Switching Careers Was the 'Right Change' For Me — But, Here Is What I Wish I Knew Beforehand

a woman thinking at work


Natalia Marulanda
Natalia Marulanda
June 13, 2024 at 4:0PM UTC
When I graduated from law school, I was sure that I was going to be a practicing attorney for the rest of my working days. Then, I actually started working and quickly discovered that life as an attorney was not going to be particularly rewarding for me. 
I began to panic. I had over $200,000 of law school debt (not a typo) and no other career prospects. I applied for positions at other firms, sometimes secretly hoping they wouldn't call me back. I tried changing practice areas, but even that proved difficult. I became convinced nobody wanted to hire a matrimonial attorney to do anything other than matrimonial work. Thankfully, I was very, very wrong.
After a few years of practice, I was presented with an opportunity to work in legal publishing/account management. It couldn't have been further from anything I'd ever imagined doing, but it was a way out. I took the job, did it for a few years, and suddenly found myself wholly unfulfilled once again. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but this time, I didn't feel trapped. I didn't panic. I knew that I had developed a solid skill set and that with the right steps (and attitude), I could make yet another career change and this time, it would be the RIGHT change for me. 
Below are some helpful tips for finding not just a new job, but a new career.

1. Focus on what you really want to do

I have always been someone who has a thousand interests. One day I wanted to work in child services, another day I wanted to be a food writer, the next day I wanted to open my own clothing boutique. With so many ideas running through my mind, it was hard to really focus my efforts on any one thing, making me feel like NOTHING was possible. That's when I realized that while I can be interested in lots of things, not everything I like is a potential career. 
I sat down with a friend over coffee, and together we mapped out the two or three career paths that made sense given my skills, experience, and strengths. Having another person with whom to complete this exercise was so helpful because she was able to give me valuable perspective on things that I would be good at and enjoy doing- things I hadn't even considered.

2. Determine how your skills translate

If you have never worked in a particular industry before, it can be difficult to break through since hiring managers often look for people with relevant experience in the field. But, that doesn't mean you're out of the game. 
Once you know what careers interest you, go through your resume and figure out how your past experience can transfer over to your new position. Industry-specific knowledge can always be taught, and if you can demonstrate that your skill set will help you take on the tasks of your new role, you'll be far more successful in convincing your new employer to take a risk on you.

3. Update your skills

While you may already have everything you need for a new role, sometimes you may need to add to your skill set. This could mean taking courses to learn new computer programs or obtaining a license or certification in a new subject area. Taking these additional steps will not only help prepare you for the job ahead but will signal to potential employers that you're serious about making this change and that you're worth the investment.

4. Network

Networking is such a scary word, and frankly, it's not something I'm naturally good at. But, when I was looking to make a career change, I knew that I would need to get out there and talk to people - and so will you. Qualifications matter, but it's often WHO you know that can make all the difference. Moreover, talking to people in the field you are considering can give you valuable insight into what a career in that space is really like and could help you determine whether it would truly be a good fit for you. 
Run through your LinkedIn connections and reach out to people who either work in the fields you're interested in or have made career transitions themselves. Set up a short phone call or meeting and make your time count by asking thoughtful questions. Joining a professional association in the industry you're considering is another way to meet people who can guide you in the right direction.

5. Speak to a recruiter. 

During my search, one of my contacts put me in touch with a recruiter. We had a chat about my experience and background and she found a few roles for me that sounded right up my alley. Thankfully, one of them stuck! She was an advocate for me the whole way through and was a tremendous resource in terms of helping me prepare for interviews and knowing what to expect from my firm's hiring process. 
Having an experienced recruiter that specializes in the fields you're interested in can make job searching must less stressful and productive, and I encourage you to reach out to one during your job search, in addition to doing the above. They can be especially helpful if you don't have any connections that can give you the "in" you need.

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Natalia Marulanda is a former practicing attorney who currently works on women's initiatives at a law firm New York City. She also runs The Girl Power Code, a blog dedicated to empowering women in the workplace and in their daily lives.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for navigating a career switch? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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