3 Rules For Making A Career Change (Without Losing Everything You've Ever Worked For)

Earlier in my career, I was working as a marketing manager at a beauty company — a position that I thought would check every box on my “dream job” checklist.

But, as it turns out, I wasn’t great at marketing, I wasn’t fulfilled by working in that industry, and I realized that what I really wanted was to build a career doing the one thing I’d always loved: writing.

There was one problem, though, and it was a big one: All of my previous experience had been building toward my marketing role. Making a major change would mean scrapping everything I had been working for and heading back to square one — not exactly an inspiring thought.

But fast forward a few years later, and I was starting my position as Editor in Chief at The Muse, a website dedicated to helping people find jobs that they love. I had pivoted my career into a role that perfectly matched what I was looking for, and I was able to do so by building on my past experience — not starting from scratch.

So, I’m here to tell you that, if you’re not happy, but you’re daunted by the prospect of making a career 180, I’ve been there. And throughout my own experience, I’ve identified three steps that can help you get closer to your goals.

Paula Volchok
You may or may not have an idea of the field you’d like to transition to, but either way, there’s probably more you need to know about it. After all, the grass tends to look greener, but it doesn’t necessarily feel that way once you’ve hung out in it for a while.

So your first step is to get your hands on as much information as you possibly can. Not only will it help you figure out whether you’d truly enjoy this career path, but your new knowledge will allow you to tackle your transition more strategically.

There’s all kinds of research you can do: Read articles and sign up for newsletters from websites in that field. Follow industry leaders on social media. Stalk people on LinkedIn to find out more about their career paths. Even take some classes to get a feel for whether or not you like that path. (This last one was key for me — taking several different courses quickly showed me which types of writing I loved and which I didn’t.)

Another piece of the puzzle is talking to everyone you can, whether that’s friends-of-friends, fellow alumni, or folks you meet at events or conferences. Your goal? To learn about people’s career paths, discover interesting companies and positions, and build relationships that might be helpful later when you start looking for jobs. Which brings me to...
Paula Volchok
Remember trying to land your first job? You probably encountered this catch-22 at least once: You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience.

Unfortunately, making a career change is similar. Not many employers are willing to take a chance on someone who’s green — especially when there are other qualified candidates. So, it’s true: You need experience.

However, that doesn’t necessarily need to come from a full-time job. You could take on freelance work or a side project. You could join a board or volunteer. You could start a blog or podcast, or see if you can take on something new in your current position. You could even try the adult version of an internship: At The Muse, I’ve hired several part-time writers who used that nights-and-weekends experience to transition into editorial positions — the same approach I used myself.

No, it’s not the same as having a jam-packed resume in your new field, but getting creative with your experience can help you land that first necessary position, or even a “bridge job” — a role that’s not exactly where you want to be, but a step in the right direction.
Paula Volchok
So, I’m not referring to your wardrobe here (unless you’re trying to move from big law to startups or vice versa), but rather, how you present yourself and tell your story to the outside world. In other words, when someone meets you at an event, checks out your LinkedIn profile, or Googles you, you want to project not just where you’ve been, but where you’re going.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’ve spent your whole career in pharmaceutical sales, but you want to do business development for wellness startups. When someone asks you what you do, you’re probably used to answering with your current job title and company — and stopping there.

But why not try something like, “I’ve always worked in healthcare, and currently, I’m in pharma sales. But what really excites me is how people can take charge of their own health without those drugs. So I’m spending my time now looking for startups who could use my industry knowledge to help with their sales and BD efforts.”

Want to try it for yourself? Consider the following:

Your Transferrable Skills: What abilities do you bring to the table, no matter what job you have?

Your Additive Skills: What can you offer to the job you want that more traditional candidates can’t?

Your Goals and Future: What are you actively working toward?

Once you understand those elements, you can pull them together into a story about yourself that shares where you want to go — a story that you can weave through your social media profiles, your LinkedIn summary, and the conversations you have with everyone you meet.

Believe me, I know how overwhelming making a career change can feel. And, I won’t deny the fact that it takes time, energy, and hard work — it doesn’t happen overnight.

However, little by little, as you learn, meet people, gain experience, and refine your brand, things will start to happen for you. And, if you’re truly committed to making a move, all these efforts are bound to pay off in the long run.

Adrian Granzella Larssen is a career expert and Editor-at-Large at TheMuse.com, the career site that’s helped more than 50 million people find and succeed at their dream jobs. Say hi on Twitter and Instagram.