If you’re unsatisfied with your career, dread going into work, or think that just about anyone else’s job sounds more appealing than your own, you’ve probably considered shifting careers.
Here’s some advice for making the shift.
What don’t You like about Your Current Job?
Your first step is to determine what it is about your current job that just isn’t doing it for you. Is it dealing with customers all day? Fed up with the stress of looming deadlines? Do you feel like your work is meaningless and you’ve lost all passion for the industry?
Whatever it is that’s making your job a drag, make a note of it. The more specific you can get the better. Distinguish between the parts that are okay, and the parts that you absolutely loathe. Once you’ve identified the things that can ruin a career for you, you’ll know what to avoid once you start looking for a new one.
What do You want to Do?
Think about your skills, strengths and achievements. Do you have a dream job or industry in mind? You may well have some idea about your dream career, but lots of people only know that they are miserable and would very much like not to be. That’s okay. That’s enough to start with.
What do you enjoy doing? It doesn’t have to be work related. Do you run a blog on the side? Can’t stop messing around on GarageBand? Get a thrill out of doing inventory at bake-sales? It’s all experience and it’s all valuable in determining not only what you don’t mind doing, but what excites and energizes you.
Do be careful about turning your side passion into a full-time job however. Many people make successful careers out of their hobbies, but sometimes once your creative outlet becomes tied to your paycheque all the fun and joy of it gets drained away. You’ll have to do it every day. You’ll have to worry about trends and consumer demand. It’s very easy to then fall into the trap of only doing what makes the most money and not what you find rewarding.
We often turn to creative hobbies as an escape from the stress of work - and it can only be an escape until it becomes work, and thus an additional source of stress. That’s not to say you can’t turn your passion for knitting animal themed tea cozies into a full-time career. But be careful. Some things are better left being just for fun. Or maybe only on a part-time, as-much-or-little-as-you-like basis.
Getting more Information
Don’t quit your day job before you have somewhere safe to land. Ideally you should stick around for the secure income and to stave off resume gaps while you’re looking for a new career, but in some cases the free-time and pressure of being unemployed can be just what you need to get motivated. You know yourself best. Stick around or send in your resignation as you deem appropriate - but keep an eye on your finances.
Start doing some research about what careers are out there. Talk to people. Take online quizzes to both find out your strengths and see which fields you could flourish in. Look for careers that utilize your hobbies and strengths. Which jobs make you the most excited to read about? Even if it’s something that looks unattainable like marine biologist or professional fire dancer, take a look anyway. You just might be surprised.
The Informational Interview
An informational interview is a fancy way of asking someone to tell you about their job. You can ask anyone for an informational interview, friends, family, old contacts from school, your coworkers from other departments, it’s all valuable information when you’re trying to figure out what it is you’d like to do.
If you have an idea of what career you’d like, get interviews with people doing work in your chosen industry. Ask around your contact list to see if anyone can put you in touch. Send out emails on LinkedIn. Make it clear you are not there to ask for a job, only information.
The interviews can be 15 minutes over zoom or an hour over coffee, these are conversations where you can find out exactly what you want to know about the jobs you are interested in. Ask about the ins and outs of the industry, the gritty details of the day-to-day. What do they love about it? What do they hate about it? You’ll get the real insiders perspective.
These people can also get you in touch with more people in the industry, and give you advice on who to contact for a job interview. If you’re still interested in their position after hearing about it, this could be a great time to ask to shadow them on the job.
Craft Your Narrative
This is a little meta, but I promise it’s very important. Part of the reason that job searching is such a precarious time is that you are in transition. Western culture has a habit of equating personal identity and worth with occupation. It makes sense then that shifting careers is so difficult to navigate as it comes with a free, pre-packaged identity crisis. Look on the bright side. This is a chance to reinvent yourself. Who do you want to be? Whole-heartedly embrace the ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ mentality.
Before you start talking to people who might be able to help you break into your dream career you have to get yourself sorted. Practice introducing yourself. You’re no longer the accountant with the dead-end job: you’re an entrepreneur starting up your own exciting new tailoring business. Restructure your resume. Change up your LinkedIn profile to attract the people you want to attract.
An unfortunate reality of hiring interviews is that much of it comes down to selling not yourself, per se, but your narrative, your story. A version of you who is perfect for the role and exactly what the company hasn’t known it’s been missing all this long time. Make sure you know where you want to go and how valuable your unique set of skills is.
Thought shapes form, life imitates art, and you just have to fake it till you make it with proving to yourself and others that you belong in this new industry.
Soft Skills are Your Greatest Strength
No really, they are. Your problem solving, strong teamwork values, leadership initiatives, and tranquil unflappability against the wrath of working the floor on Black Friday - these are invaluable skills that cannot be taught in a bootcamp. Look to the skills you have in your current job that can transfer over to your new one.
