As we’ve been discussing, making a career successful career change is not an impossible task, but it does involve some pre-work. Depending on what career you are coming from and where you want to go, you. may need new skills. You may have to go back to school. You may need certification, training, or even to move to a new location. But if you start the journey the right way–by prioritizing your values and investigating all the avenues that may lead you to your Perfect Day–then all the work it took to get you there will have been worth it.
I know this because I myself made a career change!
But before I share my story with you, let me share the stories of some of my clients and colleagues.
After going through an unexpected divorce, my client Derek* decided he wanted to move across the country and start over. Previously a pre-sales engineer living in San Francisco, Derek decided he wanted to move to the east coast and start a small farm. He didn’t know the first thing about farming. (He’s a San Fran city boy, after all!) It took him a total of two years to make the switch. First, he joined some small farming communities on Facebook. He visited local 4H clubs in northern California. He volunteered at several dairy farms and even got work at a vineyard in Napa Valley. When he finally bit the bullet and moved, he bought a small plot of land in upstate New York and completely left behind his pre-sales job. Now he spends most of the time collecting chicken eggs and selling pies at his local farmer’s market.
- Academic or youth-oriented clubs like 4H, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts can actually be a great source of information (depending on what you want to get into). Even if you don’t want to start a farm (!!) you’d be surprised at the opportunities groups like these offer. The Boy Scouts has an entire arm of their organization dedicated to teaching young people how to run businesses and self-organize. Volunteering for organizations like these can grant you a wealth of skills.
- It doesn’t have to happen overnight. Derek couldn’t make the move for two years, but he still made it. One of my favorite sayings is, “The time is going to pass either way. You can either show up in 5 years the same as you are now or with that degree/book/certification/new career.” It doesn’t matter how long it takes. Make the change.
A colleague Vanessa was a front-end developer. She was lousy at it. She really loved it, but it was difficult for her to stay on top of the newest trends. She decided she wanted to make the switch to content marketing. The company that she worked for never had enough content to fill all their needs, so she started writing small pieces of content for their website. As she was coding out new areas of the site, she took inventory of what her company had and what was missing. She outlined the missing content and got permission to write up those areas. Pretty soon, she had a decent collection of marketing materials under her belt and she was able to transfer to the marketing department as a junior marketer. Twenty years later, she’s the Direct of Content Marketing at one of the largest technology firms in the world.
- Look for areas to grow your new skill set at your current job. At larger companies especially, you can find ways to rub elbows with the right people who will be happy to let you take on extra responsibilities.
- If the job you want exists in your current company, try to transition there. It can be easier sometimes to transition into a new role where you are than to get hired fresh for a brand new skill set.
A client Chuck was working as a junior graphic designer at a startup in Austin. He pretty quickly discovered that he wanted to transition into product management–a completely different role with entirely different skills and responsibilities. He talked to the director and asked if he could spend some small amount of time–between 10 and 15%–shadowing a senior product manager. The director agreed. Chuck continued to work as a junior graphic designer and doing all his assignments while simultaneously shadowing the senior PM. He went to meetings with her, helped her with larger projects, etc. But some people at the company started feeling angry and jealous that a junior graphic designer was moving into product management. He was eventually told he needed to either leave the company and go for a PM job elsewhere or stay on in a strictly graphic design role.
He decided to stay (for a short while!). In the meantime, he set up offsite, after hours interviews with other PMs in the industry. They coached him through some key topics he needed to understand. They let him take on freelance PM work. Essentially, he worked his full-time job every day and then went home to wade through additional product management work. After about six months, he was able to quit his job and take a role as a junior product manager at a different company.
- Office politics can sometimes get in the way of your dreams. If you notice that happening, separate your dream job from your current gig. Keep your head down, earn your paycheck, and keep hustling on the side.
- Find mentors who are willing to share what they know. They are an extremely valuable resource in your transition.
And now for my story! In college, I was a pre-med major and after graduation went to graduate school for a PhD in genetics. I was going to cure cancer. (Big dreams, right?) However, once I got there, I realized I wasn’t great at some of the aspects of my work (I was lousy at dilutions) and I was bored to tears–a terrible combination. I ended up taking a job running paternity tests for the Maury Pauvich and Jerry Springer shows. I was still bored, so I spent a lot of time chatting up my coworkers, which wasn’t great for productivity. But because I liked to talk, some of the higher-ups noticed I might be good in human resources.
They moved me into recruiting, and I was a headhunter for 10 years. Eventually, I wanted to spread my wings, so I took my background and became a science teacher and soccer coach and wrote resumes on the side to earn extra income. Eventually, my resume business became lucrative enough that I decided to take it on full-time.
So there you go! A handful of completely different career transition stories. No matter what your background, you can make a big change. And don’t forget, you’re not in it alone. I can help. Good luck out there!