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Editorial
Time For A Career Change? Here's How To Know — And How To Get Started
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Kelly Poulson

Change is scary stuff for a lot of us, even when it’s for the better. Many people feel stuck in their careers. They know they don’t love their job. And they might even have a sense of their passion or the work they’d love to do but wonder how to make that leap.

Is a career transition really possible? What about a mid-life career change, or switching to an entirely new field? How in the world would I get started on a pivot my career path? Do I have to take a million steps back from my current job before taking one step forward?

It’s no wonder so many people wait long periods of time before taking action if they do so at all. I’m here to say that if you’re feeling these things, you are not alone. It’s perfectly normal to consider a new career, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter what your end game is. But, you need to be willing to do the work.

Gut check. Are you miserable every Sunday? Is your work-life balance atrocious? You’ve got that pit in your stomach because you don’t feel you can face another week doing the same old same old. Work that you used to be excited about is now a snooze fest. Our bodies often tell us things we don’t want to admit to. Pay attention to those gut feelings and do some self exploration.

Think through what got you started where you are now and what would need to change in order for you to continue on that path. Perhaps it’s not the work itself, but the organization that you’re a part of. Look at your current path from a variety of different perspectives with an open mind.

Then, think about the alternative. What is the dream job? What would a successful career change look like? If you have spent your life wanting to work in advertising but somehow ended up in finance and can’t shake the dream, it’s not too late. It will take work, for sure, but anything worth having will.

Explore. The good thing is that you don’t always have to make a huge leap to get a sense of the dream gig. You’ve got plenty of ways to get an idea of what it would be like if you made the transition and then determine if the work necessary to get there is worth it for you. Dig in and do the research. By research, I mean reach out to organizations of interest and ask if someone would be willing to have an informational conversation with you.

Identify people on LinkedIn who are in your dream job and politely ask them if they’d be willing to answer a few questions or grab coffee. More often than not, if you’re mindful of someone’s time and tell them the spot you’re in and how fascinating you find their background, they’ll be willing to give you a few minutes. (a little flattery goes a long way!) And if they aren’t, all you did was a quick email or call. Not a heavy lift on your part and you never know where those conversations will lead. Go to industry events and talk to people to learn about their experiences, how they got there and what keeps them in the space. Everyone has a different story that you can learn from. All of these efforts will either clarify for you that it’s what you want to go after or that maybe it isn’t. That clarity is extremely valuable.

Test the waters. After you’ve explored a bit and are feeling certain this might be the move for you, try before you buy. Can you attend an intro workshop in the realm? Offer to do some work in the space for free to get a feel for what it might be like. If you have contacts working in the industry already, ask if they’d allow you to shadow them a day or two. The closer you can get to doing the work yourself, the more understanding you’ll have if it’s the best next move for you.

Education. The big question. When you know for certain you want to completely switch gears in your career, you ask yourself is it possible to make this switch without going back to school? I have what is the  most annoying answer possible, I know, but it depends. What your dream gig is can really impact whether or not going back to get a bachelor or masters degree is necessary. For instance, you want to be a doctor but your current BA is in English Lit? You need to go back to school my friend. But if you’re in marketing and are curious about making a transition into recruiting, that’s a totally different ball game.

If you’re moving to a role where many of your existing skills and background can be viewed as transferable, going back to get a degree might not make any sense. You might need to highlight different accomplishments on your resume and tell a different story but that’s much easier than several years of your life in a classroom. Going back to school can mean so many things these days. There are bootcamps, certificate programs online, weekend programs, it isn’t all as cookie cutter or even as costly as it once was. Once you’ve identified the career path for you, it should be fairly evident whether or not a new degree is necessary.

Get help. You don’t have to go through this change on your own. All of the people that you’ve worked with up to this point in your career who are big fans of yours, they want to see you succeed. Ask for help! Share your goals and ask for access to their networks. You never know whose brother owns a big company or sister plays golf with the head of HR at one of your target organizations. Or perhaps they have thoughts that might be helpful to get you own your way. And if you’d prefer to work with the pros, there are career coaches out there who focus on career changers! Partner with a career counselor who will be your guide while you navigate your job search or what is next for you.

Career coaches are skilled at helping you to uncover the best moves for you to make and most are experts at brainstorming next steps based on any transferable skill you might have and ways to open doors. They’re also not too shabby at helping you represent yourself in the best light possible via resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, etc., highlighting your experience and skills so that they stand out to a potential employer. Not to mention having the support of someone who understands how daunting this process can be by your side! The right coach can be a pivotal part of your career change process.

Doing something for ten, fifteen or even twenty years doesn’t mean you’re obligated stay in your current career for the rest of your life. Mid-life career changes happen all the time for those that put in the effort. If you hate your job, life’s too short to dedicate so much time to it. You deserve to feel energized and excited about where you spend your time. It’s your career and you are at the helm. Not your family, your friends or significant others are in charge. Take the time to roll up your sleeves, get in touch with how you’re truly feeling and make choices about what will bring about the best possible changes for you. And then go for it!

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Kelly is a human resources pro and coach who helps people find and achieve what they want career-wise and beyond. Coaching, training, recruiting – if you name it in the world of HR, she's done it in a variety of industries. Her advice has been featured on The Muse, Career Contessa, Levo, Workology, among others. Learn more by scoping her out at www.kellypoulson.com.

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