Can You Really Change Careers Without Starting Over?

By Monday, April 1, 2013 7 Permalink 0
can you really change careers without starting over?

God please get me off this highway to hell.

So you’ve been working a few years and realized what you’re doing today isn’t what you wanna do for the rest of your life. You’ve decided it’s time to make a change, essentially pressing reset on your career. You identify your target gig then look for the best opportunity to make the jump.

Looks like you’ll have to take a lower level job.

You look at the pay and realize it’s 20-30% less than you make now, which would cause all sorts of self-inflicted financial hardships. That’s not what’s hot in the streets, so what can you do? Can you really change careers without taking a step back?

The answer?

No. Unless you work for yourself.

We’re in rehab from a devastating recession and there are a ton of people searching that already have the job skills. Why would a hiring manager pick you, the person who doesn’t have the experience, over the person that has a great personality AND the experience to do the job today? Less training, less ramp up costs. Less time to do their jobs because they’re training you.

I don’t say this to discourage you. I say this based on my recruiting experience. It’s very difficult to switch careers and make the same amount of money off the bat. Let’s just accept that and chalk it up to the game. So what should you do? I have some ideas:

Have a Career Plan

This sounds basic, but so many people drop the ball here. I’ve done it myself.

You should always have an idea of your next step. You should also set time/deadlines for when you’ll make transitions and progressions in your career. If you’re tiring at jobs every two to three years, you shouldn’t be at a job three years and three months “suddenly” realizing your daily drudgery is driving you insane and that the work isn’t fulfilling. Know yourself and know your plan. Make sure you’re doing professional pulse checks on an ongoing basis — maybe every six months to start. If your path involves a transition, you should recognize it sooner. That leads me to my next tip:

Save! Save! Save!

If you’re doing your job well, you should always expect to make more the next year. However, I believe in being prepared to make less. I’m not assuming you’ll get fired, laid off or endure other wack sauce. I’m assuming that somewhere along the way, you may realize you’re on the wrong path. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of life. Plan for it. You shouldn’t just be saving for financial emergencies, you should be saving for career emergencies too. Here’s a list of resources to get you started.

Dumb It Down…But Also Step It Up

Submitting a résumé that highlights your irrelevant expertise (that’s what it is) doesn’t cut it. Don’t start putting internships on your résumé, but you should highlight whatever experience you have that’s relevant to the job. And since it’s a transition, a lot of that real experience may read as entry level. That’s fine if you’re changing careers. But if you’ve got the stuff and it just isn’t your main responsibility, by all means play it up. The more the merry.

I say this because sometimes I see applicants with ten years of other experience and they’re trying to make a transition. When I see all the other stuff, my first question is “Yeah, I get the transition. But why would we hire someone with a ton of experience in this other area when we just need basic experience in this area? There are 50 other candidates that meet the mark.”

So if the job requires 0-1 years of librarian experience, don’t submit an application saying you have 10-15 years of expertise in java and .net programming. You will lose…like every time.

If you focus on these three areas, you’ll be a lot more prepared for a career transition when the realization happens…if it hasn’t happened already. Expect to take a step back so you can go a step further; so when you do hit reset, you don’t feel like you’ve been reincarnated as a bedbug.


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  • AJ Sis

    This article is so spot on in terms of timing for me. I was recently let go from an ASP company that I worked at for almost 5 years. The last ten years I worked as an application/software analyst and Project Manager for three large companies making a decent middle class wage. Since the lay off I have enrolled in some higher education (the third educational instituition since I was 18) and am returning to school to pursue my initial dream/plan of being a nurse. I have returned to accumulating large amounts of educational debt, working little to not at all professionally, nurturing my fabulous elementary age children and paying a mortgage. I am blessed that I have a great village of supporters, the courage to breathe – placing one foot in front of the other and the experience I have gained up to this point that allows me to better navigate the journey of my life. I try my best to keep my focus on gratitude and aspiration to improve my life by fulfilling my dreams and loving those closest to me. Changing directions is a huge risk and definitely an initial step back to take a more fulfilling leap forward.

    • Rich

      You made an awesome point about having a village of supporters. That’s worth a post in itself! So important when you’re making a career transition! Thanks for sharing and enjoy the journey!

  • LCA

    Very timely…as I’m in the process of switching careers. I currently work at a cable network and have been for the last 7 years and am looking to switch to the music industry. I’ve recently hired a financial advisor to help develop a plan to pay down my debt and am applying to get my Masters in Music Business. I’m looking forward to what’s to come, but I’m very aware that sacrifices will need to be made. I know it will be well worth it in the end.

  • Tey

    I am in the middle of this right now! So i have a law degree, a job doing regulatory/compliance but now I want to change into the commercial law space. I have sent my cv to every firm I can imagine with no positive responses. I feel highly frustrated. I’ve only been working for 3 years, so its not like I have yonks of experience- plus Im considered to be an entry level attorney because I havent been admitted as yet- so I come cheap!
    I have a good academic record, im an all rounder, I dont understand the problem! I’d quit my current job and aggressively search for jobs, but I dont have savings so…………….. Thanks for the article though!

    • Rich

      Thanks for the comment. How is your networking? The majority of people I know landing new gigs had someone in their corner at the place they applied, or someone connected to the person at the place they applied. I think that’s what’ll take to get better traction, though it may still be a slow and steady race.

      • Tey

        Thanks Rich! I sat at work on Friday night and read your entire site! I was greatly helped! I revamped my LinkedIn, my CV and cover letters! Now working on my Professional Profile! This is a gem for me! Im even thinking of starting to write again- i had a blog… you know how the story ends!

        Thanks again!

        FYI : Im in South Africa- followed you from SBM! Ill be sharing these tips with my friends

        • Rich

          I’ve reserved space in my heart for my South Africa