Ask yourself three questions: What do I love to do? What do I love to learn about? And what parts of the economy are growing?
These days, it’s much less common to stick with one company or even one field for an entire career, but how do you know when or if a major career shift is right for you? Younger people, especially, might wonder if it’s too soon to make a big change if they find themselves unhappy with a current job, as they may have invested a lot into a degree in a certain field.
“People who need a career change start feeling a kind of dread every Sunday night as the new workweek approaches,” says Elizabeth Atcheson, founder of Seattle-based Blue Bridge Career Coaching, which specializes in coaching clients through career transitions. “They think back on other jobs and wish they could bring back the spark they once had. And their friends and families notice, too.”
Atcheson says paying attention to these internal and external signals may lead you to look for a new job right away, but the best thing to do is to pause and do some serious self-reflection to determine what next step will be the right one.
As you begin a new job search, Atcheson suggests asking yourself three questions: What do I love to do? What do I love to learn about? And what parts of the economy are growing? The answers to these can help you find fields or jobs that may be a better fit for you and need new candidates.
While it may feel difficult to go through a major change while you’re still relatively early on in your career, Atcheson says folks in their 20s and 30s actually have several assets at their disposal — the first of which is that youth itself.
“People love to help young people further their careers,” Atcheson says. “If you reach out to someone, say, 20 years older than you in a field you’re interested in to ask for a 20-minute informational meeting, nine times out of 10 that person is happy to oblige — especially if you throw in an offer to bring them whatever type of latte they like.”
What floats your boat?
Another asset young people have in facing a major career change is curiosity.
Two years ago, Nathan Moore, 29, of Bellevue, wanted to leave his position as an EMS dispatcher for something that felt more stable and had better hours. When an opportunity arose to work in engineering for a telecom company, he was interested enough to take a look. His enthusiasm for the field, despite not being qualified for the new work when he was hired, has resulted in a much better career fit.
“I needed a ton of new training in various pieces of hardware and software, but I learned all of those things on the job,” says Moore. “I feel like I have a real future at this company and in this industry. I make much more money in exchange for much less of my time.”
Finally, use your network. When shifting to a brand-new field, you may not be qualified for a new position right away, but using your network to get a foot in the door or at least learn about different opportunities can be “a golden key to a meeting that will help you along your path,” says Atcheson.
She suggests staying tuned in to the alumni network of your college and high school. Job opportunities and suggestions can also come from your social networks or LinkedIn.
Connections open doors
An acquaintance opened the door for Katie Haug to make a career change in her 20s. The 29-year-old Bothell resident has a degree and several years of experience in portrait photography, but a suggestion from a woman she knew at her church led her to a field she truly loves: companion and respite care for children in foster care.
Haug was able to channel this connection into a job very different from her previous field. And she feels truly connected to her new work.
“I think the best thing about this career shift is that the career I’m in now allows me to help children who have no way to help themselves,” Haug says.
At the end of the day, Atcheson says, remember that a career doesn’t have to be decided all at once, at any turning point. “Don’t worry about the rest of your life, even if everyone is asking you about it,” she says. “Careers go in as many different directions as there are people on this planet, and as long as you’re taking the next best step for you each time, you’ll have a long and rewarding career.”