I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking that once you chose a career, that was it. For life. So you better choose wisely.
But this simply isn’t true. If you’ve found a path you absolutely love and you can’t see yourself ever wanting (or needing) to go off course, that’s great. But if you haven’t, that’s perfectly OK, too. In fact, it’s probably much more common.
But even though changing careers has become more accepted over the years, it’s still pretty intimidating.
So, I spoke to five of our amazing career coaches who specialize in making that move to gather some tips on doing it—and doing it right.
1. Figure Out What You Want (and Can) Do Next
When it comes to someone considering a career change, the first thing the person should do is think about his or her day-to-day responsibilities—what comes the most easily and what’s the thing he or she enjoys the most? They aren’t always the same thing, but there’s often a connection between the two.
Sometimes knowing what direction you want to go in next is the hardest part. Sure, you know you no longer like your current position, but that doesn’t mean a new dream field falls from the sky. As Hopkins suggests, you should look at what you truly like doing. What are your favorite hobbies or topics of conversation? What activities do you participate in for free? Is there any overlap at all between those answers and your skill set? As you ask yourself these questions, a few potential jobs ideas (however vague) should appear.
2. Determine What You Have to Offer
It's essential to recognize that when you embark on the career change, everything you've done so far in your current role or career could be a unique selling proposition that sets you apart from more traditional applicants. Instead of seeing your job now as an irrelevant stumbling block, see it as a diverse foundation that gives you a deep well to draw from in the new role, industry, or company.
It’s easy to feel stuck in the current position you have. I really want to work with animals, but I’m a data analyst for a sneaker company. What does that have to do with anything? Godfred points out that you need to step back from the current role you’re in and break down the required skills. Literally, make a list.
Sure, animals don’t need sneakers, but I’m sure there’s at least one humane society out there in need of someone good with numbers. Or, to take it even further, perhaps the reason you are good at being a data analyst is because you’re super organized and detail-oriented. An animal rescue league will value those traits when keeping track of all the different services their animals need—feedings, shots, veterinarian visits, foster homes, and so forth.
3. Create Your Own Side Gig if You’re Lacking Skills
Usually, when making a career change, the goal is to move into an industry that we’re more passionate about. But, most of us are too scared to reach out to companies we love because we don't feel like our current jobs have given us the necessary industry knowledge to get that role we want. This is why creating a side project that fosters your personal interests is essential. When everyone else is ‘talking’ about the things they like during the interview, you'll be coming in with proof that you not only love these things, but you’ve also taken action to make them a part of your life.
But, I don’t have any experience. Yes, it’s hard to land a job in an unrelated field when you haven’t worked in it before. But, here’s the thing: You don’t have to be paid or have a company-matched 401(k) to build relevant skills. According to McGovern, you should create your own opportunities. You can do this on your own (e.g., you want to write more, so you start a blog), you can volunteer with an organization that caters to your interests, or you can even take on a part-time internship with flexible hours. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it if it gets you closer to what you want to do.
4. Embrace the Journey (Because it Might Take a While)
You won’t have all the answers and may not have the perfect plan, but each step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. The pieces will eventually come together. Don’t get discouraged.
This change is likely not going to be straightforward, but, as Turner says, each move you make is bringing you closer to your end goal. Even if the next position you take ends up not being “the one,” it’s helping you chip away at the block to uncover what your ideal job really is. Look for the clues in everything you do.
For instance, let’s say you start volunteering at the local animal shelter and realize you don’t actually want to work there. Does that mean you failed? Nope. It means you found at least one more piece to your “dream career puzzle.” Perhaps you loved being around the animals, but the nonprofit life just wasn’t for you. Or, maybe you realized you love having animals as pets, but that’s about it. Whatever it is you didn’t like about it, put it on the “do not like” list and use it as valuable intel to move forward.
5. Keep at It
I began my career as an attorney working on death penalty cases. Then I opened a bakery. After that I ran an award-winning landscape design company. Pretty dramatic career changes! Each one required tons of hard work, careful planning, and a lot of faith. When I felt overwhelmed, I would remind myself: What I am trying to do is difficult, but not impossible. Every door can be unlocked. Keep repeating that to yourself because it’s absolutely true. There’s always a way. But first, you’ve got to get your mindset in right place.
There are going to be times where you think you’ve hit a wall and you’ll just want to give up. But don’t. You began this journey for a reason, and turning back will only take you back to where you started—unhappy and dissatisfied. And who wants that? If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t throw in the towel. Find another way, sign up for another class, ask another person to coffee, read one more book from someone you admire. What might seem like a small gesture (downloading an inspirational podcast someone recommended) could end up unlocking the door you thought would never open.
There’s no exact formula for finding the right career, nor is there one for transitioning from one field to another. But if you want to do it, you should. Just make sure you take the time to really think about where you want to go next. After all, it’s your permanent calling (just kidding!). Good luck!
Abby is a writer, career coach, and health educator living in Portland, Maine. When she’s not trying to make the world a happier and healthier place, you can find her cuddling with her cats, hunting down the city's best coffee and grilled cheese, or dipping her toes in the Atlantic. Say hi on Twitter .More from this Author