Taking Your First Steps to Change Careers

The other day my 10-year-old asked me one of his famous “what if” questions that got me thinking. He asked, “Mom would you rather die at 25 achieving all your life goals or die at 100 and not achieve any of your goals?” Gulp, that is a big life question that I wasn’t prepared to answer. What I know is that I don’t want a life where settling for good enough, even if it might be comfortable and easy, is the path any of us takes. However, can all of us say that we’ve always pursued a career that interests us, and helps us grow professionally and personally, in addition, to contributing to a greater good? And if not, why not?

I would imagine most people have had moments in their work journey when for one reason or another they didn’t wake up each morning excited about their work and questioned their path forward. At those moments when you have arrived at a crossroads, you need to decide what is next for you. If the decision is to pursue a new career, here are five pieces of advice for jumping in with both feet and determining what is next on the work front.

Pursuing the Career You Want

1. Apply Existing Skills and Plan to Learn New Skills

If you are going to make a big change in terms of your industry or job role, remember that your past work and life experiences will contribute to your success moving forward. You can apply many of these skills. Being a great leader, developing an annual plan, or helping your team advance their careers are skills that work at all levels of organizations and can be applied to any industry. Don’t downplay the critical skills you have gained. Make sure your interview narrative is about applying your experience and how that translated into future success.

2. Research New Jobs and do Informational Interviews

Just like any new skill or endeavor, the first step is to dive in and learn more. There are a wealth of resources online about careers of all kinds. Online learning courses, such as The Great Courses and LinkedIn Learning are readily available on a wide range of subjects. There are also junior colleges and university extension programs for learners of all ages to explore new topics. Use your network and your friend and colleagues’ networks to find people in the profession you desire. My experience is that 90% of the time people are very willing to do an informational interview and give you their time. Most people enjoy talking about their careers and the paths they have taken. Do your homework about that person, so you make the best use of your time together.

3. Network, Network, Network

It feels rare today to apply online and actually get your resume to the right person in recruiting or the hiring manager. The more common path is knowing someone at that company, having a recruiter fast-track your resume to the right people, or knowing a friend of a friend at the organization. There’s always a possibility of someone finding your resume and that working out, but this is the exception, not the norm. Your network is oftentimes one of the most powerful things you can build in your career. It is critical to reach out, cultivate connections, and attend events. Networking is a two-way street, so ensure you are helping others looking to network with you. There is no better feeling for me than playing a role in a colleague landing a job through an introduction that I have made. Don’t be shy. Put yourself out there and be curious.

4. Bring a Growth Mindset

Recently I read an article where the OpenTable.com CEO said — there’s no such thing as a ‘wrong turn’ in your career: ‘You really don’t have to stress out’. I thought this was such smart insight. Even moves that didn’t work out can be learning experiences. Sometimes in tough situations, you learn twice as much as on an easy path. As with anything new or challenging in life, bring a growth mindset. Don’t expect perfection out of the gate. The goal is progress, not perfection.

5. Careers Changes Can Mean Positive Life Changes

The perfect role for you in your 20s might not be the ideal role in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond. Our lives change, our perspectives change, and our responsibilities change at different stages. As we are deciding what color our parachute is coming out of college, you can gain a different life view if you are raising children or caregiving for parents. I like to think in one and five-year increments. For me thinking 10 years out seems like a lifetime. Yes, I want big life goals that span decades, but thinking about five-year stretches helps me not get too ahead of myself.

I don’t believe there is only one path or one career that will make people happy. Some people know early on that their life work is to become one specific profession and they have a rewarding life pursuing that. However, not everyone will be fulfilled staying in that profession for decades. Instead, pursue something that interests you, provides professional and personal growth, and the ability to contribute to the greater good.

While I’m still not sure of the answer to my son’s question, I do know a life of purpose is possible, and building the life you were meant to have is one of the great joys.

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