They say that the average American today will go through seven careers before they hit 40. Those are careers, not collecting carts or cleaning aisle 5 at a grocery store. The thing is, it’s easy to feel railroaded into a career tract and the idea of jumping ship for something totally new can be pretty scary…especially in this job market. While any work-life decision is serious and requires discussion and hard thinking, here are some things to think about if you’re serious about switching careers. Oh, and if you want to learn more and get advice from people who’ve been in your exact shoes, I highly recommend checking out reddit.com/r/jobs.

  1. Identify The Key Skills of Your Current Job

change careers

The key to seeing where you stand in the job market as well as what industries you could jump into is to identify your transferable skills. Sure your three years working retail at a rinky-dink mall may not look like much on a resume, but if you can justify in a cover letter or interview how that experience in a person-to-person sales environment has made you an excellent communicator able to apply those lessons in salesmanship to a business-to-business environment, you’re golden. Identifying transferable skills also opens up the doors to industries parallel to the one you’re currently in. For instance, journalists looking to settle into a 9-5 gig often jump ship for public relations or corporate communications since they’re trained to research and communicate complex info and already have media contacts.

  1. Network, Network, Network

change careers

Are you on LinkedIn? Of course you are (and if you aren’t you really should.) Sure, it’s annoying getting connection requests from people you haven’t spoken to since high school who only want some tangential connection to you as leverage when applying at your second-cousin’s laundromat, but hey, that lane goes both ways. In all seriousness though, networking isn’t about showing up to a mixer and handing out business cards or saying ‘Hey, I know this person you know, give me a job.’ Networking is about making a good impression on people, especially people that you work with, so that when a job opens up at their company they know that you’ll be a good fit and won’t humiliate them. The strength of LinkedIn isn’t necessarily letting you collect hundreds of connections like Pokemon cards, but in giving you an easy way to touch base with old co-workers and remind them you’re a person who still exists and could be a pretty good systems analyst or whatever.

  1. Create Personal Projects or Volunteer to Show Your Skills

change careers

If you’re interested in going all Dead Poet’s Society and seizing the day by becoming a rock star or a mime or whatever, don’t quit your day job. At least not yet, that is. Say what you will about Kevin Smith’s contemporary work, but the fact remains that Clerks is one of the great achievements in indie filmmaking. Here’s a guy with no budget and four months of film school who managed to make a pretty good movie by shooting at the places he worked and casting his friends. Sure he had to max out a few credit cards and sell his comic book collection, but he managed to realize his dream and showed the big studios that he was a guy who could be trusted with their money. I wouldn’t suggest bankrupting yourself on a wing and a prayer, but if you really want to prove that you could make an awesome video game, then learn to code and try to make an awesome mod on your own time. If you’ve ever thought working on the radio would be cool, your local campus station is probably dying for volunteers. Obviously it’s very hard to work on your hobbies when you work 40 hours a week and just want to sleep for the other 128, but try to think of your day job as the thing that allows you to work on the thing you love.

  1. Go Back To School

change careers

A great way to develop new skills and to prove you’re one qualified son-of-a-shut-your-mouth is to crawl back to the old alma mater. Whether you’re going for your GED or that MFA your high school English teacher thought was a good idea, there are plenty of schools that offer night and online classes that you can schedule around work. If you can’t afford tuition or just think post-secondary degrees are outdated and stupid, at least invest in a language course at the community centre. Learning software in your free time can also be a great, easy way to diversify your skill set and get you ready for a career in a new field.