This post is for anyone who’s ever wanted to switch careers but is scared.
“But I don’t have any relevant experience. And I don’t know anyone in that industry. What could I possibly do?”
I’ll try to address the questions above, along with any doubts you might have that mid-career switches are possible.
Caveat: if you’re looking for an entrepreneurial success story, about someone who left his job to build a multi-million company—you won’t find it here. I’m not really an entrepreneur, and besides, there are plenty of those already. But this one is for the maybe 65% of people who work normal day jobs, but want to get to a better one.
I’m convinced that our job landscape will continue to evolve rapidly. Traditional jobs are gonna get less and less in the coming years, so maybe we’ll all be independent workers one day. But hopefully these points are universal enough to help us through the next great wave of change.
1. Understand Why It’s So Scary
For most of us, change (or the prospect of change) is scary because we’ve spent most of our lives according to “the plan.” What’s “the plan“? It’s the one that society—our parents, teachers and peers—preaches to us.
In his magnificent article about careers, Tim Urban uses a great analogy: Most of us spend our early years following a predefined path. Like tadpoles down a river…
“We’re told the rules of the river and the way we should swim and what our goals should be.“
Hence, many of us never develop the skills to become “CEOs of our own lives”. We’re not comfortable deciding our own paths. The easy alternative? Follow what someone else tells you to do.
For most of my early life, I was a great follower of the “tried and true” path too. But I think my breakthrough came when I read something and realised that everyone has power to shape their own careers. It also helped that I had a mentor who pushed me to do more with my life, instead of following someone else’s plan.
It wasn’t easy, but if someone like me who pretty much grew up following “the plan” can break free and forge my own path, maybe you can too.
2. Work the Feedback Loop
The feedback loop is one of humanity’s basic survival tools. You probably use it all the time without thinking. For example, remember the first time you got punished in school? If we broke it down in slow-motion-HD replay, maybe it went something like this:
- Initial state: The classroom is quiet. Both you and Nora are happily minding your own business.
- Action: For some weird reason, you think it’s a good idea to give Nora’s ponytail a sharp pull.
- Feedback: Nora falls down and starts crying. The classroom descends into chaos. The teacher comes up to you with a thick ruler…
And that’s the story of how you learned not to pull little girls’ hair in class. But what has any of this got to do with switching careers?
Well, it turns out the feedback loop is how you find the answers to all your tough “life questions”, including your career ones.
Feedback Loops for Your Life
Unlike school, there are no black and white answers for life’s difficult questions. Instead, you usually have to figure it out using a trial and error process:
- Initial state: Look at your current situation
- Action: Try something new
- Feedback: Evaluate how the new things affect you
The idea is that you’re never a “finished product”. You’re constantly improving. Sure, you have some core values but everything else in your life is constantly being tried and tested.
Don’t like the way your colleagues treat you? Can’t understand why you never get good increments? Feel that your job is meaningless?
Whatever your situation is, work the feedback loop: Change something, give it some time, and see what happens. Repeat until you get better results.
Now I know this sounds like a hell lot of work. “I’m already so exhausted, and now you want me to start testing every part of my life?!”
But it’s the difference being a teachable person who’s able to switch careers, and a closed-minded oldie who’s stuck. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people who keep complaining about their jobs, yet never make any changes.
Unless we constantly evaluate our lives, and try new things, we will never make progress.
3. “But I Don’t Have the Correct Degree…”
So you’ve decided you wanna start taking control of your career. You’ve examined your current situation, and are excited to try something new…
But then, the “comfort and security” part of your brain starts coming up with reasons why you’ll fail, the first being: “I’m not qualified!”
To that, I offer two rebuttals. The first: for most people, your paper qualification is just your entrance ticket to the game of careers. After that, it’s your work experience and track record that matters.
(The exception here is for really technical things or highly-regulated industries. Like, you’d probably want a brain surgeon to go through years of certified medical training before opening your skull.)
In the case of other highly-regulated industries though—they’re starting to be disrupted too. People are finding faster, better, cheaper ways of doing things that don’t necessarily need years and years of exams.
(Ever wondered if the people who put those requirements in place actually do it to keep the market artificially scarce, and ensure they stay in power?)
Cracks are appearing everywhere in the wall of “you can’t get in because you don’t have the papers”. This is opportunity; this is democracy.
My second rebuttal about “not qualified” is this: no one’s ever really qualified for anything. In another of life’s most-ironic mindf*cks, the most qualified people always feel that they’re not (a.k.a. impostor syndrome). On the contrary, you should be worried if you constantly feel like you’re better than everyone else. You’re not.
Anyway, let’s say you want to work in Sales for your dream company. Which of the fictional two people below do you think your future employers would like more?
a. Bob has a PhD in “Sales and Marketing” but no experience.
b. Mariah “only” has a diploma, but was the number #1 salesperson in her current company for 2017.
I’m guessing you agree with me that Mariah gets the call first. But it’s not just you and me making that logical decision. More and more companies are joining the chorus that degrees aren’t a requirement to hire any more.
The real-life Tony Stark of our time, Elon Musk says so too: “Skills matter more than degrees.”
It’s not that degrees or paper qualifications are useless. But they shouldn’t be a barrier between you and the job you want.
4. Find Relevance in Experience
“That’s great,” you say. “I always hated studying anyways. But what if my experience is in a totally different field? What if I’m actually an expert in geophysics, but am now looking to join a food-delivery business? Help!”
