You have worked hard and achieved some success. But there’s a little–or not-so-little–part of you that really wants to do something else. Once factors like a mortgage, car payment, and family or other obligations begin to populate your life, it’s tough to ditch it all and start over in something new. The good news is that you might not have to.
“Most jobs, whether it’s an engineering job or a sales job, have a lot of similar traits and qualities and skill sets,” says Scott Shearin, founder of Veteran Talent Advisors, a veteran-focused recruiting agency in Loveland, Ohio. He works with veterans in transitioning into new jobs.
The reality of what it’s like to work in another career may be quite different than it appears from the outside. That’s why you need to dig beneath the surface and find out what it’s really like in that role, says Carolyn Betts, CEO of Betts Recruiting. Interview people who have the job and, if possible, spend some time on site with someone who does the job. The reality of being a chef in a French restaurant, working in public relations, or owning a bookshop may be wildly different from your vision. Tap your network for leads or call trade or local business associations for advice and contacts.
“People are typically pretty willing to talk about their jobs if you ask them. Ask what they love about the job. And ask what they wish they would have known before they started,” she says. They may even offer to help you make the leap, she adds.
Once you have a good understanding of the skills necessary to do your dream job well, start matching them up with your own, Shearin says. Dive into the projects on which you’ve been working for the past several years. Write down those accomplishments and work on making them relevant resume fodder for the role you want to take on.
Did you handle purchasing or budget management responsibilities? You’ll likely need to do that when you work in that nonprofit organization you love. Did you work on a marketing effort at your current company? Put that experience front and center when you pitch yourself to the advertising agency where you’d like to work.
Once you start comparing the skills you have with the skills you need, you might see some gaps, Shearin says. In some cases, like nursing or other highly skilled work, additional education may be required. However, if that’s not the case, you may be able to shore up your skills with study, training, volunteering, or even moonlighting.
If you’re interesting in making the leap to event planning, you might volunteer at a few nonprofit events. Looking for a job in sales? Try taking a sales class at a local college or a part-time job in the field. In some cases, you may even be able to start freelancing or consulting if your chosen field doesn’t require licensing or certification, and if doing so doesn’t violate your employment agreement. Anything you can do along these lines helps you gain both experience and contacts, he says.
Before jumping ship entirely into new waters, see if there’s a way to make a more calculated transition, suggests Jennifer Selby Long, founder and principal of Oakland, California-based organizational development firm Selby Group, LLC.
Can you do your current job in your preferred industry, or move towards doing your dream job in the area in which you currently work? For example, if you’re an accountant who dreams of designing shoes, look for a numbers-crunching gig in the shoe sector. Or you might talk to your employer about moving within your company to get closer to your dream job.
“Employers are facing a massive talent drain, and are eager to take unconventional approaches to keep top performers. This makes it a great time to tell your employer that you want to move to a different part of the company or try a different type of work,” she says.
Even if you do have to take a step back, you shouldn’t have to start over in most cases if you have a track record of achievement, Betts says. Your work experience has value, and it’s important to understand that. If a company is asking you to work for entry-level pay or otherwise undervaluing your skills, it might not be the right fit.
“A lot of the skills that my clients are looking for are work ethic, the ability to get out and talk to anybody, picking up the phone, truly understanding people’s business issues,” she says. “If you have the heart and desire to do some of that work to get in front of the right people, once you’re there in the meeting, your knowledge and showing them that you really understand the business can show that you’d be very valuable in the role.”