How to Explore New Careers (Without Quitting Your Day Job)

explore new careers

Ever wonder what it would be like to spend your 40+ hours a week working somewhere else? If so, you’re in good company. In the US alone, 55% of people aren’t happy with their current job. We’ve heard the success stories of people who quit their day job and found something better. Maybe they went back to school, moved to another location, or even started their own business. We admire their tenacity because we too would love to drop our lives and start afresh.

Then reality kicks in. Many of us can’t take the financial risk of quitting our jobs. Our children need a roof over their heads, our house payments keep coming, and our obligations keep us rooted in our current communities. We dream about changing jobs, but looking at our lives, it appears impossible to follow in our career heroes’ footsteps.

Fortunately for us, exploring new career opportunities doesn’t mean you have quit your day job tomorrow. There are more subtle ways of getting where you want to be. Consider these simple ways to start pursuing a new career:

Talk to people who have your “dream job.”

The first step in any career change is knowledge. Daydreaming about having a different job is not the same as knowing you want that change. Before you make any career move, you should learn about your dream job, and what better way to make that happen than talk to someone who is already doing it.

If you don’t know anyone offhand with your dream job, don’t despair. It doesn’t matter what profession you’re pursuing, you can find someone to talk to. Ask your friends if they know anyone. Use LinkedIn (the social network for career professionals) to join relevant discussion groups. You can even cold email people who have your job and ask if you can chat with them over coffee. You will be amazed how people love to talk about their jobs and are willing to take the time to teach you a thing or two about your new career.

Join a networking group.

Speaking of networking, you should pinpoint a professional group dedicated to your desired career. Professional groups come in all flavors from marketing to mechanical engineering. Many of these groups have formal seminars, but others just meet for drinks at a local bar. Begin your search online by doing a trusty Google search or try to see if something interesting is going on in your area.

Take a class.

If you’ve never cracked open the catalog for your community college, you’re missing out. Local colleges generally offer affordable evening and weekend classes on subjects ranging from “Intro to Law” to “Advanced Restaurant Management.” For a bigger (and more expensive) challenge, you can pursue a degree in a new field by taking 2-3 classes per semester. Devoting time to class will not only gauge if you’re really interested in the subject matter, but the professor is bound to know people with the same career aspirations as you. She can give you advice on how to get involved in the local scene.

Start a hobby.

If you really want to change your career, you’ve got to do it. Turn your career passion into a hobby by devoting a significant portion of your free time to practicing your new profession. If you want to become a graphic artist, upgrade your computer, buy new graphic software, and start creating. If you want to become a mechanic, restore a classic car. Dedicating your time and money to a hobby will go a long way to making a full career change (and will show future employers you’re really willing to make the switch).

Start a part-time business.

You may have the skills, but not the money to make a career switch. That doesn’t mean you don’t have the time. Find part-time work that incorporates your new job skills or find contract positions through job search sites. If you’re really dedicated, start a side business that incorporates your new job skills. My husband snagged a full-time web development job with no degree simply by devoting his free time to creating web pages for family and friends. Even if you don’t make enough money to pay the bills today, these small experiences quickly add up on a résumé and will make you more attractive to companies with full time positions.

No one said the road to changing careers was easy, but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Sometimes the best way to make a huge life change is to plot out your first small steps. Even if you ultimately keep your current job, you’ll probably learn something about yourself and your ability to try something new.

Photo by JasonDGreat

16 thoughts on “How to Explore New Careers (Without Quitting Your Day Job)”

  1. Really helpful tips. I found my current job by doing many of the things you mentioned as I was doing another full time job I wanted to get out of.

    One thing that helped me make the change was being consistent. I had to put in alerts and search for jobs every week. I needed to apply for them consistently. When interviews came through I had to get creative to find ways to attend them.

    It was really hard work finding a job while working full time, but I couldn’t have made a better decision.

    1. That’s a good addition to the list: make sure to carve out time to keep an eye out for other career opportunities. Using technology to create alerts and reminders for yourself will get you motivated to stay on top of things.

  2. Great post as usual, Deborah. In particular, your point about your husband volunteering first in the field he wanted to work in is a really good point. To get your foot in the door, you often need to be willing to volunteer (ie, read “work for free”) for a while in your field in order for people to get an idea of what you can do, especially if your usual employment is in an entirely different field.

