6 Tips For Making A Career Change, From Someone Who Has Done It


Most people spend a third of their lives — or 90,000 hours — at work.

When all those hours include stress due to wage gaps, societal pressures, commuting (or endless Zoom calls), it can be a lot. And if it feels like you should be doing something more with your life, you probably should.

Cue the BIG career change! (Pretend you hear trumpets as you read this.)

After many years as a healthcare professional, I switched careers and became a podcast producer and host. And what's wild, now that I've done it once? I anticipate another big career switch down the road in my lifetime.

But it doesn't start off so easily. It takes an immense mindset shift, planning, and decision making that will affect you and the people around you.

I've gathered some of the tools that helped me over the years and invited my friend and feminist career strategist Cynthia Pong to unpack these tips too.

1. If you don't know where to start, identify what you really need to change.

Be clear about what the problem is. You may not need a full-on change to get you into the space that you want.

Pong says, "Try to be as specific as possible. Is it the people you work with? Is it the schedule that you have to work on? Is it your supervisor?"

Take incremental steps to pinpoint the issue. If it's your boss or co-workers, think about switching departments. If it's the whole place, leave the people behind and do similar work elsewhere.

When we're unhappy or in crisis, it's hard to think of the options we may have to pivot away from our current specialty or try a different department.

If you've exhausted all options, it's time to shore up your resume.

2. Consider less-traditional ways to get the experience you need to make a big career change.

Take classes, volunteer, and get yourself familiar with your field of choice.

On the weekends I hosted a radio show, and at night, I took free online courses on audio engineering and other topics. I even sent myself on a learning vacation for a two-day class on live sound, just to see what I liked and make sure I wanted to follow this path.

3. Bring all your past experience and knowledge with you! Life experience can boost your confidence and be used as a negotiation tool.

There's a misconception that when you start a new career, you're starting from square one. And that's not actually the case. Would it surprise you if a bartender became a therapist? That old trope exists for a reason; they're great listeners if you keep paying them!

"You've developed a lot of skills and some of those are specific to that kind of work," Pong says. "But a lot of them are totally transferable."

You're already an all-star, and don't forget it!

4. Face the numbers. Learn about the salary structure of your new career and take steps in your current situation to be ready for the change.

Once you've come to terms with your financial picture, you should start doing research on the new job you'll be transitioning into. What can you realistically expect to earn? Are salaries in your new career ever going to be on par with those of your former career? Maybe they'll be higher! You want to have a clear picture so you know what you're stepping into.

Look at your bank accounts and bills, start a separate account and begin squirreling away cash there, and talk to a financial professional — I did and it started with me putting away $25 a week.

For your new career goals, visit pay scale websites and talk to people already in the field so you know what to expect and how to prepare.

If your current job offers continuing education, take some classes, and if you have benefits — use them!

Now that your money is on track, you'll find that you can't do it alone.

5. Tap into your support networks.

Your friends are your focus group. If they're questioning your choice, it may be worth hearing them out and listening to their concerns before making any drastic changes. But ultimately the decision is yours.

Once you've made a change, don't be afraid to ask for help. You need to encourage people around you who want to help you succeed, whether it means helping with childcare or just leaving you alone to study.

And don't forget the importance of getting out there and being around people in your new field!

6. You've got to keep it moving! Otherwise known as the Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda principle.

Many of us get overwhelmed by the prospect of starting over and we end up staying in the same place, regretful and resentful while it seems like everyone around us moves forward.

Process your feelings. No matter how long the road looks, the sooner you start, the sooner you get to the finish line.

Discover your ikigai, a Japanese term for "a reason for being." It's the intersection of what you love doing, what you're good at doing, what you get paid to do, and what the world needs of you.

I'll let Cynthia Pong have the last word on that: "Now, you don't need your job or your career to fulfill all of those circles, in my opinion...But I do think you will be happier if your work life and your life cover most of those four things."

The podcast portion of this episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis.

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