By Amy Spelman

You wake up one day and realize you’re in the wrong job - or the wrong field entirely. Perhaps this is something you’ve known for a while, but don’t know where to start.

Why? You’re 10, 15, 20+ years into your career and it’s hard to imagine making a big change. You see yourself one way - a product manager, an HR professional, a business analyst - so won’t all prospective employers see you that way, too?

Not necessarily.

As many of us know, gone are the days of a lifetime in the same job. In fact, today U.S. employees stay with their companies for approximately just over four years.

What’s more: people aren’t just switching jobs, they’re switching careers more than you may realize.

As a coach, I work with more and more job seekers looking to break out of their fields entirely. Some have never been satisfied at work and are no longer willing to settle for ambivalence at best (and misery at worst). Other clients used to love their jobs but for whatever reason - a life change or just change of heart - that’s no longer the case.

Certainly, job searches can be tough (it’s why people seek help). But looking for a completely new kind of job, or trying to break into a new industry? That can be so anxiety provoking for people that they avoid ever even trying.

But with the right strategy, it is possible to make the transition. 

Here are some reasons to be optimistic when considering a career change.

  • Breaking into a new industry doesn’t necessarily mean starting from the bottom. Sure, Chandler Bing had to take an unpaid internship when he became an advertising copywriter. But that doesn’t mean you do, too. Research has shown that employees can use their years of experience to their benefit when making a shift. If you’re well regarded in your current industry, chances are your reputation and professional connections can help you land in a new industry. That being said, career changes often aren’t completely linear, and you may need to take some steps back before leaping forward. (But it’s probably not as drastic as going from “transpondster” to copywriter.) 

  • Your skills are more transferable than you think. You’ve spent years building relationships, managing teams, exceeding sales goals, problem-solving, writing proposals, researching, public speaking, influencing stakeholders. Instead of running from your hard-earned experience, think about how it can be applied in a new setting. You may not check all the boxes of a job description, but that shouldn’t stop you from applying. Here are a few examples of demonstrating skills that would transfer from one industry to another:

    • Want to go from account management to sales? Highlight your reputation for building relationships with any and all clients - including the agency’s toughest ones - and understanding their needs through active listening. You could also discuss your track record of growing accounts, generating more revenue for the agency.

    • Currently in business development and hoping to move to marketing? Showcase your ability to think creatively and strategically, and your success marketing the firm’s services to prospective clients.

    • You’re a teacher and want to become a personal financial advisor? Tout your ability to understand people and what motivates them, as well as to break down complex information into a digestible format. Bonus if you’re superb with numbers, of course.

  • If you’re considering a career change to find something more personally meaningful, you’re in good company. The vast majority of people are so motivated to find meaning at work they’re willing to take a pay cut. Some people can derive more meaning from their current jobs through reframing - making a shift in how they think about their work. For others, deriving fulfillment from their professions will require a career shift. If the latter describes you, start planning how you’ll make your transition. Which brings me to...

I want to take the leap. Where do I start?

  • Know your strengths. This is important for any job seeker, but even more so for career transitioners. Why? Even when many skills are transferable, industry-specific jargon isn’t. Understand what you bring to the table, and how you’ll articulate it in a way that makes sense to hiring managers in your new industry. To help identify your strengths, spend some time reflecting on your successes in your previous roles. Think about the personal characteristics that helped you along the way. For some, personality assessments can be a powerful addition to the process. 

  • Connect the dots. Good resumes highlight your achievements and skills. Great resumes show why you’re the best candidate for the job. How to go from good to great? Create a cohesive narrative that ties your previous experience - however eclectic - to the skills required for your ideal position. This can involve developing a compelling summary, highlighting certain job achievements over others, and/or making relevant certifications or education more prominent. People are often more qualified for new roles than they realize - but the onus is on job seekers to demonstrate their own qualifications.

  • Be patient, but make the best use of your time. Transitioning to a new field may take longer than a typical “intra-industry” search, but there are many ways to continue bolstering your credentials in the meantime. Depending on the roles you’re targeting, consider taking classes to round out your education. Or volunteer with a relevant organization (and a site like this can help you find one). And - as with any job search - never underestimate the power of your network. (I have advice on that, too.)  

While going all-in on a career change is right for some, that’s not the case for everyone. If you’re on the fence, consider important factors like compensation, benefits, hours, flexibility and/or remote options, and growth opportunities. What do these factors look like in your desired industry compared to your current job? What are your priorities? Everyone’s will be different.

If a career shift doesn’t make sense right now, perhaps it will in the near future. In the meantime, consider alternatives, such as volunteering in your desired industry or consulting part-time. Small wins like these can boost emotions and motivation, and may help you make a bigger leap when the time is right.

After all, life's too short to continue waking up thinking you’re in the wrong career.

Amy Spelman specializes in helping people navigate and master their career transitions. As Senior Advisor to Pencil or Ink, Amy also has a wealth of communications and branding experience to her name. You can reach her here.