How to Change Careers (Without Taking Time Off)

Do you ever dream about doing something completely different with your career? Most of us have thought about making a significant change at one time or another.

But let’s face it — walking away from job security and a regular paycheck isn’t easy. In some cases, it takes a layoff to move into a new career direction. Or perhaps you have the resources to leave your job and live off your savings while you explore new options. But what if you are gainfully employed and can’t afford to take time off while you pursue a new career?

Whatever the case may be, changing careers takes time, patience, and commitment.

Career consultant Markey Read offers the following five tips on how to change careers:

Connect with Your Network

When embarking on a new career, networking is key. Talk to people in the line of work you are interested in and find out exactly what they do. That way you can learn how people in a particular profession spend their days and help you determine whether the job is a good fit.

Read suggests the best way to find people in a new career area is to reach out to a few contacts in your existing network. If your job search is confidential, Read advises to make that abundantly clear up front.

“Tap into your networks and start with 3 to 5 people that you know right now. They might know someone who works in the career area you are interested in exploring,” Read says. “You also have to be willing to be vulnerable when talking to people about a job search or career change. Sometimes we think we should be born knowing everything and can’t ask for help.”

Find Time to Volunteer

Maybe you’re interested in health care, marketing or education, but need more experience. Volunteering at local organizations is an effective way to develop new skills. As long as it’s relevant to the work you are seeking, volunteering can be a practical option for learning transferable skills that you can later show on your résumé. Volunteering also demonstrates to potential employers that you’re contributing to the community and honing your existing professional skills.

Earn a Certificate or Degree

If you’re interested in pursuing a new profession, a professional certificate or advanced degree can help you transition. “Certifications are a good short cut. In some fields, certifications can carry more weight than a master’s degree,” Read says.

College is an investment in your future and, if it applies, your family’s future. Whether you pursue a degree, courses for professional development or advanced certification, the knowledge and skills you gain will make you a valuable asset for any employer.

Assess Your Personal Goals and Values

Read defines a major career change as going into a field where you’ll apply less than 50 percent of the skills, knowledge, and experience used in your current job.

Typically, Read says she finds that people make a career change around age 30 and/or in their mid-40s, when it’s common to reflect upon one’s life and career. “You have been doing something for a while, and it’s sucking the life out of you. You realize you can’t do it anymore, and you wait for that moment to make change,” she says.

People in their mid-40s are more risk adverse and have more at stake – a mortgage, family, relationships, and investments. At the same time, people in their 40s are more likely to assess their personal values and consider how their career aligns with their personal goals.

“You may realize that what you’re doing for work is so against your personal well-being that you no longer can do it,” Read says. “You can no longer sustain the clash of personal and corporate values, and you decide you really have to do something and make a change.”

Set Reasonable Expectations

Of course, changing careers doesn’t happen overnight. Realistically, if you are going to change your career, the process can take up to three years, Read says. “Identifying the skills you need, developing those skills, and finding a job where you can apply those skills – all of that takes time,” she says.

How do you avoid making a career change mistake? Read encourages people to make micro-changes before making a dramatic career shift. “If you’re in banking, maybe it’s just that you don’t want to work at that bank anymore,” Read says. “Sometimes it’s a departmental or managerial problem. It’s not that you need to change careers, it’s that you need to change your environment.”