This is where we delve into the art of connecting the dots.
Perhaps most popularised by appearing in a Steve Jobs speech, “connecting the dots” means looking back at how things in the past have helped you become who you are today.
Apple still produces some of the most beautiful tech products in the world. Ever wondered how Apple mastered this, while most of the tech world continues to struggle with ugly?
Well, one of the reasons is Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was greatly inspired by a calligraphy class he took in college. You’d never imagine that such an abstract (most parents would call it “useless”) course would be valuable to a tech entrepreneur. Steve Jobs never thought it would be useful either, but it was.
Connecting Your Own Dots
Of course, some work experience will be more relevant than others. Say, you’ve been a practicing engineer for a decade—it’s not hard to see you apply that experience as a lecturer. But if you’re a restaurant manager, and wanna jump to a tech startup, those branches of knowledge aren’t as close.
You can still find overlaps though. Ask yourself: what valuable things have you learned before that will help you in your new career?
Going back to our restaurant manager example: maybe you don’t know how to code. But as an F&B person, you probably know how to deliver excellent customer service. This is very useful.
Remember, some skills are valuable across all industries. For example, people management will always be required in any job that deals with people. Problem-solving skills will always be valuable anywhere. And my personal favorite: critical thinking will always be necessary, so you make wise decisions.
No knowledge is ever wasted, if you learn to apply it to whatever you’re doing. The tree of knowledge might have many branches, but they all link back to the same roots.
Now you just need to convince someone to let you prove it.
5. Prepare for Your Target
” Library is free.
Websites are free.
Podcasts are free.
WiFi can be free.
Content is free.
Your reasons for not learning?
How do you convince someone to give you a chance, when you have no experience in your target field? To me, the answer is simple: it’s intense preparation. The more difficult the jump, the more intense the preparation.
BTW, I still don’t understand how people sometimes show up at job interviews without doing detailed research about the company/industry they’re applying for. It’s crazy. And yet, I see it happen all the time.
Maybe most people feel that basic preparation is enough to get you the job of your dreams (re-read that sentence again—sounds silly doesn’t it?)
So how do you stalker-level prepare for a job that you want? This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I can think of some things:
- Take Coursera/Udemy/Khan Academy (free!) courses on the industry you’re targeting.
- If you already have a company in mind, read every page of the company website. Especially the Vision/Values portion.
- Read the first 3 pages of Google News for the top keywords being thrown around in the industry. For example, if it’s blockchain you’re interested in, your top few keywords might be: Bitcoin, Ethereum, blockchain, digital currencies, and distributed ledger.
- Follow the top 10 CEOs of the top 10 companies in the industry on LinkedIn/Twitter and see what they’re all talking about (wasn’t kidding when I said “stalker”).
- Reach out to your network. Talk to friends who are either in the industry/know people who are in the industry (more on this later).
- Prepare a presentation summarising all your findings. Practice presenting to a friend.
- Use the feedback loop (Point 2) to continuously add to your knowledge in this field.
(For some real next-level shit, check out this legend who wanted to work for Amazon, so he created his resume in the style of an Amazon web page. He received over 100 job offers.)
Maybe I’m biased towards doing huge amounts of preparation work because I’m a geek at heart. I acknowledge it’s not the fastest or easiest way. Some might even say that it’s better to just understand the basics, and then use connections (and bullshit) to get the job.
But I also think that when you’re new to something, you’ve gotta put in the work. If it were so easy, everybody would have done it right?
6. Understand the Winds of Change of Industries
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”
This portion is for those of you who are confused why some of your friends get three promotions in three years and have titles like “General Manager.” Meanwhile, you’re still an “executive” buying Starbucks for your seniors every morning.
Not to take anything away from how capable your friends are, but here’s a big factor: Right Place, Right Time.
The world is always changing. Certain parts of the economy go up and down in cycles. And as you guessed—the jobs that come along with it.
Old industries fade away, while new ones are created and take their place at the forefront. You’ve probably already heard buzz words being thrown around like “Industrial Revolution 4.0”. But what does this mean for the average worker?
It means this: Change is coming; so what the older generation taught you about work may not be true any more. And if you want huge leaps in salary/opportunities/learning, booming industries are the way to go.
(It’s also easier to jump into a booming industry with less experience, because they’re always short of talent.)
Let me qualify this a little, before anyone says I’m a heartless mercenary. I’m not saying that everyone should ditch traditional industries and jump into risky startups. What I’m saying is that for the average worker, the industry they’re in plays a huge role in their personal situation.
For example, we’ve all heard the term “hungry musician.” Everyone loves music and there are lots of musically-talented people. But the reality is unless you’re an outlier like Taylor Swift, it’s hard to make good, consistent money from music. And it takes a hell lot of hard work. Contrast that to a lucrative industry like Oil & Gas.
I can guarantee you that an average slacker in Oil & Gas (don’t let anyone fool you that there are no slackers in highly-paid industries—there are slackers everywhere) makes a lot more money than an average slacker in music. Don’t be a slacker (but if you’re one, be a slacker in a highly-paid industry).
This is only half of the article “How to Switch Careers — The Ultimate Guide” published on mr-stingy.com. We enjoyed reading this insightful piece, and we feel that you’ll benefit from the full article here. It may be a bit of a long read, but it’s something worth your time. This article was edited and republished on Vulcan Post with permission.