Thinking About Changing Careers?

Rachel Schneebaum

Whether your current position is just a starter job or whether you had intended it to be your last-stop dream-job, it’s not uncommon to realize that you no longer want to be doing what you’re doing, and that a switch to another company or another specialty isn’t going to be enough: what you really want is to change careers entirely. This article aims to help you organize the information you’ll need to navigate this change as easily and painlessly as possible.

It’s important to note that you can follow most of these tips and prepare yourself for a new career within the comfort of your current job—more importantly, its salary/benefits. Even if you hate your job, it’s safest to stay at least until you’ve got some promising leads lined up if not until you have a solid job offer. It’s impossible to know for certain how long your job search will take—especially if you’re switching industries dramatically—and it’s hard to focus on preparing yourself to the best of your ability when you’re worried about how you’re going to pay rent or afford healthcare. (It will also look better for your future employer if you don’t have long gap periods in your resume.) Similarly, though you might want to focus entirely on new possibilities at the expense of your work, don’t let your career change preparations compromise the quality of your work output at your current job. Remember, you’ll want to be able to list your employer(s) as references when you do start getting job offers.

It’s time to focus on your career change. If you’re not sure exactly what you want to do instead of whatever it is you’re currently doing, make a list of the things you like and dislike about your present position. These might include specific tasks, details about your work environment, and more. Keeping these lists in mind when researching new careers and positions will help prevent you from ending up in the same situation you’re in now.

Even if you have a good sense of what you want your new career to be, it’s always a good idea to do some additional research about that career.

Make sure that a job in your area of interest will allow you to do the sorts of tasks you like in a work environment that you enjoy, without requiring you to delve too far into your “dislikes” column. You’ll probably want to research related careers in addition: for example, if you think you want to go into graphic design, you might also want to look into possibilities in web design, animation, book cover/layout design, fashion design, etc. Read up on the necessary requirements for an entry-level job in the career of your choice. If possible, talk to people you know in the industry about how they got their job and about the qualities they look for in new employees. While doing this research, it’s extremely important to keep in mind that just because you haven’t yet worked in your industry of choice, this doesn’t mean that your education, life, volunteering, and work experiences thus far, for example, haven’t helped prepare you for your new career already. Think about the qualifications you do have, and how you can translate them into industry-specific information on your resume/application.

If you are missing necessary requirements but can’t afford to go back to school, there are several cheaper ways to earn many of the qualifications you might need. Think about the sorts of tasks required of you in your present position: are any of them similar to the type of work you’ll be doing in your new career? If so, try to focus your work on those tasks. If applicable, you can even ask your supervisor(s) if there are any related projects you can help with. In addition, there are several types of careers where your ability to pass state or national qualification exams is more important than the type of degree or education you have. If you need to earn a certification, you should be able to find online study resources as well as information about test-taking and certification procedures. On the other hand, if you definitely do need to earn a degree or at least meet certain credit requirements, it’s still usually possible to do so without going back to school full-time. You can often fill in missing credits by taking classes online or at a local community college, or by enrolling in summer programs (e.g., intensive pre-med or pre-vet credit programs).

The most important advice is to stay positive. It can be difficult, frustrating, and discouraging to go back to the beginning after you’ve already been working at your career for years or even just a few months. Job hunting can be exhausting, especially when you’re focusing on an area outside your familiarity and expertise. Just try to concentrate on your end goal—make yourself an inspiration board, or a career-related Pinterest, or a list of exciting job descriptions—and don’t lose hope. Know that you’re already better off than you were before making the decision to switch careers: instead of facing an interminable future stuck in the same dead-end job, you’re pursuing something better, something exciting and eventually rewarding.

About The Author

Rachel Schneebaum

Rachel Schneebaum is a PhD candidate in philosophy, with a graduate minor in cognitive science, at the University of Arizona. She graduated from Williams College in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Philosophy. Rachel hopes to more effectively help students decide on, prepare for, and eventually succeed at their dream jobs.

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