Raise your hand if you’re looking to make a career change.

I recently did and I’m excited about the opportunity in front of me. But it wasn’t easy to get here.

Indeed, I’m lucky to have gotten the chance.

But fate isn’t the only thing that played a role. It was hard work and determination.

It also helps if you know what you want to be switching careers to.

Even if you don’t, there are steps that you can and should take to help you determine where you want to be career-wise.

My Story

When I finished school, the economy was a mess. No one was hiring. I managed to get an internship working with an international humanitarian organization which is what I wanted to be doing. But it was unpaid and after six months I left to find gainful employment.

That came in the form of working as administrative support in the financial sector, the only place that was hiring. Answering the phones, booking travel, scheduling meetings. With a masters degree, I was over-qualified for the role.

I let myself get stuck doing this for six years until I lost my job. That was a low point for me. I got depressed. I had to move my back in with my parents.

Turning Point

That’s when my dad stepped in to help. He suggested I strengthen my quantitative skills, so I signed up for some analytics courses both online and in the city.  We were going to convert me from an executive assistant to a data analyst.  When it came time to apply for jobs, however, it became clear that I was facing an uphill battle. People were all too eager to hire me as an administrative assistant but all I heard were crickets when it came to data analyst positions. Who was going to take a chance on me?

One person. One person out of one hundred job applications finally decided to give me the opportunity.

Two months ago, I accepted a job offer to make the career change to become a data analyst. It’s been a great learning experience and I’m excited about the opportunities for further advancement.

Here’s what I’ve learned while making the transition that I want to share with all of you:

1. Have a Support System and Savings in Place

This probably goes without saying but give yourself some sort of a cushion before you make the career change. Assuming you leave your old job without having a new one in place yet, you don’t know how long you’ll be out of work for. And if you decide to leave your job to go back to school and get additional training, be prepared to financially support yourself for a few months to a year.  I was lucky enough to have my parents support me. Maybe you’ve got family, a spouse or some awesome friends. Reach out and see if they’re willing to help you out as you make this transition.

2. The Traditional Job Market is not designed for Career Changers

Recruiters and prospective employers have a formula when hiring. For every job opening, they are looking for someone who has done the exact same job with the exact same responsibilities very recently.  So if you’re looking to make a career change, job boards like Indeed or Monster may not be your best bet for finding a job. I’m not saying to completely rule them out.  I actually found my current job using Indeed but I also got lucky because behind the job post was an employer who was willing to think outside the box and who himself had made a career change. Which leads us to the next point…

3. Look for People not Jobs

Network. Use LinkedIn. Connect with people who are doing the job that you want to be doing and find out what a typical day is like. Join groups on LinkedIn and connect with people whom you’d like to get to know more. Ask them for an informational interview either in person or if that’s not possible, shoot them a few questions that they could answer online.  These people may know of opportunities that haven’t hit the market yet, may be forward thinkers who could give you the opportunity that you’re looking for or could put you in touch with others to increase your chances of finding that break.

4. Test Ideas before Quitting Your Day Job

So you want to become a journalist? Take some courses at your local college and find out what it’s like first. You may discover that you enjoy the field but that it’s not something you could pursue as a career. Well, at least now you know because you explored the option. Put a list together of a number of careers you’re interested in pursuing and start researching them. You don’t necessarily need to enroll in a university again, that may not be cost effective. But if you live in a large city like NYC, there are plenty of startups and educational institutions that will allow you to explore the various subjects you’re interested in. For example General Assembly in New York offers courses in data analytics, digital marketing and a number of other hot topics. They have locations across the country and the globe. Take advantage of them to narrow down where you’d like to be and see if it’s the right fit for you.

5. Internships May Not Be Possible

This is more of a warning. I’ve read elsewhere on the internet of using internships as a way to explore a career change. I’ve tried applying to internships in the city and have gotten rejected with the companies citing laws that require them to only hire students enrolled in accredited institutions for internships. So if you’ve been out of school for years, these opportunities may not be available to you. That’s the response that I’ve gotten in NYC but the rule may not apply elsewhere in the country. Again, you’ve been warned.

Takeaway:

Before you make a career change, plan ahead. Have a support system in place. The traditional job search methods may not be your best bet. Classroom or online courses can strengthen your skill set. Network to find the people who are going to give you that chance. Internship opportunities may not be available to people who are out of school.

If you’re thinking about making a career change or have already started, let me know how it’s going! Drop a line below, I’d love to hear from you.

Cheers!

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