Choosing a career is a huge decision. Deciding to change industries is an even bigger one. You might be thinking: Do I have to go back to school? Will I have to start over completely with an internship? Is having a strong passion enough to qualify me for work in another field? Stop panicking! Much like switching majors in college, changing careers is a difficult process, but with a little hard work and confidence, it can lead you to your dream job.
We spoke to Emily Miethner, founder of FindSpark, a community of young creative professionals focused on career success, to get the scoop on career transitions. Her main advice? If you know how to talk about your professional story and you know a lot about the industry you want to get into, you can change careers successfully. So get started with these tips as your guide to a new professional you.
1. Be confident in your professional story
Own your past experiences and be proud of them. But at the same time, don’t waste an interview by talking about irrelevant experiences. “I don't think people realize how much control they have over their personal branding,” advises Miethner. “Take ownership over what you've done in the past.” Downplay internships that aren’t relevant, even if you did them for the longest amount of time. Focus on skills the employer wants to hear, even if that means only talking about your involvement in a club.
Take Tiffany Chiao, who holds an entertainment marketing position at HBO. A 2013 graduate from Rutgers University with a Master’s degree in Education, Chiao created a Twitter page for a just-starting-out band that grew to over a thousand followers—her advantage when applying to music jobs.
“I was always hesitant to apply to jobs that required X amount of experience, and I had little experience in entertainment marketing/PR,” says Chiao. “But one of the reps [I met at an event] told me that as long as I could spin my skills on my resume to fit the job description, then I should not let that stop me.” The bottom line is that what you’ve done at your jobs, and what you’ve gotten out of you experiences, is more important than the titles on your resume.
2. Perfect your pitch
Believing you have the ability to make a career change is half the battle. Building your confidence and being willing to step out of your comfort zone are major, necessary factors in creating a strong professional persona.
“You need to be able to practice talking about yourself, sharing your story and practicing your pitch,” says Miethner. “You'll never get better if you don't practice.”
Practical tip: Start with your LinkedIn page. Do you have a summary? Write one that explains your skills and what you can bring to a job. Showcase what you can do and why you are the person to do it.
3. Really do your research
Understanding the industry you want to get into and the people who make it tick is key.
“It’s important to understand if it’s right for you,” says Miethner. “It’s incredibly important to do your research.”
Don’t just look for opportunities on job boards. Read company websites, learn about the lives of successful people in the field and talk to everyone you know about your career change.
“I reached out to many different people, any connections that I had to the entertainment world, for jobs and resume advice,” says Chiao. “[The] key is to never burn bridges. Always follow up and check in with previous employers or coworkers or friends. You never know what doors they can open for you.”
Tom Dezell, career advisor and author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naive Job Seeker, agrees. “We tend to idealize what we want out of our career and, unless we speak to enough people who perform that work, we don’t get a true picture of what one actually does on a day-to-day basis.”
4. Network, network, network
You’ve heard it a million times, but networking really does make a difference.
Gillian Kane, a 2010 graduate from the University of Delaware with a finance degree, wanted to break out of her billing job and get into something with social media or movie-making.
“I went to multiple events that focused on networking and how to get your name out there and it was all really helpful… I am not a very extroverted person but I did gain some insight in how to make connections,” says Kane. “Always try something new… networking really pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
Tip: Network even when you are working where you want. As a temp at HBO, Chiao spoke to people in various departments and discovered new interests she had while getting the inside scoop on what really goes on behind the scenes. In a casual conversation you can ask people what they really like about their job. Who knows; you may discover a field you like even more.
5. You’ll have to put in some “side hustle”
Figuring out the skills you lack and then putting in the work to gain some experience is what Miethner calls a "side hustle." Take a college class to get a feel for the field, freelance or take on a small project that lets you dip your toes into that industry. Even volunteering can be a great way to get some sort of experience and reassurance that this is the right decision for you.
“You will have to work much, much harder than people who have had internships and experience in the field,” says Miethner. “But you can articulate how your past skills will be transferable to this new industry.”
The easiest thing you can do to jumpstart your career change? Use social media to gain insights into companies and make connections. Make your mindless scrolling more productive by following the companies and people you want to work for to get a better sense of the office culture.
6. You have something to fall back on
If all else fails, you do already have a career. Maybe the company you’re at just isn’t right for you.
“Some valid reasons to pursue a new career can be that the work you have chosen doesn’t inspire you the way you felt it would. Perhaps the future demand in your field will decline. Maybe you now realize that the salary scale in your occupation won’t support the lifestyle you want,” says Dezell. “Honestly analyze why you want to make a change. Make sure it’s actually the nature of the field/work that you want to move from.”
Kane, for example, didn’t end up switching careers in the end; she’s still in billing. Instead, she switched companies and is now employed at WeWork. “I am happy with my new job. WeWork is a great company and I'd like to see how much more the company can grow firsthand,” she says.
You may feel like you’re running out of time to find a job you truly love, but don’t worry too much.
“The time to switch careers, or explore different options is now. We are not tied down to a family or children. We have time to find what we want to do. If it doesn't work out, it is never too late to go back to what you got your degree in,” says Chiao.
7. Know that it’s not easy, but you’re not alone
Changing careers is a commitment. Deciding to make the transition is hard enough and going through the lengthy process can feel never-ending and hopeless.
“With my skills and experience in finance, I thought I could figure out a way in to making movies or television somehow, but it turned out to be pretty difficult,” admits Kane.
Sometimes, taking comfort in the fact that other people are going through the same thing will get you to your goal.
“I felt boxed in,” says Chiao about her first job as a teacher. “All I could think about was how young I was and how I already felt stuck… I wanted to meet new people and work with people around my age.”
And now she’s been at her job with HBO for a little over a year. “My friend said to me, ‘You are only person I know who is actually happy to go to work every day,’” says Chiao. “I have a great boss and team who have supported me since day one. I love the culture at my job—I've joined the softball team and triathalon training team… I'm living my dream at my dream job and couldn't be happier.”
Remember: don't lose hope. Taking on the stress that comes with making a major life change is not easy. Be proud of yourself for even trying to go through a career transition, no matter the outcome.