The Roadmap to Switching Careers

The Roadmap to Switching Careers
by Sarah Woehler
Photos Joe Kathrina | April 21, 2015
Switching careers isn't easy, but it can be done. Follow these steps to build a successful roadmap to your dream job.
There was a time when people were offered a job and stayed with the company, from the time they entered the workforce to the time they retired. While this has since changed, there still exists a tendency to stay in the same or similar industry for the span of one’s working life, either (a) because one finds the right industry fit from the get-go (lucky them!), or (b) because of the overwhelming anticipated obstacles from changing fields.

But life is an ocean of opportunity and should not be lived merely treading its vast waters. To remain in a career or field that is unsatisfying is akin to staying in the wrong relationship just because you don’t want to go to bed alone at night.
To remain in a career or field that is unsatisfying is akin to staying in the wrong relationship just because you don’t want to go to bed alone at night.
When I got my MA in English during the height of the recession, I was fortunate to get a job offer from an environmental consulting firm, which I accepted. Working in the capacity of a project coordinator enabled me to put my writing and research skills to good use, in addition to scoring my own office, business cards, and a phone extension. So what if my writing consisted of analyzing oxygen levels and describing powerhouses? I was still writing, right?

I maintained a sense of gratitude for my job until a breakup and move to a new city made me face the fact that I was bored writing and analyzing O2 levels and dam dimensions. I was grateful that I was putting my writing and research skills to work, but I also had a burning desire to do something more creative, more people-oriented, more right-brained.

Whether by freelance writing and blogging, attending webinars in marketing, enrolling in a nutrition program, or embarking on a new venture working with individuals as a life and wellness coach, I have always kept busy moonlighting. I’ve done this because it’s critical for me to be self-actualized and growing every day, if not at my day job, then in my side pursuits.

My transformative life changes pushed me to explore career opportunities that fed me in the same manner that my hobbies and side jobs did. And it was these efforts that helped me land my dream job.

But switching careers after five years of working in a niche industry is not so simple, and it took me some time to develop a roadmap to success.

Here is what I have learned along the way:

Don’t be intimidated by a job posting in a field or industry different than your own; focus on your passion or excitement instead 

Focus on whether you have a genuine interest in the position, which will shine through when you apply for the job. I have had an interest in marketing for several years, so I sought marketing-oriented positions that contained an element of writing and creativity and went after those.

Likewise, when you see a job posting that appeals to you, study the description and reflect on how your skills might match up with the qualifications

This is an important exercise because it will help you determine when the job is even worth applying for. It will also serve as a firm foundation for developing a new resume.

Prepare a solid base resume knowing that you should tweak it accordingly for every job you apply for

Essentially, be prepared to develop a new resume for each job application you send, even if is just slightly modified from your base resume. Scrutinize your resume for typos and formatting glitches and have a friend peer-review it for you.

A good cover letter is king

When you feel passionate about the position you’re applying for, the cover letter is your opportunity to convey that. The resume serves the purpose of outlining your qualifications, but the cover letter is your time to craft your story, to convince a hiring manager that you’re interesting, engaging, and worthy of being shortlisted for an interview.

You never know who you’re going to meet, so be open, be friendly, and be candid about your interest in pursuing new employment opportunities

Opportunities are everywhere. I met someone on a red-eye flight recently who told me about an upcoming position at his company, encouraging me to apply. While I wound up accepting an offer from a different company, I still applied and interviewed with the company. If I hadn’t been open to networking on that late-night flight, I may not have otherwise learned about that opportunity.

The stuff you do outside of work is just as important as the stuff you do at work 

It not only demonstrates that you’re interesting and unique, but that you also have a kind of drive that isn’t just limited to your day job. In addition, your hobbies and side jobs may very well demonstrate that you have useful skills beyond just what you do at your existing company.

Life changes—even and especially the negative ones—can catapult you forward in ways you may not expect

Use them to your advantage. Sure, they can throw us into a tailspin in the beginning as we acclimate to our new life, but in time these changes present you with various opportunities for bettering yourself. They also push you out of your safety zone, and that is a good thing!
Life changes—even and especially the negative ones—can catapult you forward in ways you may not expect. 

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try (and try!) again

It takes time to find the right fit—both for the companies and for you. Know that for every job posting you read and for every position you apply for, you’re getting closer to your goal of doing work that you love—this is important momentum. It will happen when the time is right; trust in that and keep pushing forward.

Changing your career or gaining entry into a new field is no easy feat, but it has and can be done—my own success is proof of that.

Be patient, take your time, and be committed to landing the job of your dreams by following these key steps.

What have you included in your own roadmap for finding a new career path?