Making a career transition can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve spent years building your expertise in a particular field only to discover you don’t like your work.
How can you know what career would actually feel more satisfying? If you know what kind of work you’d like to be doing, where should you even begin making your career transition?
It’s very common for people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s to arrive in career coaching or career counseling with questions like these. When it comes to choosing careers, most of us don’t get a lot of help. We usually enter our chosen fields right after college, before we’ve had enough life experience to know what we’re passionate about, what our values are, and what kind of career would fit into the big-picture goals we have for our lives. Then we wander from job to job, learning through trial and error what feels good for us and what doesn’t.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many people change careers, often a few times. As we experience ourselves in different work environments, we learn more about what we’re good at, what we enjoy, and what kind of work feels genuinely meaningful. It’s only natural that we’d want to use our greater wisdom and self-knowledge to find work that we love.
If you are ready to make a career transition, this article will give you some pointers on where to begin. I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. It’s a conversation between myself and my colleague Susan H., M.A., LPCC, a career counselor, coach, and professional development expert on our team at Growing Self. Her point of view on career change is refreshing and insightful — I hope you’ll tune in!
What Is Your ‘Why’ for Changing Careers?
This is the first question you should ask yourself if you’re thinking about making a big career change. Often, people who come to career counseling aren’t totally clear about their “why” until they do some intentional reflection. They just know that they hate their job and they longing to do something different.
If that sounds like you, ask yourself these questions: What exactly are you unhappy with at your job? What are you wanting to be different? Is it about the work itself, or all the structure surrounding the work?
If you want to get away from a toxic work environment, an unreasonable workload, difficult coworkers, a bad boss, low pay, or other job-specific issues, these are great reasons to leave a job — but they don’t necessarily mean you need to leave your career. If you’re truly unhappy in your current position, that experience is likely tainting how you feel about your profession in general. You may be thinking, “I hate how it feels to be a dentist / trombonist / international spy,” but there are likely some opportunities for you to remain in your field and find a new workplace that is more empowering and in line with your vision for your life.
If, on the other hand, you’ve realized that your career isn’t aligned with your values, your passions, your interests, or your other life goals, like where you want to live, your visions for financial success, or the kind of work-life balance you’re looking for, that’s a sign that it may indeed be time for a career change.
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Career Transitions: Embracing Uncertainty
The scariest part of starting a new career is not knowing if you’re making the right choice, especially if you have a family who’s relying on your income, or if you’re thinking about starting a new degree (and possibly taking on tens of thousands of dollars in student debt).
All of the unknowns can make you feel paralyzed. There are ways to test drive a new career, but at some point you will have to make a leap of faith and begin investing time, energy, and possibly money into your new career path… without knowing for certain whether or not it will be any more rewarding than your current career.
You can and should gather all the information available to you before making a big commitment, like going back to school, or taking a job that comes with a significant pay cut. Spending some time with a career coach can also help you develop a clear vision for your desired career and the best path to creating it. All of this will help you feel more confident in your choice, but it won’t give you a crystal ball that reveals your career future.
Eventually, you will have to make a decision, despite not being 100% certain what the outcome will be. The key to getting unstuck and beginning to move forward is trusting yourself to figure it out as you go and continue making adjustments until you’ve built a career you love.
Creating a Skills-Based Resume for Career Changes
People often want to know if there’s a way to start a new career, without starting over at the bottom of the career ladder. The answer is, sometimes.
There are some careers that have established pathways that aren’t going to bend. You’re not going to transition from working as an accountant to working as a neurosurgeon without applying to medical school and working your way up from there. But for many careers, there are overlapping skill sets that can serve as entry points for people coming from different fields. Writing a skills-based resume that emphasizes what you know how to do, instead of the job titles you’ve held, will help you show how your past experiences are relevant to the new career you want to pursue.
For example, someone who works in marketing might have skills like analyzing data, producing short videos, and conducting research. If they were interested in becoming a UX researcher, they could rewrite their resume to emphasize their research and data analysis skills. If they wanted to transition to a career in media, they could emphasize their video production skills and put together a highlight reel of their best shorts. They could work with an interview coach to reframe their career story and demonstrate how their past experiences have prepared them for their next chapter.
Not having a “traditional” background for a job can feel like a barrier to entry, but it can actually be an asset. Many employers appreciate candidates who bring diverse skill sets and fresh ideas from adjacent fields.
Finding ways to do work on a part-time or freelance basis before jumping into a new career is also an option. This will not only give you relevant experience that can help you on your job search, it will also help you learn more about the career you’re interested in so you can make informed decisions.
Effective Support for Career Transitions
Starting a new career is exciting, but it’s also very common to feel stress and anxiety about this enormous life change. Many people at a career crossroads feel some regret about past choices, and sometimes even depression and hopelessness about the future.
There are career development professionals who have experience helping people like you manage the anxiety of change, navigate transitions with skill, and build careers they love. If you’d like to meet with a career counselor or coach on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. — For more advice on changing careers with confidence, check out our “Career Clarity” collection of articles and podcasts.
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