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Blog Insight & Commentary

What to Do If You Want to Change Careers, But Don’t Know How

Where is that panic button when we need it?

Beth Castle
Managing Editor, InHerSight

Woman wondering

In June 2019, InHerSight asked 1,500 women if they wanted to change careers. An overwhelming 73 percent said yes

Given everything we see and hear about through our day-to-day interactions with working women, that’s not necessarily surprising. In the InHerSight office alone, we have a female product manager who used to drive a dumpling food truck and a software engineer who, in different stages of her career, was first a teacher and then a physicist. At least anecdotally, career changes, er, swerves among women are beginning to feel commonplace. 

If you’re reading this and thinking, I am one of the gazillion women who hates her job, it’s probably comforting to know you’re not alone. But that small comfort doesn’t erase everything else you might be experiencing: You feel overwhelmed, helpless, confused, and frustrated, just like thousands of other women. Misery really does love company. 

Now that we’ve successfully brought the mood down to sub-zero levels, let’s acknowledge those feelings and, like good yogi, let them go. No matter your age or position, you’re not stuck in your current role. This is how to change careers if you have no idea what you’re doing. 

Decide why you’re unhappy

The top-four predictors of women’s job satisfaction are the people you work with, employer responsiveness (how companies respond to claims like harassment), equal opportunities for women and men, and salary satisfaction. And the number-one reason women want to change careers is the desire for better pay (32 percent), followed by the desire to find a career with a mission they believe in (16 percent), and burnout (13 percent)

Do any of those factors ring a bell or, perhaps, stir an extremely angry dragon in your chest? In order to find a career and company you love, you need to figure out why you’re breathing fire. Do you hate your coworkers? Do you want to make more money? Are you bored on the job? Some of these issues can be addressed without changing careers: Seek a position in a company culture that’s better suited to your personality, ask for a raise, or ask for more or different responsibilities. 

If you find staying in place simply won’t cut it, then it’s time to start researching. Say the salary in your current position will never reach your dream number—you need to know which careers pay well, which of your skills are transferable, and where you can access the training you need to make a switch.

Read more: It’s Hard to Change Careers—These Companies Are Making it Easier

Find out what “passion” means for you

You likely didn’t know what you wanted to do for the rest of your life when you turned 18, and regardless of age, it’s okay if you still don’t know. There are plenty of assessments like Ikigai or the Adobe Creative Types Test that can help you pinpoint your strengths, and after that, a little research will help you find where those skills intersect with potential careers.

But what if there’s dream job you’ve longed to pursue? Will following your passion really make you happier at work? It does for some people. Behind salary satisfaction, women who want to change careers tell InHerSight that they want to find a company with a mission they believe in. For you, that might mean pursuing the project you’ve always dreamed about.

However, the painful truth is that passion projects, although important, are time-consuming and don’t always pay well at first—or ever. Remember how salary and burnout were top contributors to women’s unhappiness in their current jobs? Those are real concerns you should consider when deciding to become an entrepreneur, muralist, full-time potato peeler, or whatever else. 

That’s not to say you should let your dream die—how you manage your career is up to you. You could tap into the gig economy or pick up a side-hustle to make it happen.

You could also apply some of the skills that drive your passion—creativity or expert potato peeling—to a job that already exists at a company that lives its values. When career-changing women say they want to find roles at a company with “a mission they believe in,” they don’t always mean nonprofits or working as a lobbyist. It might simply be a company that practices what it preaches and conducts business ethically.

You can be happy in your career—and passionate about your job—even if you’re not playing gigs on Broadway in Nashville. That happens when you’re working somewhere that values who you are and what you bring to the table.

Read more: How to Find a Job You Love (No, Really)

Assess your needs—and take steps to have them met

In order to change careers, you often need time, money, connections, or more education—and those factors might be exactly what keeps you firmly in place. Again, you’re in good company. 

InHerSight found that 83 percent of women are either somewhat confident or very confident in their ability to change careers. What holds them back, respondents said, are lack of connections, lack of education, and inability to take the pay cut a change would require. 

If you’re a working mom, whether single or in a partnership, then you know what this feels like. You feel the added pressure of providing for and juggling a family while also wondering whether you’ll ever be happy on the job. That’s enough to make you feel completely trapped in your career.

Revolutionary thought: You’re not. Changing careers isn’t all coding classes and tuition reimbursement programs—it’s also about using the resources you have right now to open doors for yourself. 

Need more connections? Update your LinkedIn, attend networking events (god, we know), or go to conferences or lectures where you can meet people in your aspirational field. You can even build your own network of professional women to help you air your frustrations with your search. A good rule of thumb here is this: People don’t know you need help until you tell them. That is equally the beauty and awkwardness of networking.

Similarly, you should consider talking to your current boss about your career goals. They might be open to you shadowing someone on another team or to helping you find a way to balance classes with your “life” schedule. Afraid they’ll react negatively? Consider again that point we discussed about values-driven companies. It might be time to start applying elsewhere, regardless of whether you make a complete career change.

And finally, at the risk of sounding like a cheesy motivational poster, don’t be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone. Even if you have all the money or education in the world, you won’t get a job you don’t apply for (okay, that sometimes happens, but that’s anecdotal). Apply when you’re not qualified. Ask to stay in touch with the hiring manager. Be open to feedback. Apply again.

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Change Careers?

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