Career Path

5 Steps Toward Changing Your Career Path

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Ten lightning-fast years into my career I can say with honesty that I enjoy going into work everyday. I feel challenged, valued and I’m encouraged by what the future holds.

It wasn’t always dandelions and roses, though.

I had a lot of indecision in the early stages of my career as an interactive designer about whether I had chosen the right path. I can recall days and nights spent starring blankly into my monitor, mouse heavy in hand, questioning the life choices that had landed me in my specific situation.

After taking a hard look at where I was in my career and where I wanted to be I determined I was in the right line of work, I simply needed to re-dedicate myself to the craft to get from where I was to where I wanted to be.

Although I chose a career transition over a radical change, I’m here to offer practical advice on both. I am still completing the transition from hands-on designer to design manager and creative director, but I can tell you some of the things I did to make it happen:

Step 1 – Volunteer your time

I learned a valuable concept early on in my freelance design career: the best way to get to do exactly what you want to do is to offer your services at no cost.

When a client isn’t paying your rate, you’re much more likely to get creative freedom on a project. The same principle applies to volunteering your time to a professional organization or non-profit. Offer your time and volunteer to fill a role in an area where you’d like to add experience.

I see these opportunities at my day job as well, where management is looking for volunteers to step up on a special project or initiative. When these opportunities align with areas you’re looking to add experience in, volunteer your services.

Step 2 – Make lateral moves within your company

I remember being asked by a VP of Business Operations why I was interested in “making a lateral move” within the company. What he meant was that I was pursuing another job with a similar salary to the one I currently held.

At 23 years old this was the first time I had heard the term lateral move, but I understood it in context. I explained to him that I had learned what I could in my current role and I wanted to round-out other skills.

I wasn’t the most qualified person that interviewed for the job, but I was an internal candidate that the company could save some money by hiring. So, I convinced them I was dedicated to learning what I didn’t already know…and quickly.


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Step 3 – Seek mentorship

I learned a good bit about the world and personal responsibility while in college. That said, I gained more business knowledge in my first year working than I did in 4 years at a university. It helped that my first year out of college was spent working under Robert Croak, the founder of the start-up that eventually launched the global trend known as Silly Bandz.

It’s important to be self-motivated and take the initiative to learn on your own, but learning from someone with experience is invaluable and can propel you to rapid improvement. If you can find someone that you respect that is kind enough to mentor you? Jump on it.

Also: don’t forget to send the elevator back down and offer your wisdom to those who can benefit from it.

Step 4 – Learn people skills

This piece of advice is for anyone interested in working in management (people or project). Many times, the best people to lead and manage technical teams (Design, development, IT, engineering) are those with hands-on knowledge of the craft.

However, it can be tough to find people with the technical knowledge and the people skills necessary to manage a team and report up to the executive management.

Work on really listening to your co-workers and communicating clearly and concisely. Make the most of your interactions with people in executive positions in your company. Carry yourself with confidence and dress like you have something important to do…it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Step 5 – Make your desire known

Before taking this advice, consider whether you’re happy working with your current company. If the answer is yes and you would just like a chance to move into a new role, don’t keep it a secret.

The company I work for has enabled employees to move from our warehouse into our design department and from purchasing to marketing. Make connections within your company and let your desires be known. A good manager will respect that you want to contribute to your company in the most productive way possible and won’t stand in the way.

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Other options:

Start over

My hope in the tips above was to advise you in transitioning from one job or career path to another without substantially back-peddling. But there are career changes that require starting over. That could mean going back to school or accepting an entry-level position in a new industry.

You will have to determine if the up-front sacrifice is worth the potential longer-term payoff. Inflexible financial obligations can be a barrier for some in considering this route.

Create your own opportunity

Starting your own business is the highest risk/reward scenario I am suggesting here. However, many entrepreneurs report a high-level of satisfaction derived from work. There are no guarantees in the world of entrepreneurship, other than you determine your own fate.

Keep in mind, not every business needs to take on employees and manage payroll. A lifestyle business is designed to sustain a way of life while providing flexibility of schedule.

Have you transitioned or radically changed your career path? I’d love for you to chime in below with any personal advice or tips I didn’t touch on.

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