The Smart & Strategic Way to Change Careers

The world is full of under-utilized, under-challenged, creatively starving cube dwellers, just dying to break out of the box and kick butt.

You: not satisfied in your current career path, and have a vague, but yet to be solidified, idea of what you would rather do instead and can’t wait to make some type of transition to the greener career grass. I don’t recommend jumping ship before you have an employment plan to back up that decision. I do recommend taking a hard look at all of your most valuable skill sets, whether they’re related or not, and seeing what kind of connection you can make that would allow you to transfer those skills successfully to another type of job.

And maybe you already know what you do well, and what type of career you want to transition into. Now think about what skills you might be lacking, or need to improve upon, that are essential for that career path to open up its welcoming arms to you. I’ve always been a fine artist, I thrive on being creative, and it would be amazing to do freelance work as a graphic designer. But I’m not very well-versed in Illustrator, and my Photoshop chops are at best, pretty good. So there’s a gap there between what I see myself doing, and what I’m fully capable of marketing myself as.

And that will be your biggest challenge in changing careers- successfully marketing yourself as a qualified candidate for the type of career role you’re going after. If you lack tangible experience, it’s very difficult to persuade a hiring manager or an organization to invest a significant amount of money in hiring you, when there’s very little professional measurement of your success in that field.

People like to complain to me a lot of about how hard it is to change careers, and how no one will hire them, how many job apps they’ve sent out, the hundreds of networking events they’ve been to, etcetera, etcetera. What they forget is that they made the choice to do so, whether that choice was driven by dissatisfaction, desperation, passion, motivation, or unemployment. The process is not easy, and you will be up against everyone else in your field who DOES have tangible experience. But there are actions you can start taking, whether you’ve already jumped ship or are contemplating the dive, to effectively position yourself as a qualified candidate and professional asset to your field.

And it’s not just about your resume. In fact, it has nothing to do with your resume, and everything to do with building your personal brand from scratch.

A recent study conducted via LinkedIN shows that a majority of hiring managers actually value volunteer experience as highly as hands-on professional experience. Why? Because volunteer experience is STILL hands-on experience, sans a paycheck. I understand that not everyone has the capacity to work for free these days, but even squeezing in volunteer side gigs on an as-need basis every so often, qualifies as hands-on experience. And a big part of doing work for free is about the connections you make while doing it.

Similar to volunteering, what kinds of side projects can you take on to build a resume or portfolio to better position yourself for a full time job? There are people out there who can utilize your services, and would welcome the more cost-effective options of hiring a talented and reliable entry-level professional who can still get the job done, and also save them money in the process.

Advising you to “go out and network” is nothing you don’t already know. Network, network, and then network some more, but the key is to mingle with and converse with the right kinds of people. Don’t bother with the general job seeker networking events that cater to any and every industry – you’re mostly going to meet other job seekers and career changers. And while that is fine, you will have the best luck if you target events that are specifically geared toward the industry you’re looking to break into. This gives you the opportunity to not just meet potential colleagues, but to talk to people about different trends and skills that helped them get to where they are, and that they consider important for breaking into the field.

If you can’t rely on tangible experience, then get out there and promote your creative and insightful ideas. Blogging (and commenting on other people’s blogs) is a great way to showcase your interest and expertise in a field, and connect with others who share the same professional interest. Content sharing sites like StumbleUpon and Digg are great for sharing interesting articles, while Q&A sites like Quora allow you to provide your insight and feedback to questions that your peers have about topics in your field. Another great thought leadership tool is the Groups functionality on LinkedIN, where you can participate in discussions, share article links and pose questions to others in your field. Taking advantage of the appropriate social media and thought leadership vehicles allows you to strategically build your network, gain visibility in your target industry, and position yourself as somewhat of a subject matter expert in your field.


In short, keep the non-professional content to an absolute minimum, and have a uniform presence across all of your social media profiles to best support your brand. Don’t just talk about how you’re “looking to break into your field” or are “looking for a job in xyz”. Brand yourself by discussing your professional interests and promoting your credibility. Creating a uniform presence across a couple of different social media vehicles such as LinkedIN, Google+, Twitter, StumbleUpon and Digg can also be beneficial to your Google ranking.

Studies show that the typical Gen Y young professional will change careers four times before the age of 30. We are discovering and building new skill sets, and opening doors for ourselves in career paths we never considered before. This is not uncommon, it is challenging, and it is also possible. I myself have conquered the career change challenge more than once, and believe you me, you are no exception to the possibility. It’s all about having the drive and motivation to essentially build a new brand from scratch, because like building a small business, that is what you are doing when you talk about reinventing yourself. Focus on formulating a good strategy that works off of your most marketable skill sets, finding a relevant need to which your skills speak, and continuing to learn new skills that will open up doors and relationships.

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