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Tips For Adulthood: Five Concrete Steps Towards Career Change

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. “I don’t want to end my life,” a friend told me recently. “I just want to exit...

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

“I don’t want to end my life,” a friend told me recently. “I just want to exit it. Sneak out the back door when no one’s looking.”

She was talking about her job – which she hates – and her career more generally, which she’s (clearly) ready to leave.

But undertaking a major career shift can be daunting…and terrifying. And many of us – faced with the sheer enormity of it all – opt to remain where we are, rather than to embark on a project of this magnitude.

If you’d like to shift gears professionally – but can’t quite summon the energy to begin that process – here are five concrete steps to launch that process:

1. Normalize it. LifeTwo, a leading career counseling organization, reports that their prior estimate of three careers in a lifetime is now in the process of increasing to as many as seven careers. Moreover, here are some additional statistics that should make you feel at home: According to a Gallup poll, over 60% of workers are not truly engaged in what they do, and the same percentage would change careers if they could. Finally, changing jobs frequently may even be an advantage. According to career blogger Penelope Trunk, it also keeps you fresh and passionate about your career.

2. Reconceptualize it. I got a holiday card from an old friend telling me about his new career as a psycho-therapist. Prior to that, he’d been in the arts as well as the construction industries. As he put it: “I am becoming increasingly comfortable with seeing my professional life as a series of explorations rather than Wall Street Journal-worthy profiles.” I’ve written before about the concept of kaleidoscope careers, a by-product both of the dot-com economy which threw traditional career trajectories out the window, as well as the reality of women returning to the workforce after having children. Under the kaleidoscope model, having a rich, diverse professional background may be a positive in today’s economy.

3. Read a Self-Help book. If you have the resources with which to consult a professional career counsellor, by all means, do it. But if you can’t afford that, I’m a big (converted!) believer in self-help books for career change. When I moved out of academia into journalism (and beyond), I read two books that were not just useful, but essential, for my professional reinvention. And the nice thing about those transitions was that they cost me less than 20 bucks-not bad, eh?

4. Apply For A Job. This may sound counter-intuitive as most people (myself included) would counsel you to first figure out what you like and what you’re good at before thinking concretely about career categories broadly defined, let alone jobs. But once you’ve given it some thought and have narrowed down your potential career trajectories to a handful of possibilities, take a whirl at applying for a job that sounds like it might be right for you. The chances are almost zero that you’ll get it. But in putting yourself down on paper – and providing a narrative of yourself for this particular job – you’ll gain some insight into who you are professionally. Re-imagining yourself in this way will also give you more self-confidence going forward.

5. Look at job boards. One way to spark your imagination about the kinds of things you might do with your particular skill set and area of substantive interest is to skim job boards in your chosen field. You should of course do this once you’re actually doing a proper “job hunt” (as opposed to a “career hunt.”) But it’s also useful to do this on occasion early on in the process. You’ll be amazed at the kinds of real-life jobs that pop up that you’ve never even thought about but which might suit you perfectly. Two sites I’m particularly fond of are Idealist (for the non-profit sector) and Journalism Jobs. But it’s a big, wide world out there and job boards abound in all sorts of professions.

Go get em’!

Image: Job seekers destination by Newton Free Library via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. ASuburbanLife January 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    This is a very helpful article. Thank you!

  2. Patricia January 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    I would add, go to events and parties – I have just read two blog posts where it was at a party a connection was made that found the career option and job.

    As a person who has been looking for work since 2008, I remind myself that I have never gotten a job by application and interview – as a matter of fact the interview option usually means I will not get the job – folks are not impressed with the physical plant. Every job that I have excelled in has been because someone has said, “I know someone who can take us through this process and get us real relief.” I essentially put myself out of work, by teaching folks how to do what that specific situation needs.

    How to keep networking – vital
    Great post.

    • delialloyd January 12, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

      great suggestions, Patricia-thank you!

  3. Kristen @ Motherese January 12, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    What a helpful post, Delia. Thank you.

    At the moment, I’m smack dab in the middle of a period of intense full-time mothering (with another baby set to arrive in fewer than six weeks), but I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I will reimagine my career once I am out of the woods of those first few insane months with a newborn at home. So the timing of your post is perfect for me as I start this imagining project.

  4. delialloyd January 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    I know exactly how that feels, @Kristen-I changed careers right after my son was born 10 years ago. It was daunting but also exciting and somehow the new life (literally) gave me new life for career change. Good luck with everything!

  5. Daryl Boylan January 12, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    Bit late in the day for me, but fascinating! Not to mention a much -needed poke (jab?) (goose?)

  6. Patricia January 13, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    The best job I ever had was one I did not want. I was out of work and needed to work so applied everywhere and anywhere. I took the job that was offered because it was a much needed paycheck.

    Was a wonderful experience from beginning to end. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot.

  7. Jenny January 13, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    Very interesting.
    I wonder at the resources one needs, though, to make significant change. If you are the only breadwinner (eg you are single, your spouse doesn’t work), it feels like a riskier proposition. It’s more comfortable to change with financial and other resources behind you.
    It also seems to me like an upper middle class kind of thing to do – which I guess still gets back to resources, and a fearlessness, a confidence in yourself, your abilities and sellability (W?W) in the marketplace.

    May also require humility to go back to the bottom of the tree again and work your way back up.

    Hmmm, wish it were easier!


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