Right now you lack experience in the field you want to break into. That doesn’t have to be a weakness. It can very well be a strength if you twist it around just right. How have your experiences helped you become an ideal candidate? Sure you lack specific technical skills, but you’ve spent years in political journalism, or working the customer service desk, or being a sales manager at a prestigious company. You have skills no one else will have, and that makes you uniquely qualified.
This all ties in with the above point about narrative. You aren’t an inexperienced student looking for their first professional job. You are taking a bold initiative to make the next step in your career. The point is that you have valuable years of working experience - don’t undervalue yourself.
Get a little Experience in the Field
Getting your hands dirty is a great way to both get some field-specific experience you can put on a resume, and to determine if you still want to go at this full-time once you’ve tried it out. Before signing up for a four year degree or investing in a six-month bootcamp, look for what free resources are available to you without making large commitments of time or money. Take workshops and online courses. Find casual classes you can sign up for. Look for volunteer opportunities or hackathons.
If you’re still enthused after trying something small, then it might be time to invest in a bootcamp or acquire some more traditional credentials. This is where your informational interviews can come in handy. The people currently working your dream job can give you the best advice on what skills to invest in and what credentials are worth it.
This is a big one. One of the badly kept secrets of the hiring world is that the majority of jobs are filled without ever being made available to the public. Companies as a rule tend to first look internally when filling a role. They then rely on networking and word of mouth before they advertise a position online. It’s an unavoidable fact that we tend to trust the word of those we know over someone we’ve only just met or seen represented on paper. (Think about restaurant reviews. Are you more likely to trust a four-star yelp rating, or your friend who went last week and had to wait three hours for a cold entree?)
By networking with people in the industry you’ll give yourself a chance of being considered for the job before postings are made public. Have an online presence. Follow important influencers on social media. Be visible in the field you want to be in. Attend networking events, join communities and online groups. Go to mixers. Get your name out there and make it no secret that you are interested in the industry and looking to get experience.
Transitioning to Tech
So you’ve decided you want to start a new career in tech. That’s great! Knowing which field you want to work in is half the battle. Now you’ve got to narrow down the where and what of your ideal tech job.
Tech is a big field. In just working with code alone there are so many directions you can go into. Want to specialize in specific technical languages? Are you a front-end UX designer? Do you want to build innovative apps? Or spend hours perfecting the latest triple-A video game? Figure out what tech role sounds most appealing, and then find out what you’ll need to learn to get yourself where you want to be.
Again, ask for informational interviews. Shadow developers, join hackathons and open source projects. Do tutorials. Watch people doing the roles you are interested in and see if it’s something you want for yourself.
Contrary to common belief, tech companies don’t only hire software engineers. Sure they have their star developers, but someone has to manage all of them. There’s HR and sales and marketing, and all kinds of jobs that go into the running of any company, if not necessarily the creation and upkeep of the product.
Now some of these roles will want you to have a little coding ability. That’s all right. Tech is a uniquely accessible field in that anyone with internet access can freely learn a great deal. By combining your transferable skills with HTML and CSS - two rather beginner-friendly languages which also happen to be something of the basics for website building - you can get your foot in the door at a tech company.
Getting Hired as a Software Developer
Getting any job at a tech company is doing yourself a favour if your end goal is to become a software developer. First of all, you have unique access to real software developers working your dream job. You can ask them about the best resources, what do they use day-to-day on the job, what are the interviews like, etc. It’s a bit like having a cheat-sheet for an exam, or bringing along a friend who just passed the course with straight As.
Secondly, you are now a part of the company. The hiring managers know you, or at least they work with people who know you, and that gives you someone who will vouch for you when you’re ready to interview. It also means the managers will know you’re interested in the position. You’ll be the one getting first dibs on all of those coveted internal job openings.
By getting a tech-adjacent job you’ll be surrounding yourself with invaluable resources in your quest to become a software developer, and even if it takes longer than you would have liked to get there, at least you’ll be working for your industry of choice and be actively taking strides in getting to where you want to be.
You Deserve a Fulfilling Career
Changing careers is a very brave thing to do. It’s a sign of strength to take action and rescue yourself from a bad situation. We spend most of our waking hours at work. Doesn’t everyone deserve the right to find a career that brings them satisfaction? Or at least one that doesn’t make them miserable? I certainly think so.
If it all seems too daunting, break it down into smaller bite-sized pieces. No one is expecting you to shift careers overnight. Just start looking around. Talk to people. Try things out. And have a little fun with it if you can. You never know what you can excel at if given the chance.