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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

Your Quick Start Guide to Successfully Switching Careers in 5 Weeks

changing seasons

In a previous life, I was a recruiter. In a previous life before that, I worked in ad operations. And in a previous life before that, I worked in account management. But, as cliché as this may sound, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. However, as I got further into my career, I was at a complete loss for a way to do that and still pay my bills. So, to make sure I could at least pay my rent, I used the few other marketable skills I had to make a living.

Not surprisingly, I often worried that I’d never find that dream job. And worse, I started wondering if I was actually OK with that. The short answer to that was no. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be one right away. Trying to find time to pursue my passion after work and on the weekends simply wasn’t working, and the more I tried, the closer I got to burning out. So, I quit my job and decided to just write full-time.

Well, that might be an exaggeration. I quit my job and struggled a lot before becoming said writer.

A few years into doing this full-time, I’ve started realizing that if I had planned a little more for my transition out of recruiting and into my dream job, it would have been a lot less stressful, and it maybe would’ve happened a little sooner.

While I don’t get a redo, here’s a five-week quick start guide to making the jump from a full-time job to a (potentially) full-time freelance career—all based on what I learned along the way during my own. Seriously, no matter how antsy you are to just do it, take the time to get everything in order.

Week 1: Get Your Budget Under Control

Making a career change is stressful enough on its own. It’s even harder when you can’t pay your rent.

I know what you’re probably thinking: “My income won’t be steady for a while. What’s the point in budgeting?” And if that’s what you’re thinking, the fact that your income might be unsteady for a while is exactly why you should be figuring out what you currently spend, as well as what you can cut.

Getting out in front of your finances will help you find ways to stretch what’s currently sitting in your bank account—and if you figure out it won’t last you very long, you’ll at least know when you need to start considering temporary work to bridge the gap. Even if temp work becomes a necessity at some point, having this financial roadmap will really help you sleep more soundly at night as you dive into the uncertain waters of your career change. (Related: Are You Financially Ready to Freelance?)

Week 2: Set Up Your New Brand

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in your work that you pay a little less attention to your online presence. And it makes sense, right? Unless you’re actively looking for a new job, that out-of-date LinkedIn profile isn’t as huge of a deal. But now that you’ve decided to start pursuing a career change, it’s time to get your personal branding tools in tip-top shape.

That doesn’t just mean updating your LinkedIn profile. That means Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. And no, I’m not being facetious about that. While it’s perfectly OK to have a sense of humor on all of these platforms (trust me, take a look at my Twitter and you’ll know how hard I try to be funny sometimes), take the time to make sure you’re representing yourself and your new career correctly. Now that you’re attempting to change directions, you need to double-check that online brand matches your brand IRL. After all, this is how potential clients will learn who you are and what you do.

Week 3: Tell Everyone You Know You’re Making a Career Change

In my experience, one of the first things people tend to ask at parties is what I do for a living. And when I was transitioning, it made me really sad to not have a clear answer. So, I tried my hardest to dodge the question for a while. But, if I hadn’t spoken up, I might have never heard about what ended up becoming my first paid writing gig.

I know it’s cliché, but it’s really hard to know where your next opportunity will come from. It’s easy to think that you should only target certain types of people to network with, because there’s no way that friend of yours in finance has a connection that could get you the job you’ve always wanted (unless, of course, you want to be in finance). However, the first writing gig I landed? I was connected to that job by a friend of mine who’s a programmer.

Note: Make sure before you start spreading the word that you’ve told your current company your plan. You want to be the first to tell them you’re leaving (and why).

Week 4: Make Sure You’re as Ready as Can Be

Seek out as many resources as you can. Three years ago, I didn’t know the first thing about writing content. But once I started actively looking for information—and figured out that I really enjoy it—I threw myself into as many free online courses as I could. So, try the same. You’ll be surprised by just how much knowledge you end up gaining, even after your career gets started. It’s as easy as subscribing to the right industry newsletters, following the correct people on Twitter, and signing up for the right classes.

In addition to that, make sure you’re equipped with the right tools. If your wireless router is on the fritz, or that laptop screen just won’t display anything that’s not in black and white, find room in your budget to get these things fixed. You have enough to learn about that thing you’ve always wanted to make a career out of—don’t make it harder on yourself by relying on equipment that’s just not quite up to par.

Week 5: Catch Up on Your Netflix Queue (and Anything Else You’ve Been Putting Off)

No, seriously.

If you’re getting ready to leave your desk job to work from home, you should know that the temptation of your TV remote (and assorted errands on your to-do list) will be very real. It would be unnatural to ignore it completely, so give yourself a couple days to give in to this need and get through your to-do list. Doing so will help you recharge before you really go after the career you want. Seriously, you have no idea how tempting all those chores you never wanted to do will be when you’re home all day.

But this next part is important: Have a friend or family member keep you accountable to having only a week to do this. If you’re anything like me, not having someone around to call you out when you’ve watched too much How I Met Your Mother or spent too much time reorganizing your closet is a good way to never get around to your shiny new career.

A career change can be really, really scary—especially when you’ve decided to leave your job to pursue it. I can’t promise it’ll be easy; if anything, I’m pretty sure you’ll have a lot of peaks and valleys throughout the process. However, there is such a thing as taking a leap and being as prepared as possible. You can do both, and even if it takes a little more time than you originally planned, you’re too talented for things not to work themselves out in one way or another.