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Would You Like a Different Job?

Making a career pivot at any age

A full-time employee will spend most of their waking time at work, roughly 80,000 hours over their career. If you are not doing what you want for work, that is a huge part of your life spent on something you may not care much about. 

Making a career change, especially if you have spent many years going down a certain path, can be difficult. However, changing tracks is very doable, no matter your age or point in your career. 

A few years ago, I joined classmates a quarter of a century younger than myself to finish up a bachelor’s degree that was missing a few credits. It was the beginning of a career pivot from professional communications to work related to environmental science. Throw a cross-country move, COVID-19 and an unstable economy into the mix, and it felt like I was taking some crazy risks. 

Fortunately, it is all working out. 

Have you thought about a major career change? As a former career coach, I have a bit of advice to weather the trials of making a career change, including some things I would have done differently myself.

1. Start with some soul searching
Job dissatisfaction is a common reason many people want to make a change, but they may not be clear about what is making them unhappy at work. A recent FlexJobs survey revealed the top three reasons people make a career change:

  1. Better work-life balance (56%)
  2. Higher pay (50%)
  3. More meaningful or fulfilling career (49%)

I definitely resonate with these reasons. How about you? Start out by digging deep and being honest with yourself. Determine why you want to leave your current job and what you want from the next opportunity. Just changing companies and doing the same work may not give you the satisfaction you are looking for. 

Ask yourself these questions: Why do I want this? How will this new career make my life better? What are some of the risks?

When your livelihood is at stake, doing something different can be scary. But there is more than one pathway to an end goal, so if something doesn’t feel right, look for another approach. 

2. Are you ready to do some work?
A dream job in your new field won’t magically appear—you have to make it happen. Start by reading job descriptions and resumes for your desired job. Identify any gaps in skills or required certifications or licenses. 

Tip: Save any job descriptions that fit with where you want to be. You can use these as samples to update your own resume. 

Can you fill in some of those gaps with an online course to gain some basic proficiency? If your chosen path requires more extensive education, are you willing to put in the time and money to fulfill these requirements? To finish my degree, I left my position managing a multiple venue nonprofit, switching to a job providing executive career coaching online—something I could set my own hours around, taking time off if I had finals or a project due. However, it was at a greatly reduced salary.

Outline the additional personal and financial resources you’ll need to make this change. We still had two kids at home, and I asked for support from everyone while working and going to school, including giving rides to the younger sibling, and doing a few more chores like starting dinner and doing the dishes. Get your support network on board and don’t forget to take a break now and then to maintain your important relationships. 

A word of caution: It is a risk to leave your current job before you have something else secured. Ideally, one would work on furthering some new career goals while still being employed. Also, check to see if your current employer has a tuition reimbursement program or other skill building perks.

Goals on a piece of paper

3. Make a plan
Write down your primary goals and estimated timeline. Break this timeline into achievable milestones. Examples include listing your relevant skills; filling in education gaps; building contacts; redoing your resume, LinkedIn and other social media; networking, volunteering or internships; applying for positions; winding down your current position; and transitioning to a new job or starting a business.

Here is an outline of effective career goal setting from the Corporate Financial Institute:

  1. Be specific
  2. Ensure goals are measurable
  3. Avoid negativity
  4. Be realistic
  5. Tie actions to each goal
  6. Write them down
  7. Share the plan
  8. Visualize success

Apply your milestones to weekly tasks, with specific time carved out of your week.

4. Leverage your current career capital
The skills, learning and talent you have built on the job is your career capital. This knowledge is yours to take with you to your next position.

It was a tough realization that I could not start over as a marine scientist. I did not have 10 years to devote to the process. But I could use my professional communication skills to help those working in environmental fields to be more successful. 

This is an example of a pivot—I am still working in communications, but in an entirely new field of interest.

However, even though 20+ years of professional communications can apply to my new focus area, I also needed some experience to gain some credibility in the environmental space.

5. Gain experience
How do you transition to a new field with no experience in it? Gaining education and certifications is one way, as is doing an internship, or starting a blog and writing about relevant topics in your new field. 

Another way to expand experience is by volunteering in your desired profession or in a related activity. Let new contacts know of your background, and that you are pivoting your career, and see what opportunities there are to help out. 

After reaching out to all of the contacts I could think of, I made selective commitments to three volunteer opportunities: Leading a citizen’s advisory committee working on environmental topics connected to our county council; As a spokesperson for a significant marine science nonprofit for monthly webcast presentations; and, Providing public service content to a local radio station by producing a weekly show on environmental topics. I tied these opportunities together by building a community service website highlighting environmental groups, projects and initiatives in our area.

Think about what you have already learned in your career, and how you can apply some of those skills to your new endeavors. Network with contacts, attend events in your desired field, volunteer, watch seminars, read a lot and continuously learn about your new career path.

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6. Shift your brand
How you are represented via your resume, LinkedIn and social media should be tailored to your new profession. The experience you are gaining through education, webinars, volunteering or internships can move to the top. Your brand slogan should match the position you are trying to achieve. How you are represented publicly needs to make it obvious that you and your background are a perfect fit for the position you are applying for.

While job coaching, I worked with many executives that were looking at shifting positions to another field. However, they were often reluctant to let go of major accomplishments on their resume that were not related to what they wanted to do next. Here’s a reality check. The first review of a resume is done in less than a minute. If you haven’t made an impression that you are a good candidate for the specifics of the job you are applying for, you won’t make it to the YES pile. Translate your past experience to how it may be helpful to a future role, and embrace your new brand.

7. Share your goals
Once you write down your career goals and milestones, you can use your plan to communicate goals to friends and important contacts. This will make a much stronger impact.

For example, anyone could say, “I’m thinking of becoming a physical therapist.”  However, using your plan you can state your specific goals positively and succinctly, such as, “I have been working to apply my sports and recreation experience to train as a physical therapist. I will be certified by this summer and looking for career opportunities.”

Gather your most trusted contacts and enlist their help: “If you can think of anyone I should talk to about pivoting to this role, please let me know.” Or, here is a more specific ask: “This is a new field for me, so I wanted to ask if you know of anyone at XYZ company I might speak with to learn more about the company and future opportunities.”

At the same time, be cautious about discussing your plans at your current workplace. You don’t want to put your job at risk until you are ready to make a change.

You may have some high-level contacts already working in your desired field, or those that have the capacity to help open doors. Asking for advice is a great way to respect their knowledge. Do your homework, find out what they have been up to, show your interest and complement their work before launching into your ask. Also, respect their time and keep it brief.

8. Lose (most of) the fear
People often stop short of making a major career change because it can be terrifying. Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, or choosing change over the comfort of your current position is scary. 

Here is one sure way to get past the fear: When you make a plan, you can make a step each week in a positive direction. The harder you work at the plan, the more success you will build and the more confident you will feel. Taking things one step at a time will allow you to control the process in manageable chunks.

Visualize yourself in your new career, how you see yourself and what you would be doing. Keep that vision engaged throughout the process. Forbes has a brief article about creating your career vision

I have been working my plan for three years, and the effort I have put in is resulting in exciting new business opportunities. Now it’s your turn. You got this!

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