Stories from Career Advice

How to Actually Change Your Career (and Life) in 3 Steps

Kristin Wong

Kristin WongJanuary 2, 2020

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If you’ve considered making a career change, you’re not alone. A 2019 survey of 1,500 women conducted by workplace-equality platform InHerSight found that 73 percent of women are looking to shake things up professionally, and that stat is up 28 percent from the prior year. A top reported reason for seeking a such a shift is pay (32 percent), but there are a number of other reasons contributing to women feeling poised to professionally pivot.

For one, there’s burnout. A 2018 Gallup poll found that 23 percent of American workers report feeling burnt out very often or always, and 44 percent report feeling it sometimes. Those numbers can translate to career-change action: InHerSight’s survey found that 13 percent of women cited burnout as the guiding reason for their desire for career change. And according to experts, that makes sense. “I think women encounter more major life changes or come up against obstacles at work that push them to become creative problem-solvers,” says Lauren McGoodwin, founder and CEO of Career Contessa and author of the forthcoming Power Moves: How Women Can Pivot, Reboot, and Build a Career of Purpose. “Many times this means switching companies or careers in order to make work ‘work’ for them and their lives.”

While swapping gigs won’t necessarily cure burnout, a career move can serve as a motivational tool for rethinking priorities. For instance, 16 percent of respondents to the InHerSight poll indicated that they wanted to change careers out of a desire to do work they believe in. And while “switching careers can disrupt your life, your finances, and certainly your stability at times,” says Ahyiana Angel, an NBA publicist turned writer and host of the Switch, Pivot or Quit podcast adds, the payoff can be worth it. Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute, for instance, polled more than 2,545 Danish workers across a variety of industries and jobs, asking them about their contentment with their work and found that the happiest workers were those who felt they had a sense of purpose and meaning. This was a higher predictor of job satisfaction than having a good manager.

“Once you begin a self-awareness journey or get clarity, you seek work that has more meaning, and sometimes that requires a career switch.” —Ahyiana Angel, host of the Switch, Pivot or Quit podcast

“The women around me who transition careers are either seeking a deeper sense of self-awareness, or they’re very clear on who they are,” says Angel. “Once you begin a self-awareness journey or get clarity, you begin to seek to do work that has more meaning, and sometimes that requires a career switch.”

Signs it’s time for a professional shake-up

“I’ve come to realize that there are some very clear signs when you are in need of a switch, pivot, or quit in your career,” says Angel, who was working as a publicist for 10 years before deciding change her professional life. “I realized I wasn’t utilizing all of the skills that I wanted to tap into on the day-to-day.” After identifying her love of writing, she searched for agents, took writing classes, put together a manuscript, and then published her first book.

A few of those signs that it’s time for a change that Angel mentions include feeling discouraged to start your day, an attitude change at work and at home, a lack of professional advancement, and being more excited outside of work. In some cases, though, the signs that you’re ready for a change may be subtle, like a sense that there’s more out there for you. And if that’s the case? Go for it—professional happiness is yours for the taking.

Ready for a career change? Here’s your 3-step guide for what to do next:

1. Test the waters

Even if you’re sure it’s time to shake things up, try exploring the possibilities before making a major life decision. Testing the waters might mean going on a single job interview, or freelancing on the side. “While still in my career as a publicist, I explored other careers and hobbies to open up my frame of reference and better understand my options,” Angel says. “Once I found myself being drawn to things that were more suited for my skills and personality, I knew that I had to take action.”

For McGoodwin, testing the waters meant volunteering her services. She started her career as an administrative assistant at a university before realizing higher education wasn’t where she wanted to be. “This pushed me to start exploring other careers that were a better fit for me,” she says. So, she took a small recruitment assignment without pay as an experiment to see if that focus resonated with her. Ultimately, after taking the time to explore possibilities, she found her “skills and interests were better aligned to that career path.” And during the nine months following this realization, she went on more than 30 informational interviews with other recruiters to learn the field. She also rewrote her résumé, learned about hiring software, and searched for any information she could find in her desired industry.

2. Network, and then network more

Through informational interviews and other avenues, it’s crucial to strike connections with others who are already doing what you want to do. As a result, you’ll get a feel for what your new career will be like, which can help you make sure that the switch is, indeed, a smart move for you to make. “Determine what you want to do and at least a few companies you’re interested in working for,” McGoodwin says. “From there, start talking to everyone. Dedicate time each week to reaching out to people, attending events, and so on.”

3. Consider who will benefit from your switch

Switching careers can be inspirational to others who are considering a similar choice, and Angel says knowing this can provide you with personal motivation to follow through. Of course, not everything we do needs to benefit other people—especially not the choice to make a career change. But, if you need that extra nudge to hold you to a plan that’s hard to see through but important for your long-term happiness and success, the reality that your diligence may motivate others to advocate for themselves can help.

“There’s someone out there waiting for you to step into your full potential and operate as the highest-achieving version of yourself,” Angel says. “They need to see you as an example. That person cannot take their first step into their greatness until you take your first step into yours.”

So, you’re ready to snag a dream job in your new career of choice. Here’s are career-expert-approved confidence-boosting tips so you can master your interviews. Plus, make sure you don’t sell yourself short in salary negotiations.

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