about their challenges, they will mention challenges like feeling stuck and not knowing what’s next, fear of having to accept a demotion, self-doubt, and companies not being able to see them for who they want to be but only for who they have been before. Also, it’s not uncommon for career changers to experience anxiety once they start evaluating their current life and past choices.


Then there are the deeper challenges that are often unconscious and that are the actual root causes of individuals not being able to make the change they want. I’ve worked with hundreds of professionals and identified four main blockers that more than 95% of people experience when going through a change.


What are those career change blockers?


While most people tend to face all four blockers at various stages of their career transition, one blocker is usually dominant in their everyday behavior. For example, one of those blockers is the Inner Protector Blocker. People with the Inner Protector as their dominant blocker often look at their career through what is called the prevention lens, having a strong focus on minimizing risks and failures.


While this can be helpful in making informed decisions, it also can stall their career progress. I always tell my clients they will recognize the Inner Protector in action when they catch themselves thinking: What if I fail?


When you are looking to reinvent yourself, your inner blocker shows up in how you approach your career change strategy, communicate with others, and in how your use your strengths. For example, when you want to apply for a job or a promotion, you may feel anxious because your mind wants to know: What will happen if I fail?


Your Inner Protector also wants to protect you from getting too big or too visible, because that means you could face rejection. And that again leads to you ignoring or downplaying those strengths of yours that are your true superpowers, or even to stop paying attention to your strengths altogether because secretly you’re afraid you won’t be successful if you put them into action.


People with the Inner Protector often feel drained, and they procrastinate because the uncertainty about what could go wrong makes them feel anxious and blocks them from making progress.


What can people do to overcome these blockers and make the career change they want?


It all begins with implementing a full-spectrum career strategy that addresses the three levels of career success:


Level 1 is what I call The Real You. This is all about meeting yourself at a deep level and understanding what you are capable of if your blocker wasn’t holding you back. That’s when you enter flow.


Level 2 is The Social You, and it is all about understanding how you’re perceived by others—hiring managers, your boss, your co-workers—because of your blocker. Research shows that 50% of people see themselves differently from how others see them. An important part of reinvention is being clear on your current brand and the possible blind spots you may have. This is true both for your offline brand (how you communicate and show up and meetings and interviews) and your digital presence.


This insight can help you to influence the perception other people have of you. By that, I don’t mean to manipulate others, but rather to help them see your true potential without the shadow of your blocker.


And finally, Level 3 is what I call The Aligned You: When who you really are—the powerful you without your blocker—matches how you see yourself and how others see you, you become unstoppable. You become that top talent that companies want to hire and invest in—again and again and again.


The internet is not short on hacks and tips on how to master your career. But if you don’t master the three levels, you will not project the energy companies look for in top candidates, even if you have the best interview scripts in the world.

Speaking of job interviews, what are the top mistakes career changers make when talking to hiring managers?


One mistake people do is looking at their skills and previous experience as a weakness because they can’t see how it relates to their new role of choice. But research shows that most forward-looking companies value learning agility over traditional experience. Your job as a career changer is to turn your Achilles’ heel into your greatest asset. Instead of hiding your “weakness” or hoping no one will mention it, bring it to the forefront of the conversation.


For example, when I pivoted from finance to human resources, I made the case about helping HR become a data-driven function by using benchmarking and advanced analytics. Once I was in HR, I took on creative projects in talent and leadership development to showcase my creative side and my skills as a facilitator. That’s what led me to the position of the VP in learning and development and later of an executive coach.


That’s an interesting career pivot. What inspired you to change from one classically trained field such as finance to human resources?

My curiosity. When I was 26 years old, I turned down the promotion to the head of the finance department to move to another country and start in human resources, almost totally from scratch. My colleagues thought I was out of my mind. They tried to explain me that securing a leadership position at such a young age would future-proof my career for the rest of my life. And here’s what I told them: “I know what I can expect in that role. But I have no idea what my life will look like when I say yes to work calling me right now. And that’s precisely why I’m going.”


I’ve always followed this approach to decision-making. I listened more to my curiosity than to my rational mind. And my curiosity never let me down. Having the courage to do that career move not only propelled my career in the long-term, but it also led me to meeting my husband, starting my own business, and engaging in life experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.


With that, I don’t want to say that you need to jump off a cliff without a parachute to make a meaningful change. Some people are innovation- and action-oriented, and others are more focused on mitigating risks.


None of these qualities is better than the other. I don’t want to board a plane that was not checked for malfunction by an expert who knows how to prevent the risks of a crash. I am also aware that I wouldn’t have the chance to board that plane if there were no people in this world who can envision new things and then actually create them.


I teach my clients to get real with themselves on which type they are—the adventurous or the risk-averse type? If they are the adventurous type, we spend more time on their inner work so they are sure their actions are aligned with their true values. If they are the risk-averse type, we focus more on the outer strategies that will help them start taking action towards the unknown.


What is your greatest lesson from the career transitions you made?


One year into my new role in human resources, my manager unexpectedly gave me a 40% salary raise. It wasn’t the time of the annual performance review, nor had I asked for it. When I thanked my manager, he told me that it was him who had to thank me. He said I worked hard and delivered the same—sometimes even better—results than people who have been working in human resources for a long time.


Naturally, I was very happy about the news, but I also realized that I had negotiated badly when I took on that role. I assumed I had to be modest and not ask for too much, because I believed I first needed to prove I could do the work.


The reality was that my background in finance enabled me to introduce benchmarking and data analytics to the team that were not available before. I was fortunate that my manager saw the hard work I put in, but the fact remains that I had been underpaid for a whole year.


This was a huge lesson for me: I learned that a career change doesn’t automatically mean you’re less qualified than others who have been in the field for a longer time. Whenever you make a change, you don’t start from scratch, you start from experience. And your unique story and previous experience is your greatest competitive advantage, not a weakness you need to overcome.


What advice would you give to people who are at a career crossroads but not sure what to do next?


Feeling stuck is an unpleasant feeling, but I genuinely believe it can be a good thing, because it is a sign you are evolving and growing as a person. In my experience, the best thing you can do when you feel lost is to accept the fact that it is OK to feel that way at times. Acceptance of your current state of mind creates the space for new exploration and clarity.


Keep in mind that clarity is something you don’t go out to look for and find; clarity is already at your fingertips when you remove the filters that are blocking your view. Those filters are your inner blockers that are preventing you from making the change you want. To gain more clarity on your unique blocker, take a free assessment at workmazing.com.


Once you’ve identified the blind spots that are holding you back, you’re ready to start implementing the 3-Level Career Change Framework we talked about earlier:

  1. The Real You is about your inner work and finding flow.

  2. The Social You is about your outer work: Understand how you’re perceived by others and how to shift that external perception to your favor.

  3. The Aligned You is about bringing your inner and outer work together, when your self-perception matches your true potential, and that again matches how other people see you.

For more information, visit my website and connect with me on LinkedIn and Instagram.


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