Get out of a career that isn’t working for you

June 27 2013

Several years ago, I made the transition from social worker to social curator. My time spent working in courtrooms and jail cells paved the way for boardroom negotiations and architecting group dynamics. When I tell people my story, questions ultimately focus on how I made this transition. Part curiosity, part plea for guidance, people want to know how it’s done, the best way to make the change, and why one might forfeit investment and status in an preexisting career.

The fact is most of us have found ourselves in positions we don’t care for — stifling work environments, tedious responsibilities, redundant tasks, meaningless contributions. Baby Boomers reportedly hop from as many as fifteen (or more!) jobs during their working prime, and over half of college graduates are unable to land opportunities in their preferred fields.

It’s not your job. It’s your industry.

After spending years and precious dollars on education and training, the time and commitment you dump into your career is sacred. Changing industries seems daunting. It’s tempting to stay in a position because you’ve invested so much of yourself to get there.

Changing careers could lead to meaningful work.

A career change may not only benefit your wellbeing but also jump start your professional trajectory. The skills you’ve acquired in your current role may provide that extra edge you need to supercharge and lead a new team. Your unique perspective and approach could be a perfect addition to the innovative company looking for a competitive edge.

I won’t lie. The process of positioning yourself to land this new gig might be slow, gradual, even painful. You’ll have to plot deliberate steps until you’re able to carve a niche in a new industry.

I’ve found the risk and the work to be absolutely worth it, so I’ve pinpointed concrete steps to help others looking to make a change:

1. Meaningful conversations lead to meaningful relationships.

  • Talk. And talk a lot. Talk with people in the industry you’re leaving. Talk with people in the industry you’d like to enter. Talk with a counselor, a friend, a trusted advisor. Ask questions and get the good, bad, and the ugly of the move you’re looking to make. Leave no stone unturned and gather as much information as possible.
  • While you’re still in your present industry, focus your attention away from the work you’re dissatisfied with and onto the people who surround you. Schedule twenty-minute informational interviews to learn more about the opportunities within your dream industry and build rapport with role models.
  • Follow up emails and thank you notes to individuals who have helped you along your career journey build trust and credibility as you travel from one industry to the next. You never know when your paths may intersect, and positive recommendations during transitions are always a plus.

2. Get strategic.

  • Don’t make changes before clarifying your end goal. Your new career choice is now your research project. Work backwards until you develop a plan that makes sense.
  • Take time to honestly assess your strengths, skills, and talents before setting concrete goals. Start identifying transferable skills and look for ways to leverage these skills in various industries. Are you a master negotiator? Think about how these skills might apply within your intended field. Wanting to enter a position that requires skills you don’t have? Sign up for classes through Skillshare or General Assembly.

3. Actively seek opportunities.

  • Make the most of your after-hours: find freelance work, an apprenticeship, a new hobby. Spending time on things that bring you joy will infuse positive energy into your existing role and will help make your career change more manageable.
  • Look for additional work streams within your current position. Divert your focus away from your present job dissatisfaction and onto projects that excite you. By placing yourself in environments that can refine your talents and skills, you will attract the connections and opportunities that align with your career goals.
  • Schedule regular coffee dates with people you admire. Learn about their work habits, how they structure their days, how they got to where they are. Ask how they confront challenges and where they go to find inspiration.

4. Just do it.

  • Once you’ve decided a career change is the right move for you, carry applicable experience with you and confidently move forward.
  • Your industry transition will mostly likely feel intimidating: lost titles, less stability, a lower position on the hiring chain. Keep your eye on the prize.
  • Yes, it’s scary. You have to start somewhere.

5. Savor Beginner’s Mind.

  • Once you’ve made the leap, start slowly and take time to learn. You’re only a beginner once; enjoy your first entry into a new world.
  • Savor the ups and downs, the moments of exhilaration and frustration. Use your passion to propel a sharp learning curve and revel in your accomplished career change. You’re a traveler, an adventurer. Reflect, write, acknowledge your journey.

Have you you’ve ended up in an unexpected professional role? Did your education prepare you for the role you’re presently in? What skills have accompanied you along your career journey? I want to hear about your career change. Send me a note.