Skip to content

These 5 Things Will Ensure a Successful Career Change

a career change takes time

You may have heard the phrase ‘anything good is worth waiting for.’ It’s another way of saying, “Be patient.”

This also applies to making a career change.

Making a career change is a big decision. There’s also a lot stacked against you when you start out. 

If you want to make a career change into something you’re “passionate” about, I would caution you to give that a second thought. Passion is an emotion, and emotions are fleeting.

Even the most passionate things in life can begin to feel like a ‘job’ again when done as a profession.

I don’t want to bring you down or rain on your parade, but following a ‘passion’ can be overrated. 

For more on that, check out the excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport (disclosure: I’m paid a commission through the Amazon Affiliate program).

It’s also important to not confuse wanting to follow a ‘passion’ with wanting to make a difference; they’re different but often mentioned together.

Separate the two, and you may be on to something. 

The point I’m trying to make is, as I mentioned, ‘passion’ is an emotion. Often, people want to make a career change based on emotion. It’s not a good idea.

Emotion can cause us to make irrational decisions. Like when you get into a spirited discussion with a coworker and promptly walk into your manager’s office and quit. Probably a bad decision. Especially in a down economy like we’re in now.

Take your time. Explore the edges of your ideas. Talk to people who do what you want to do. Find out what’s great about it and what’s not. Are the tradeoffs worth it? 

If you don’t find yourself eager to learn as much as you can, that may be a sign that your ‘passion’ is already fading.

If you need me to tell you to read, listen, and watch everything you can on the topic or career, then it may not be something you want to quit your job and jump right into. Curiosity and a strong desire to learn more should be there.

Start Small

Take your time and find ways to work on small projects as a freelancer. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to be curious, be a professional, and have a knack for figuring things out.

I know there are a lot of people touting the benefits of saying ‘no’ these days, but when you’re exploring uncharted territory when it comes to your career, try saying ‘yes’ more than ‘no.’

It will do a couple of things. One, it will get you used to being outside of your comfort zone. Saying ‘no’ is a convenient place to hide, especially with so many people espousing the concept. It’s an excellent excuse and people ‘get it,’ but it’s not productive.

Second, it will give you a broader range of exposure to things you may not have tried otherwise. This experience may lead to uncovering something you enjoy doing but wasn’t on your radar.

By starting small, you’ll have an opportunity to get real-world, hands-on experience. This will build your confidence, highlight areas you need to dive deeper in to learn, and provide a base that you can now slowly develop your expertise.

Everyone starts somewhere, and not one person in the world knew the stuff you’re trying to learn as soon as they were born. They started from ground zero, too.

When small projects come your way, don’t be afraid to ask more experienced people for advice. They’re often more than willing to share what they know.

Find a Mentor

Speaking of advice,…find a mentor. If not a mentor, find someone open to you reaching out if you get stuck. Or someone you can reach out to from time to time to talk about the industry or topics related to what you’re trying to learn.

This was one of the most important things I did when I made the change from corporate recruiting to marketing. 

My cousin, Julie (Warnecke) Woempner, started a digital marketing agency a few years before I decided to make a move. She had been an early employee at Google on what was then known as their AdWords team, now called Google Ads. 

After Google’s IPO, she left Mountain View and moved back to Indianapolis, where we both grew up only five miles from each other.

She knew paid search (also known as pay-per-click advertising) very well and provided insight around that subject and starting a digital marketing agency.

As I was learning the basics, she helped me see my blind spots. I was also able to stay on top of the latest MarTech (marketing technology) through our conversations. Even if I didn’t have clients, I would also take advantage of free trials of these tools and platforms to learn more about how they work and how I could use them. 

Volunteer for a Non-Profit 

This may be one of the best things you can do. I don’t think I need to go into the details of why, since it should be obvious, but being able to get experience *and* help a worthy cause should say it all. 

Many non-profits are extremely budget-conscious and cannot hire the type of professionals that for-profit businesses can employ. That means things like marketing are done by someone who typically focuses on something more in line with their skills and expertise.

When I was just starting out in digital marketing, I found out about the Google Grants program. This program offers $10,000 in monthly ad spend to qualifying non-profits. This is a phenomenal program that many non-profits are not just unaware of, but most of the time, they’re not qualified to manage the accounts to the restrictive standards that Google has tied to the program.

I found out about this program and let my network know that I could help any interested non-profits through the application process and then set up and manage the accounts for them on a pro bono basis.

That was in 2014, and I’m still working with one of the non-profits, the Team Jack Foundation, to this day.

Get an Internship – Even if You’re Over 30

Volunteer to be a part-time intern. If it has been 20 years since you graduated from college, you can call it something different if it makes you feel better. After all, it’s just a name or title that has been made up.

Obviously, a paid internship is ideal, and I’m a big believer in getting paid for your time. But, if you have another job and are willing to trade a chance to gain experience and build your network for a small monetary payout, then you should consider an unpaid internship.

Regardless of your age, considering that you usually have to pay to get an education, getting real experience is far better than any class you could pay for.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job.

The last piece of advice I’ll share may seem obvious, but sometimes emotions can get the best of us, leading to irrational decisions.

No matter how anxious you may be to dive right into the latest idea you have around your career change, don’t quit your day job. It’s income and, believe it or not, is also freedom.

With the safety net of steady income, you’re able to take more risk in the things you try. This will allow you to gain more insight and explore the edges of the new career you want to forge. You may uncover things that you would not have experienced if you were to jump right into the fire and have the added stress of needing to generate income as quickly as possible.


Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash