Thinking of switching careers? Here are 9 steps to push you in the right direction.
Years and years ago, I sat at my cubicle miserable. At the time, I worked in the customer service/technical support department for a financial institution. I was a single mom and I had just graduated from college with a degree in the medical field. I knew that going to work in the medical industry was a no-go. Even though I had completed my career program and had credentials to secure decent employment in a growing industry with a good wage, I cringed at the idea. You see, prior to graduating college, I was required to complete an externship. I worked for a local OB-GYN practice and I assisted doctors with their prenatal patients.
Only then did I realize that I didn’t go to school for me, but for everyone else. I was always an artist; drawing, painting, and creating my whole life. When I was much younger, people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I would excitedly respond: ”
I want to go to college for business so that I can open up my own hair and nail salon.
You see, business was always in my blood. Creating, was always a great part of what made me who I was. Others had a difficult time understanding me and wrapping their minds around the creative. I had a rough childhood and my span of teenage years proved to be no better. I got into lots and lots of trouble and I was in a continuous mode of embarrassing and disappointing my parents.
By the time I had turned 19, I had had my fair share of self inflicted issues. In my mind, the only way to improve my current set of life’s circumstances and to win my parent’s approval would be for me to go to school for something that made sense. After all, when I would respond, as a child, to wanting to get into entrepreneurship to start my own salon, the response I would often be met with is:
Don’t you want to go to school to be a doctor or lawyer?
It made perfect sense to me to try once and for all to win the acceptance of those whom had lost faith in me. So I enrolled in school to complete the first degree in my new choice field of nursing. I figured that I could focus my sights on helping doctors to deliver babies and then maybe one day, I too could do the same. Becoming a doula or midwife was what I had my heart set on.
After I completed my externship, I became miserable. As an artist, I’d searched for any way possible to express my creativity while in medical school. The only thing I could settle with was having a purple stethoscope and some Scooby Doo scrubs. No offense to doctors, nurse,s or any medical professional. I have the utmost respect for the industry. As a matter of fact, I often pull on my previous medical research when I put together presentations and messages when I am called on to speak. Being in medical school has also helped to shape my mind to think things through more thoroughly. My schooling and experience has helped me immensely!
However, because I am an artist at heart, I knew that if I had taken one additional step into the direction of the medical field, I would be miserable. So instead of finding a job when I graduated college, I stayed working at my other place of misery which was the call center for the financial institution I had worked at while I was in school.
I hated my job. I worked the graveyard shift for 4 days per week. Ten hour shifts. My body clock was off. I wasn’t challenged. The pay was meh. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had to sleep during the day in the midst of my toddler son’s peak hours. I new something had to change. This wasn’t life. AND, if I wanted to provide a better life for my son and so that I could feel an element of fulfillment by doing something that I loved, then I’d have to make an change…and QUICK!
Back in the day when Blackplanet and Mi Gente were a thing, I was on both platforms. I would spend lots of time surfing the internet reading blog after blog. I would visit sites like Xanga and I would be enamored with effects such as marquee text, superscript, falling text, fancy mouse clickers, etc. I knew that you could view any page source to see what HTML code was used to make a specific function work.
I had this friend who shared something with me that changed my life. He was also a fellow believer and we often talked about our faith. He said that he believed that God wanted me to begin learning about computers, websites and programming. Funny thing is, my friend had NO idea that I was already showing interest in these areas.
So…I downloaded a free trial to Photoshop and Jasc PSP and began to teach myself graphic design. As I followed some of my favorite bloggers, I noticed they were using a platform called WordPress. The WordPress back in 2003 was nothing like the “one click installation” you see today. We had to learn the path to perl, FTP and God knows what else! It was rough but out of it, I became a web developer who could write code from scratch (and still can). I became a graphic designer and I fell completely in love with digital art and programming.
With no degree, I had to figure out how I would move from a customer service rep with a medical degree to a graphic designer and web developer.
After years of trial and error, I did just that. Here are some steps that I took to land my dream job that later lead to me becoming my own boss.
