How to Decide on a New Career Path
Dear Career Changer,
I’ve been wanting a career change and have a few different passions that I have no professional experience with. But I have no idea how to move forward. Any advice?
Enthusiastic, But Inexperienced
Dear Enthusiastic, But Inexperienced,
As a career changer myself—and someone with many interests—I can definitely relate. I started as a writer before eventually becoming a product manager. I’ve also played in a rock band, run a board game crowdfunding campaign, and learned to code. As I see it, you can either find a new career that matches your passion or make time for that passion outside your job.
It sounds like you’re hoping for the former, but I’ll admit that it can be challenging to find a fulfilling hobby that pays the bills. So I can suggest a couple steps to get you going in the right direction.
First, set aside some free time for whatever it is you love. For me, that meant going to open jam sessions at a local music studio and signing up for free coding hackathons around the city. The goal here is to see if spending your Saturdays pursuing your passions is actually enough—or if it just whets your appetite for a full-fledged career.
On top of this self-discovery, you’re also building your skills. The more time you devote to something, the better you get—and the more you learn what’s out there.
Perhaps even more important are the people you meet along the way—the connections you build at this stage will be invaluable if you decide to really commit. If the casual hobby route isn’t doing it for you, ask around that network you just built to discover where the money is.
You’ll also need to make more time to learn and practice so you’re ready when you find the right opportunity. For me and some fellow musicians, this meant regular rehearsals while looking for open mic nights, building a social media presence, and soliciting paying gigs. At this stage, you’re essentially freelancing on the side. No matter what industry you’re breaking into, the hardest part is finding those paying customers.
In some cases, your dream career might be on the other side of some formal training. A friend of mine quit his job to attend a coding bootcamp with the goal of becoming a developer. Another took a six-month internship in a new industry to hone his skills. Personally, I was fortunate that The Muse needed more hands on the product team, so I had a chance to shadow some product managers and help out on their projects.
Finally, when you’ve built up your resume—through formal training, freelance work, or a long list of quality passion projects—it’s time to find that dream job.
For me, this came in conversations with HR and the product team, since I was seeking an internal transfer. But for most, this means tons of applications and interviews in a new industry—which can be intimidating. I’d recommend leveraging the network you’ve built up, since someone might have a friend at a company that’s hiring. Additionally, that portfolio of recent projects is a powerful way to reinforce your career-changer story.
The hardest part from here on will likely be fighting imposter syndrome. Instead of comparing your own background with those of “professionals” who went to school for this thing or have been doing it for years, think about your progress. Focus on how much you’ve learned—and how quickly you’ve learned it—and make sure you’re keeping up the pace as you pursue each new opportunity.
The route from passion to profession is different for everyone. Maybe you’ll be satisfied selling your stuff on Etsy or completing freelance projects on the side—or maybe you’ll opt to make a full-fledged career change.
Keep an open mind and connect with other talented people in your new field, and I’m confident you’ll feel more fulfilled—whether or not you end up changing careers.
This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Career Changer in the subject line.
Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.