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Just thinking about changing careers can be overwhelming. Depending on which path you choose, it can be a daunting task. But, when you combine a little creative thinking with some strategic planning, making a change is much more doable.
Many people think of jobs in one-dimensional terms. They define a job by its title, being a writer, a secretary, an accountant, a salesperson, etc. What they don’t realize is that every position has two components: the job (responsibilities, duties performed, skills needed) and the field (the industry where the work is done). A marketing VP at an Internet start-up, for instance, has good interpersonal skills, is a strategic thinker and has experience creating marketing campaigns. She also is knowledgeable about the Internet industry as a whole.
Which leads to the three ways to transition into a new career. The most difficult way, but the path many people choose, is to change professions entirely: the job and the field. An administrative assistant at an insurance company, for example, decides she wants to become a magazine writer. This can be done, but it’s a tough move. In a potential employer’s eyes, a candidate without experience doesn’t bring much to the hiring table.
But, there are easier ways. One course is to move to new position in the same industry. In this scenario, an administrative assistant might look for a writing position in the insurance industry (working on a company newsletter or in the marketing department). Although she doesn’t have writing experience, she has knowledge of the field. Once she gets some writing experience changing fields will be easier.
Another option is finding the same position in a new field. Here, she makes the move from being an administrative assistant in the insurance field to a similar position at a publishing. Her long-term goal is to move from assistant to writer.
This example is one of my favorites for two reasons. First, because writing is a particularly difficult field to break into even if you have training and education behind you. Second, because I know two people who started writing just this way: one I met in college, the other was a colleague.
Several years ago I was working as a writer/editor at a small publishing company, which owned several magazines. While trading stories one day, I learned that an editor at one of the sister publications had started there as a secretary. But, what she wanted to be was a writer.
First she tried jumping from one profession to another. When that failed, she decided to take a job as administrative assistant to a magazine publisher. Now she had her proverbial foot in the door.
Whenever an editor left, Debbie was one of the first to know. And she was the first to apply for their job. No, they didn’t hire her as a writer the first time she asked. But eventually, her hard work paid off. When one of the editors was in a crunch, Debbie got a few assignments. Eventually she was hired full-time. She was a writer.
Making a transition in two-steps takes a bit longer. But it’s easier. It may be easier on the pocketbook as well: Generally, the less a candidate has to offer the employer, the less they will be paid.
One Step Move
If you’re determined to changing careers in one giant leap be prepared. It will be more difficult. But it’s certainly not impossible. And getting any experience in your new field will help.
Donating your time is a great way to gain experience. If you’re interested in the non-profit sector, volunteering is also one of the best ways to get hired. You get to work at something you support and learn about the organization. And they get to see what you have to offer. Guess, who’s first on their list when a job opens?
Even if you’re not looking for a career in non-profit, donating your time can be a great way to increase your skills and gain some credibility. Most organizations need help in several areas. If you’re trying to break into a creative field, this can be your opportunity to develop a writing, design or marketing portfolio. Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor to give you a written reference.
Another way to get on-the-job experience and an inside look at a new industry is to work as a temporary. Spending time as a temp gives you the opportunity to try on different positions and companies to see if you like them. (And they like you.) Many employment agencies have long-term positions and skills training available. Agencies often work with large corporations, which will look good on your resume and may lead to permanent employment. Some companies, like MTV, have their own Temp pool. If you’re interested in a particular company call human resources to see what options are available.
If going back to school is part of your plan, look for programs that offer an internship. Generally, an internship is arranged through the school. However, you may be able to create your own situation within certain guidelines. This is a great way to get experience and begin developing business relationships. Before you start, always make sure that your supervisor will provide a written recommendation.
Finally, one of the easiest ways to try something new is with a part-time job. Maybe you’re considering going into restaurant management or becoming a writer. Well, don’t quit your day job. Try it part-time first. Spend some time working as a waiter or a salad chef.
If you want to be a writer write for the local paper. Or submit your work on the web. You probably won’t get paid much in these markets; you may make nothing at all. But what you will get is valuable experience and those necessary writing clips.
Finding a new job is tough. Changing careers is tougher. But with a little creative thinking and strategic planning you can make it happen.