1. Research your desired field. (read, read, read!!! and ask lots of questions)
Once I began playing around with graphic design and decided it was what I wanted to do, I began to read. Any and everything can be found through Google. I would read job descriptions, follow graphic design tutorials, search the web just to look at the back end of websites….you name it! I immersed myself with all things graphic and web design. When I would put my boys to bed at night, I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning reading and researching. If you don’t like to read, then maybe you should get cozy where you are. In order to switch careers and become proficient in another field, you must read. There is no way around it. Reading and research is invaluable when paired with real life experience. It will produce a wisdom, resolve, and much needed edge to you that is necessary for this journey.
2. Develop a resilience. (you’ll definitely need it!)
If I had a dollar for every broken promise and every “no” that I’ve heard throughout my process, I’d be filthy stinkin’ rich. I would submit my resume and my meager portfolio to job after job. I would be told no, no, and no again. I’d meet people who would feed me promises of “getting put on” in the graphic design industry and those promises would become an endless rabbit hole of meaningless nothings. I had to toughen up and know that I was in a learning phase and that every obstacle would work itself out for my good. If you are one who has a hard time bouncing back after you hear “no” or get let down, then switching careers may not be for you. Particularly in this day and age where everybody on social media seems to me an expert. Get used to hearing no but don’t let no define you.
3. Practice. Practice. Practice!
Just know that no matter how dope you can be, there is always someone with even more dopeness! Practice shouldn’t just be a thing you do when you are trying to get good at something. Rather, practice should become a lifestyle. You should remain in a posture of learning new things, studying trends, enhancing what you have and striving for excellence in what you’re already good at. Today, there are many apps and programs that allow tasks and projects to be accomplished within a matter of clicks. For example, there are many apps that allow people who aren’t graphic designers to create graphics in 1-3 steps which would take me several steps to do in do Illustrator and Photoshop. There are also websites that allow those who need logos designed to have one completed for about $5 versus hiring a designer directly can cost upwards of few hundred bucks. What’s the difference? Quality. Industry experience. The assurance that you have imagery that is owned by you and that it reflects your brand, vision, and industry. But, everyone doesn’t know or understand that. People want things affordable and efficient. So me, as a designer, I always have to continue practicing and learning so that I can sell my value, experience and industry knowledge to my clients. Those are things you don’t get with apps or fly-by-night logo websites. If you want to continue increasing your overall value, you need to live a lifestyle of practice.
4. Take on some free work. (initially)
There’s is nothing better than a little (or a lot) of experience. When you are switching careers, it can be challenging to find a company that will hire you if you don’t have experience. Especially if you don’t have the schooling to add that extra bump to your resume. You’ll find that family and friends will be eager to allow you to try out a free project or two for them. I used to gain experience in designing CD covers for my brother and his friends. I would also search for ads by my favorite retailers and I would recreate them. I used to fake-design ads for Old Navy and Dolce & Gabbana. These free projects helped me to create my first (of many) online portfolios. That way, when I would apply for jobs, I could say that I had actual experience….even if that experience meant that no one had officially hired me as of yet. Notice I said to take on SOME free work. Don’t undercut yourself so much that you wind up in a cyclone of the worst projects ever. I’m talking about those never ending projects that seem to milk you for everything you have for the next three generations. I have had my share of those too. Nevertheless, if you find yourself tightly bound to a project from the depths of madness, the experience will be invaluable. It will create some necessary resilience and sharpness in you that will definitely be needed in whatever field you are entering. Free work will help you gain hands on experience and it may even help you to hone your focus in on something more specific. I realized that I didn’t want to do general graphic design. I preferred to work with women. Taking on free projects definitely stretched me and shaped me in the areas I needed while making my portfolio look more professional.
