The Question You Should Ask Yourself Before Changing Careers

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Starting a new career can be daunting, even downright terrifying. But it's worth the risk, because if done for the right reasons, changing your career can be the best decision you ever make. Sure work is work, but a job shouldn't just be about making money; it should be interesting, fulfilling, and — if you're truly lucky — even enjoyable. If you're currently trying to figure out how to transition into a new career that makes you feel all of the above, read on.

Turns out, if there were ever a reason to adapt a "YOLO" mindset, it's this. "If you are feeling like your current job isn't a fit, don't ignore that feeling," prompts Rebecca Fraser-Thill, a career coach and director of faculty engagement at the Bates College Center for Purposeful Work. "About 80 percent of the people who contact me to consider career coaching say that they feel like they've wasted years spinning in their own heads about whether to make a change or not, being miserable in the meantime ... years!"

While it's important to be satisfied in your line of work, it's equally important not to make a misguided decision that you'll ultimately regret. That's why Fraser-Thill guides her clients on what steps to take while supporting them through the process. Ahead, find out more expert advice on how to make a smooth job transition, as well as tips from a female entrepreneur who's experienced it firsthand.


Be Decisive

When deciding to make a career switch, the first step is just that: making the decision. It's a big one, so you need to make sure it's not fueled by a bad day, toxicity among colleagues, or the pressures of unrealistic work expectations. If this is the case, maybe it's your employer, not your career, that needs an overhaul.

But if you're unfulfilled with your life's work thus far — a realization, it turns out, many people come to grips with around age 30 — you're certainly not alone. "The decisions we make when graduating college about our career and lifestyle are ill-informed, at best," Fraser-Thill points out. "It takes a few years, at least, of living the day-to-day of a career and a lifestyle (e.g., 'work hard, play hard,' 'a long commute is fine,' or 'living in a city will be exciting!') to actually see if it fits for us."

Don't Procrastinate

Whether you're in your 20s, 30s, 40s or beyond, Fraser-Thill says that once you've decided to change careers, it's crucial to do your research — but not to procrastinate. She mentions that some people might feel "too old" for a drastic work switch, but if that thought crosses your mind, consider this: Would you rather be doing it five or 10 years from now, when you can no longer stand being miserable? "Might as well make the change now — thoughtfully, not rashly — and feel more contented and settled by the time the next decade milestone in your life rolls around," she says.

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Research Your Next Move

"Of course making a career change isn't as simple as 'just do it,' nor should it be," Fraser-Thill admits. "A change should be intentional and thoughtful, with a good deal of time (weeks or months) spent identifying your own strengths, interests, values, and personality type; exploring and actively trying out a variety of paths through informational interviewing, volunteerism, job shadowing, and other means; and a balanced consideration of how your finances and lifestyle will be impacted by any possible change."

After everything is mapped out, Fraser-Thill says that many of her clients realize they're not looking for a drastic change, but a new role within their industry. This was the case for Gabriela Lawrence, who went from working a tedious PR job to creating a company of her own.

"I began PushingSix four years ago as a fashion and lifestyle blog with a friend as a way to keep my creativity/sanity while I powered through seemingly never-ending work days," she recalls. "After connecting with my first client, I decided to merge the two (blog and business), since I had already created a platform. I officially transitioned my passion project into PushingSix, the agency, in 2017."

Make Your Current Role Relevant & Begin Networking

So you've decided to go for the gold and have your sights set on your next role. Now what? Fraser-Thill says, don't quit your job just yet. Instead, figure out how to build skills in your current role that will make you an asset in your dream job and help build your resume. "Once you've gathered all the data and recognized where you want to head, then and only then is time to make the change through networking, creating a skills-based resume, and job crafting in your existing role to build and prove new skills needed in the desired role," she says.

For instance, if you work in an office but want to be in marketing, capitalize on opportunities to get involved in relevant projects that you can show to future employers. Writing newsletters, composing emails, and maintaining social media accounts will all utilize communication-based skills needed for your future position.

Lawrence notes that making connections while still in her previous job was paramount to her current company's success in its early days. "While still working at my last PR job, I kept meeting so many influencers and creatives who had embarked on their own solo professional journeys," she says. "I kept saying to myself, 'If they can do this, so I can I.'"

But in retrospect, she thinks she may have benefitted from networking even more. "If I had to go back in time, I probably would have reached out to more entrepreneurs/mentors/power players in the PR space before beginning, just to soak up as much insider insight as possible," she says. And thanks to the internet and sites like LinkedIn, connecting with industry professionals is easier than ever.

Take The Leap

No matter how prepared you are, when it comes time to finally take the leap, it can be really scary. "There isn't ever a 'right time' [to change careers]," says Lawrence. "I never had plans to start my business when I did, however a series of fortunate events led me in the right direction, and I have been pushing through ever since!"

While there will inevitably be obstacles along the way, Lawrence has a piece of advice for fellow career-changers: "Don't be afraid to just dive in. Learning by doing will always be the biggest driver in terms of professional growth."