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By Paul Schrodt
September 29, 2020
Mark Wang for Money

If you’re thinking about shifting careers, you’re far, far, far from alone. In fact, it’s becoming the new normal: 49% of people say they’ve made a dramatic career switch, according to a recent Indeed survey. Millennials in particular are virtually turning it into a hobby: Gallup found in 2016 that 21% of those in the generation said they’d changed jobs within the past year, more than three times the number of non-millennials who reported the same.

That doesn’t mean the pivot is easy, especially when you’re reaching for a very different line of work. Add a pandemic and a volatile job market, and it can feel nearly impossible for some of us to consider suddenly adopting a new profession.

But the current recession is also an opportunity to zoom out on the bigger picture. Whether you’ve been unsatisfied in your career path or your job seems risky in the moment this might be a time to map out a future that’s both satisfying and potentially financially rewarding.

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“Any time there’s a crisis, it can spark this self-evaluation of, ‘Hey, where am I in my life and career? Am I doing things that feel really fulfilling, that challenge me, or are going toward career goals I’ve set for myself?’” says Alison Sullivan, a career expert for job site Glassdoor.

‘The two Rs’

Whether you’re simply hopping over to a new company or want to enter an entirely different field, Sullivan has a standard rule of thumb.

“I call them the two Rs of job seeking: research and reflection,” she says. “Have that be your day-one action. First off, take time to really pick through what your values are in your career. What skills and strengths do you bring to the table? What do you not have that you want to grow? And what feels like the right move?”

While that might seem simple enough, Sullivan advises that it’s critical to align your vision with the next, more mundane task: “Research the nitty gritty. Open up your laptop and Google what companies, what industries make sense. Learn whether you need to go back to school, and if so, what programs are the right fit.”

Translate what you already have

Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be if you think practically about how you can insert yourself into an area where you might, at first glance, seem like an outsider. The truth, Sullivan notes, is that you may be more capable of entering that world than you think.

“Knowing how your specific experience translates is going to be really key, especially in today’s job market. Employers have stacks of resumes,” she says. Knowing the fine details of the job, what it requires, and the company will enable you to savvily find your way in.

Blindly blasting out resumes on job sites is not the move. “Optimizing your materials and interactions with employers might seem small, but it sets you far and away apart,” Sullivan adds. That doesn’t necessarily mean only seeking the jobs you already feel comfortable in. “Be able to connect the dots for the employer. Maybe you don’t have advanced knowledge of this skill, but you have greater expertise in this other field that can really apply. Showing examples of learned new skills in previous positions proves you’re really passionate about that role and will grow into it. That’s exciting for employers.”

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Take steps, not leaps

Sullivan is a big proponent of easy-to-check-off to-do items, whether it’s sending out one application every few days or getting two people to review your resume. “That sense of day-to-day action will keep you motivated when you feel like you’re hitting a wall,” she says. But know your limits when you’re drained: “It’s okay to rest for a day, too.”

It doesn’t hurt to dip your feet in before the big switch. Side hustles are easier than ever, Sullivan points out, as many of us perform our full-time jobs from home with more flexible schedules. Been dreaming of a future as an interior designer? Ask friends and family if they know someone looking for help redoing a room. Sell your talent and you might score a payday, however small, that can unlock powers you’ll develop from there.

Networking no longer exists as it did at physical conferences and crowded happy hours, but it’s more bustling than ever on the vast internet if you know where to look. Webinars are rapidly proliferating from MasterClass to more hidden free digital panels with vets in their businesses on platforms like Eventbrite. Email listservs and specialized Facebook groups (sometimes private) can also offer a relatively simple foot in the door for particular industries.

“There’s a buffet of digital resources at your disposal. Use that to your advantage,” Sullivan says. Sometimes it’s as simple as a direct message asking for someone’s time to propel forward.

Confidence is king. Faking it is not.

The old cliche is that you fake it until you make it. But it’s better to, well, actually believe in yourself and your capability to throw yourself into the deep end of a new endeavor, as scary as it can be at first.

“No employer expects you to have 100% of the qualifications,” Sullivan says.

But please, don’t lie, because it may bite you in the end. Fudging your proficiency in a given talent and then getting in over your head, Sullivan says, can lead to a despairing road that more or less gets you back to where you started for your troubles. “Being transparent about your experience in an interview or resume helps you find a position you like and you’re a fit for.”

Expect that you’ll fail at first, at least a little. It’s part of the long game of transitioning careers, so play it right. If you’re not hearing back from employers or not nailing the interviews, “use that to learn,” Sullivan coaches. “Reach out and ask for feedback. Ask people in that industry to read your resume.”

No matter how prepared you are for your next career chapter, know that at the end of the day you have to be ready to jump in.

“No change is ever completely risk-free. You’re always taking a leap of faith,” Sullivan concludes. “Maybe you’re never done a role quite like this before, but there’s a reason it attracts you. Have confidence, plug in, and learn along the way.”

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Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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