5. Connect with others in your desired field. (glean)
I don’t know when glean became such a bad word. I love to glean. I glean from those who are older or younger than me. I don’t discriminate! You’ll be surprised how quickly you can grow if you yield yourself to sit and learn from those who have accomplished things you have yet to touch. Social media makes people feel as though you have to already come to the table with pre-packaged experience. This is far from the truth. I encourage you to be intentional, assertive, and diligent if you find someone who has things that you need. I am not saying that you use them for what you need to get what you want. No no. I am saying that you need to build relationships and be open to however those connections unfold. It’s ok not to know everything. heck, its ok not to know anything. If you can get to the place of wanting help, realizing that you need others, and being driven enough to carry out what you’ve picked up from them, then you will soon see how impactful gleaning will be to your life and new career. I know that being self-made is the hot trend right now but let me bust that bubble. NO ONE ON THIS EARTH GOT TO WHERE THEY ARE WITHOUT SOMEONE ELSE. It’s not possible. Whether you glean in person or from someone you admire online…glean! Your new career depends on it.
6. Break up with intimidation.
Fear is a real thing. Whether you’re afraid of heights or spiders, we all battle fear in some capacity. However, you can’t allow fear to intimidate you and bully you into not stepping out and taking risks. Failure in some form is inevitable. People spend their entire lives trying to avoid failure but truth is, you cannot. All you can do is brace yourself to gracefully prepare for impact. You will fail at some things. No doubt but, take those failures and mistakes and allow them to be learning tools to sharpen and refine you instead of allowing them to paralyze you into not taking the leap. There will always be someone better, more talented, gifted, well connected, and experienced. That’s not for you to be overly concerned with. All you can do is work on you and focus on becoming more proficient in the things you want and need to do. Intimidation will have you stuck in competing with others in a game that no one is even playing but you. Stand firm in your gifts and abilities. Be humble, ask for help, and enjoy the bumpy ride. Switching careers can be a challenge if you don’t have the education or experience but push forward. Even if you have to do it afraid…..DO IT.
7. Take classes and watch tutorials.
Now, there are just too many resources available out there for anyone not to be taking a class to switch careers. I have signed up for many classes (some I still take) and I have watched/followed hundreds of tutorials. They have all made me better in some shape, form, or fashion. When you don’t have the degree to support your new career change, not to worry! In some colleges, you can take classes for free if you aren’t seeking credits to go towards a degree. There are also websites that offer resources specific to your industry. Don’t forgo this step. It’s crucial if you want to be taken seriously in your new industry. Employers will expect you to be more driven and self-motivated if you are coming to the table “self-taught” in a new field. You may have to work twice as hard as your degreed counterparts and show more initiative than they do. That’s ok. You may even be hired on at a lower pay grade. That’s ok too. It comes along with the territory. If you are willing to put forth the work, and discipline it takes, then you got this!
8. Update your resume.
You will need to update your resume to reflect a transition with you and your newly learned skills. You may even need to have more than one working resume as you progressively start taking on jobs that lead to your new career path. For example, I started off in customer service with a medical degree. There was almost no way that I could go from customer service to a full fledged web developer. As I began learning new skills, I would add them to my new resume. I would also create a job on my new resume as a freelancer. This freelance position would help to make my transition to my new career more seamless on paper. While I was still working jobs in the food and retail industry, I would use my previous resume that didn’t include any of my design and programming lingo on there when I would apply for new service retaliated jobs. I learned very quickly not to muddy the waters in the interviewing process. If employers can pick up on you being a temporary person that is only there to learn and glean for your next position, they may be more apt not to hire you. Keep your new digs seperate but make sure that new resume is written as if you are at an entry level to your new field. I suggest researching resumes or working with someone skilled on writing resumes so that you have a professional resume that can be easily updated by you while you transition.
9. Start looking for your dream job!
Google, ask around, drive around, be willing to dig! From my personal experience, dream jobs can be a challenge to find! Though they may be challenging, it’s not impossible. They’re out there. I used to search online, and I would also drive around dressed in professional attire to walk into establishments to hand my resume to someone. I would search for companies that I wanted to work for, learn their story, what they do, their industry, and who worked for them, and then I would email them my resume. Then I would call and follow up. I was so hungry to be a graphic designer that my personal drive pushed me to not stop until I got the job. All in all, I started working on becoming a designer in 2004 and by 2008, I had the job. It took me four years but every minute of it was well worth the push. Now, four years may seem like an eternity but it’s no time when you think about your personal happy place and the rest of your life.
If you are willing and disciplined, your dream job is only 9 steps away!