Career Transition: Is It OK To Step Backwards to Move Forward When Changing Careers?
Sometimes people who want to change careers let themselves get stopped in their tracks by an overpowering fear – the fear that they'll have to go backwards (in salary or level) if they take a job in that new career. In some cases, yes, that's true.
But depending on your background and the career you're going to next, you may be surprised where you can land yourself with the right career transition tools and approach. Then again, the right career move now, no matter what that may mean for you in the short run, can set the stage for a long-term successful career that you actually care about. Let's take a look at some possible ways you can make career change work for you.
The career change two-step
Sometimes, you just don't have the skills to get into a new industry in a way that lets you earn at least close to what you're earning now – and you aren't able or willing to start at the bottom. In that case, you can try to use what I'll call the "career change two-step". In my article "How to Use Transferable Skills to Make a Career Change," I talk about an example Richard Bolles uses in What Color Is Your Parachute? for making a career change using a two-step method. I wrote:
"If you are an accountant in the television industry and you want to become a reporter in the medical field (no direct connection between the two jobs), it helps to first get a job as accountant in medicine or reporter in television, each jump easier since there is some direct connection to what you do now. So when you finally go for the job you really want, you bring with you some direct experience related to your new career choice."
Although I know you'd probably prefer to start in your real dream job right away, if you can think of career change as a continuing process that eventually opens doors to what you really want (the way going back to school can), then finding that first jump to a career that uses skills and experience you already have, in a job more closely aligned to where you want to wind up, you will have begun your steps forward, while still making more money than an entry-level employee would. Pretty good move.
Not only will you be gaining the experience and (hopefully) contacts to help you make that next jump toward your desired career, but you may learn things and meet people along the way that can lead to jobs you'd like even better! The one thing about moving toward a goal you care about is that you get to discover things you would never have seen any other way.
Other ways to make that career transition
Depending on the career you're looking to get into, you may be able to use skills and experience you already have (as discussed in How to Use Transferable Skills to Make a Career Change linked above), to get where you really want to go. Start by researching the new career, and then thinking about what you've already done (even non-work-related accomplishments) that can pave the way for you. This is also an ideal time to turn to others for help. But what if you see no way to get to where you want to go? Then you may want to look into:
- Getting a degree in that new field or at least starting to take courses. Just beginning can sometimes open doors. When I went back for an MBA (with an undergraduate theater degree), I was suddenly able to get work in an area that never even responded to my resumes before that.
- Going for a certificate in your new field. As in the above example, a certificate (plus a targeted resume using your transferable skills) may be just enough to get you into some interviews. Then, of course, it's up to you to seal the deal.
- Volunteering at places related to the work you want to get into.
- Joining groups related to the field you're interested in.
- Finding part-time / temp work or talking companies you're interested in into special projects to get your foot in the door.
- Last but not least, interning or starting at the bottom – or close to it. If you can afford it or can still work part-time (as a consultant perhaps) in your current field to pay the bills, this may be worth it. After all, you're laying the groundwork for the rest of your career life.