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How To Change Your Career Without Starting Over

Yes, it is possible. The fear you have about changing your career and having to start at the bottom, slogging your way up to a livable wage does not have to hold you back. You will need some creativity, connections, and bravery to pull it off. Here are the steps for changing your career without starting over. The first step is to reflect on your experience and identify the link between what you have already done and what you aim to do next. Ask colleagues, family, and friends who know you well what your strengths and skills are. Even if you are currently working in a trade or switching to an entirely new trade, some of your skills will transfer (e.g., effective communication, customer service, building relationships, prioritising tasks). Aside from giving you clarity, hearing your skills from the perspective of others will boost your confidence that these skills will transfer to a new career. This is a great first step as it will help decrease the tentativeness you have about making a switch. 

Second, you want to clarify how your skills and abilities will soothe pain points in your newly chosen career. Take a hard look at the industry you are transitioning into. What are the common difficulties across the landscape? Is it burnout? Maybe poor work flow? Or perhaps ineffective marketing? Determine how the skills you have to offer will address these difficulties. People love and pay money for someone who can solve their problems.

Then you will want to tap into a valuable resource that your tenure in a different industry has provided you: connections. Let’s say you want to transition from being a high school teacher to travelling around the state delivering workplace training on communication and management strategies. Talk to your connections at the high school. They may have spouses, neighbours, and friends who work in your desired industry. Those workplaces need trainers. Networking may not be your favourite thing, so start slow with those who already know you and value you. Let your LinkedIn and Facebook connections know about your intended transition and ask directly for referral and connection ideas. As a general rule, people enjoy being helpful and will want to act on your behalf.  

Following all the above, have a solid LinkedIn profile that clearly displays the skills you are promoting for your intended new career. Because your former jobs may not have included the specific skills and daily tasks that your new career requires, you want to be strategic about how you describe yourself in your profile paragraph. Research and review the profiles of others who are in your desired career. Use those as a guide for crafting your own description. Start “following” the companies and staff who are in your new career so you can begin to learn the struggles, trends, and common jargon amongst them. Ask your LinkedIn contacts to specifically initiate conversations for you and sing your praises to their connections in your desired new field. They can provide reinforcement to the transferability of your skill set. 

Afterwards, you will want to step up your networking. Join the local professional organisation in the new field you have chosen. Attend meetings and conferences, join Facebook groups, online forums, podcasts, and listserves. Immerse yourself in the issues and conversations of the new field. This will decrease your fears about being accepted as a novice outsider and will also give you a chance to participate in a dialogue and get your name out there. Try volunteering at some industry gatherings. When you have a role at a function, it’s less anxiety-provoking to have conversations with strangers. 

Finally, don’t underestimate the benefit of having work experience.  Any work experience. If you know how to show up, collaborate effectively with people, and get work done, you already have a skillset that is highly valued. If you happen to have some years of experience and have gotten yourself into some leadership roles, that is even more highly prized. People naturally assume that if you were successful in one industry, you will be able to succeed in a different one. It’s an assumption you can use to your advantage. Consider these famous examples: Arnold Schwarzenegger (body builder turned actor turned politician), John Glenn (astronaut turned senator), Vera Wang (figure skater and journalist turned clothing designer), or Jeff Bezos (computer scientist turned Amazon tycoon). 

The reality is that the job landscape is changing in many ways. Recent data suggests that people on average are switching careers and jobs nearly every two years. If you are ready for a change, you are in good company and may be more welcomed than you think. Do thorough research on the new field you aspire to join. Work to succinctly define how your inexperience in the new field is more than made up for by the skills and experience gained in your previous jobs. Network strategically and often, and regularly give yourself pep-talks that you have what it takes to be successful. You can do this.