There are no written rules about how young you have to be to start on a new career path. But the thought of leaving a well-established career – even if it does feel unsatisfying – can paralyze any ambitious ideas.
Have you reached a point in your career where the thought of continuing the same work for the rest of your life is more frightening than the thought of starting something new? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone!
It’s time to seriously consider that career change you’ve been fantasizing about. Many have gone before you and felt the same concern you’re feeling. But they overcame the obstacles and never looked back. We asked a few of these pioneers to share their best career change advice. Keep reading and prepare to be empowered.
Words of wisdom from successful career changers
1. Your age is only a number
“It is never too late to explore another career,” says Nancy Irwin, who made the leap from stand-up comedy to psychology at age 44. Her decision was spurred by her volunteer work at a shelter for sexually abused teenagers. “It woke the healer in me and prompted me to return to school,” she recalls.
"It is never too late to explore another career."
Irwin is now a doctor of Psychology and the author of You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife. When people asked her exactly how old she would be when she finally entered the workforce in her new career, she answered, "Exactly the same age I'll be if I don't!” She encourages anyone considering a career change to ignore the inevitable nay-sayers.
“They are fear-based. Be heart-based and love-based,” Irwin urges. She adds that in some careers, like psychology, your age is actually an asset.
2. Do your homework
Making a drastic change doesn’t mean you have to proceed recklessly. Any potential new career should be thoroughly researched, according to life-coach Tom Casano. You can learn a lot from a little research. Do you need more school or a different degree, certification or experience? Casano’s own career path transitioned from music to finance, before finally launching his company Life-Coach Spotter. His experience taught him to do a test drive with the new career before diving in headfirst.
“Shadow someone, go to his or her work environment and see how you like it. See if you can intern for a few weeks,” he advises. Even if you can’t commit many hours to investigation while holding your current job, he believes coordinating with someone in your desired new field and visiting his or her workplace for an afternoon is worth the effort. Since you spend so much of your life in a job, it’s important to be sure it’s something you enjoy.
“Both times when I changed careers, it was because my current situation just didn't feel right and it was eating away at me,” Casano explains. “I'm very happy that I've changed careers.”
3. Be open-minded
Marisol Hernandez changed from a career in mechanical engineering to one of entrepreneurship. She recalls attending a presentation about careers in which they said the average person will change careers seven times. The thought seemed absurd to her at the time, but it stuck with her until she eventually took a leap of faith and started her own window fashion company, Exciting Windows.
Hernandez’s best piece of advice is to always keep an open mind. “Realize that doing what you love might come in different ways and not be limited to the field you graduated from,” she says. She advises others to strive to make their career a piece of a larger goal to lead a satisfying life.
4. Develop a skills-based resume
One of the barriers with a career change is representing to potential employers that you possess the skills they’re seeking. Vern May worked as a professional wrestler for years under the name of Vance Nevada before an injury forced him to look elsewhere. His background in wrestling was so unique that employers couldn’t reconcile his past experience with the job he applied for.
“I applied for more than 40 jobs and didn't get a single interview until I took the emphasis off my work history and developed a skills-based resume,” May says. He realized that the marketing, writing and administration abilities he developed while balancing many different jobs over time was a more marketable way to promote himself as a professional. Just three weeks after giving his resume a makeover, he found employment in economic development.
May suggests tailoring your resume to highlight the skills you have that will most benefit the organization for which you’re applying. “This will not only help potential employers see how your qualifications and experience match up with the requirements for the posted position, but will also help you identify just how many possibilities are open to you that you hadn't considered before,” he adds.
5. Make a detailed game plan
Gregory Cumberford went from electrical engineer to dentist when he realized he wanted to be in a career that helped people. Since the industry of electrical engineering is quite different from that of dentistry, he made a detailed plan of attack for his career change.
“I put down a spreadsheet of all the requirements and goals. Then I broke the tasks down into small, manageable steps,” he explains. Start with your big-picture goals and whittle each part down until you have a step-by-step strategy to accomplish it. This helps change your mindset from viewing it as a big obstacle to viewing it as a progression of steps.
Cumberford believes careful planning and hard work are the most important aspects of reaching your goal, along with believing in yourself. After hearing people try to dissuade him from making his career change, he decided to adjust his language. “I stopped saying I'm trying to go to dental school. I told people, I am going to dental school.”
6. Master the art of communication
"Communicating & learning to sell yourself are key in any career you are in."
No matter what field you plan on transitioning into, strong communication is a must, according to Hernandez. “Communicating and learning to sell yourself are key in any career you are in,” she says. This applies both vertically and laterally. You want to be able to represent yourself to employers, but strong communicators can also make use of networking to achieve their goals and gain support in a career change.
Hernandez joined an association of business owners to gain mentors and resources during her entrepreneurial venture. “I sought mentors and help from other business owners and accountants,” she explains.
If you don’t know anyone in the field you are breaking into, Casano recommends reaching out via LinkedIn and asking people about their jobs. It never hurts to ask, and you might forge a useful connection down the road.
If they can do it, why can't you?
These professionals offered their career change advice because their own professional transitions empowered and benefited them. It might be hard to dream up something new for your life, but your career satisfaction is certainly worth the risk and effort.
Going back to school could be the key to launching that career you've always dreamed of. It might be hectic for a while, but the practical knowledge and hands-on training you acquire will be worth it. Check out our article for some advice on how to juggle it all, 12 Tips to Balance Working Full Time and Going to College.
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