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

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.

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