    The other thing is that once you’re volunteering for whatever it might be (graphic design, web development, teaching, performance, writing, etc.), treat it like it was a paid job. Period. This also shows the level of initiative and professionalism you’ll be demonstrating in the future when people eventually hire you for what you’re doing.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cara. It’s also great to point out that you should be treating your volunteer work like a full-time job. If you don’t treat it seriously, other people won’t treat it seriously either.

      Even volunteering, it can be a challenge to find someone willing to take a chance on you. I’ve found, however, that if you don’t get discouraged by the first handful of people who turn you down, you’ll eventually find ways to get that experience you need.

  3. There are directions you can go in that are not the standard 9-5 job, and I think that these would suit a lot of people better. As I understand it, a lot of people hate jobs where they see no significant results from their work, and working for a large corporation is going to give exactly this feeling.

    So keep your day job, but look to diversify in your spare time into other forms of money earning. I wrote a recent post on the subject of passive income, and this can be a good way to divorce a good income from long working hours.

  4. … or you can leap and trust that the net will appear!

    Many of the “greats” that we admire in business and the arts had no safety net. The burned their bridges, sank their ships, and cut themselves off from any opportunity to retreat.

    If it’s not do or die for you …. you’re endeavor will likely die.

    My 2 cents.

    – Contrarian

    1. @Contrarian: I agree that many of the greats leapt straight into the fray and risked everything. However, it’s not the only way to try something new. Take fellow Change Blog writer Ali Luke, for instance. She knew she wanted to write, but instead of just quitting her job and working on her novel, she started blogging online and gradually built up an income where she could safely quit her job without living hand to mouth. A few years later, she’s finished her Masters in Creative Writing, is a successful writing coach, and is shopping her novel around.

      My point is, there is a way to ease into things rather than just taking the leap, and I look to examples like Ali Luke for inspiration that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing at the beginning.

      1. Your title says “explore”, so yes, I agree Deborah, it costs you zero to explore new opportunities. You risk almost nothing by exploring a new venture while managing all the potential downside. But when someone is ready to move beyond a hobby or exploring and tip toeing, and take their avocation and turn it into a vocation, they will have to get in the game, take a risk, and make a leap. There are no short cuts. Risk is unavoidable if you want success. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

        Commitment doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” nor does it need to be reckless. But commitment always manifests itself in action, and action demands some risk. Risk, action, and commitment are inextricably linked. Without commitment and action nothing worthwhile is created.

        I do not know Ali Luke and cannot speak to her success, but I guarantee “if” she is successful, no doubt she took her interest beyond a hobby mindset and moved beyond the exploration process, burned some bridges, sank some ships, made a great commitment and took a risk to get where she is.

        1. Ah, I see what you’re saying. I do agree that at some point, you have to be willing to take a risk. As you said, nothing risked, nothing gained. However, the misconception I’ve faced in my own professional life is that even to take the first step, you have to give up everything. I don’t think you have to give up everything to explore.

          Actually, I think you can get pretty far with a serious hobby or part-time business. This is how my husband moved from IT tech support to web development. At some point, my husband took a chance on being a full-time web developer and left IT tech support (his security blanket) for good. He knew it was the right time to make a career move, and he did it. But when he did switch, the risk wasn’t so great because he had built up the experience to get job offers before he made his career move (rather than leaping into the job market with no real skills). By devoting significant amounts of his personal time to switching jobs, he was able to make a good career change for himself while still maintaining a decent income stream for his family.

        2. So I guess the point here is: commitment. You have to be able to commit something. It doesn’t have to be money, but it does take time, no matter how you look at it. You can’t gain anything without putting in your time.

  5. I like waht you have to say, especially about starting a part time business. I am working on running my business and learning everything that it takes to run a successful business so that I wouldn’t have to be at the mercy of my life.

    While we do hear these success stories, the sad fact is, very few people manage to live their dreams. They wind up being stuck in a job that they don’t like and doesn’t like them. The majority of us have been in these dead in jobs where they slave away, do they’re best only to be scape goated and threatened with getting fired.

    The other way, which is working for yourself will take a long time before you start seeing any sort of income, unless you know what you are doing.

    1. @Moses Jones: I’d be interested in seeing how your part-time business is going. It can be really tough, I know! I used to work for a company that sold game engine software to developers, so I knew a lot of people who were creating video games in their spare time. Some are successful, and others are not. Generally, the rule of thumb seemed to be the people who either A) stick with it longer or B) work on it like a full time job (8 hours/day + their normal job) seem to have the most success.

  6. Thanks a lot for the tips. I was planning to change my career and wondering how to do it.. and these tips gave me the right direction…

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