I took the terrifying step of making a career change last year. I was well on my way to becoming a researcher and educator, and made the switch to writing, communications and event planning. It wasn’t a dramatic change because I had dabbled in my new career path before. But the switch was difficult and the transition period full of stress. As I later discovered, with a little more structure in my job search, it didn’t have to be.
Changing careers means putting yourself under a microscope. It involves a lot of reflection on who you are and where you want to go with your life. The questions you ask during this period aren’t limited to what you want as a “job,” they delve deeper into who you are as a person, what your interests and talents are, and what you find valuable. Here is an exercise that really helped me develop the focus that I needed to target my applications. As any career coach will tell you, knowing what you want to do will make your search for a new profession far easier.
1.Grab a few pieces of paper and something to write with.
2. Draw a line down the middle, from top to bottom.
3. In the margin on the left, write 10.
4. On the left hand side, write anything you did for money at that age. In mine I had “paper route” and “collect bottles in the woods.”
5. On the right hand side, write anything you did for pleasure. Mine included “playing GI Joe with my friend Curtis,” “camping,” and “putting on plays/haunted houses in my basement for my parents.”
6. Continue this all the way until your current age. Make sure to include as many details as possible, including those that seem like a waste of time. (i.e. video games, watching internet videos of kittens, etc) Did I forget to mention that this isn’t necessarily a five minute exercise? Yeah, it takes time, but it is really worth it when you get to the end.
7. When you reach your final lines, start looking for items that come up often, especially ones that cross the boundary between the things you did for fun and money. On my list, I often saw activities related to writing, entertainment, research and gaming.
8. Take those common threads and turn them into a one sentence summary of who you are. Mine was “Lifelong gamer with a passion for learning and media.” I started looking for jobs as a writer, for careers in the gaming industry, as a journalist, and communications positions with museums and universities. (and other related searches) I had focus and a credible story to sell based on my life’s experience.
A career change doesn’t have to mean a disconnect with your past and your experience. As we get older and increasingly specialized in one field or another, we often build rigid barriers between our professional and personal lives. The years move on and the threads that connect who we are now with who we were at a very early age become frayed.
A career change can mean reconnecting with who you have been for a long, long time. And this exercise can help with that. It provides you with a basic outline of your personal narrative and can help you develop the focus you need to make a successful transition into a new, rewarding career.