Methods for how to figure out the path forward when you want to change your career.
These last few years have been a real shake up for careers and for the workforce in general. As people are starting to see that they are not aligning with the life they once had, many are searching for a career change. I’ve decided to tell you about my career journey and the methods I used to figure out the perfect roles for me. The hope is that it might bring you some ideas for your own career transition, especially when your dreams might seem like they are too far away.
I had been working for a real estate developer for about 2 years before I started getting antsy and wanting to move on to something else. What once was my dream job eventually became a grind that I didn’t enjoy. Some days, I would sit in my cubicle and watch the landscaping people outside the building, thinking they had the better life. They got to be in the sun and working with plants, rather than being on a computer stuck inside all day every day.
I decided I needed to figure out a new career path for myself. I was tired of doing marketing, and although there were certain aspects of my job I enjoyed, it wasn’t the career path I wanted to continue.
At this time, I had gone through a Women’s Leadership training and was the President of my Rotaract Club. Besides my marketing background, I also had experience in event planning, and volunteer management. My real passion was in the outdoors, though. I’m not an extreme sports person, but I am drawn to nature and am passionate about preserving it. These experiences and interests were what I used to build the foundation of my career quest.
Luckily, someone in the Women’s Leadership class told me about a book called Pathfinder. I bought it and it served as a great guide for me to try to figure out my next career. I highly recommend it, as I doubt I could have gotten as far as I did without it.
Some of the exercises that I did as part of the book, and some on my own volition, are below.
1. Keep a running list of the projects that you enjoy at work.
The tasks that bring you joy and energy should make it on the list. This will give you a good idea of the type of work activities that you might enjoy in a future job.
For example, I wrote down “strategy for website user experience” when I realized I enjoyed that project and the time just flew by.
2. Make a cost of living budget.
If we want to work within our passions, sometimes an initial pay cut is part of that journey. This exercise can help you see how much you actually need to live without the extras and inform you of what jobs you can consider.
When I do my budget, I become more open-minded about positions that seemed too low of a salary for me before.
3. Write down your want-to-haves, must-haves in a new job and those things that are deal-breakers.
This could be: research, strategy, writing code, working outside. The Pathfinder book has checklists that can get as granular as what you would be wearing to work, how far are you commuting, etc.
In my experience, it’s good to have a list of a few deal breakers, and a few must haves. If you have too many of either category, it could prevent you from being open minded about an opportunity.
My Deal Breakers: Sitting in front of a computer all day and traveling more than 25% of the year. My Must Haves: Impactful relationships with people in the community and event planning.
4. Make a list of all the jobs that might be interesting, no matter how strange.
Even if they require additional education or seem unachievable, like becoming an astronaut. Write them down! No idea is too silly.
Some of the jobs I included on my initial list were park ranger, landscape architect, archeologist, museum program coordinator. Some of these required I earn a different college degree, but I was willing to see if they might be a fit.
5. Make a list of people to interview and connect with them.
Once you have ideas for different jobs, set up interviews with people who hold those roles. Utilize your network to find people in those jobs and ask them to speak with you.
Here's how I achieved this:
a. Because I was a member of the Rotaract Club, which is part of Rotary International, I reached out to my connections in the local Rotary Clubs. I also sent cold emails to a couple of the club members whom I had not met. In those emails, I explained my connection with Rotary, that I was currently in marketing role, but was doing some fact finding on a career transition. Would they take an hour out of their schedule so that I might ask them some questions about their own experiences in their career? Not surprisingly, most people responded yes, of course! (If you are looking for tips on best ways to schedule a meeting, check out this blog.)
b. In the case of not knowing someone in a particular job category, I once again utilized my network. I asked people I knew (or that I was interviewing) if they knew anyone who had a position in those kinds of careers. Eventually I would find someone to connect with, even if they were in a different city.
c. Sometimes the most interesting people come out of regular networking meetings. For example, one lady I knew through the Public Relations Society of America mentioned that she is married to a leader at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She introduced me to her husband and he ended up being a huge advocate. He connected me to other people in the outdoors community and helped me join a committee that related to the outdoors.
6. Make a standard list of questions and some career-specific questions. During the fact-finding interview, the questions remained similar. Here’s a list of some of the questions I asked:
a. What’s a typical day look like in your role?
b. Why did you get into this type of job (what was your path)?
c. What kind of education or experience does someone need to be in this role?
d. What are the things you love about your job?
e. What are the parts of your job that you do not enjoy?
f. What are some of the obstacles or barriers to getting into this career?
g. What’s the salary like?
h. What advice would you give me?
i. Who else should I talk to?
7. Use the answers from the interviews to determine your interest in a future role.
With the information you learn, you should find out what wages they pay, how you can get your foot in the door, the amount of school/training required, and what the daily work looks like. You can rule out those jobs that don't match your interests or level of pay.
For instance, a Parks Department Supervisor said nearly every employee comes in at entry level jobs at minimum wage. And the archeology professor told me that most roles in that career field were academic-based. From those answers, I knew these specific career paths weren't for me and I moved on.
8. Find more people to talk to within the industry once you have narrowed it down.
It is valuable to continue talking to industry professionals to see what types of jobs exist.
I talked with many people in the outdoors industry in different roles, but also museum directors, an archeology professor, and volunteer organization leaders. Each person gave me a different perspective and connected me to more professionals.
9. Try out different volunteer opportunities and even sit on some committees or boards.
You’ll get some hands-on experience for what the industry community looks like, learn about job openings, meet some other people in the field, and most importantly, see if you enjoy the work and the cause. For those industries that are tight-knit, they may not advertise open positions, so those relationships could help you find a job down the road, too.
I volunteered for the Get Outdoors Committee, sat on the board for Pikes Peak Outdoors Recreation Alliance, and participated in other volunteer opportunities like planting gardens. I learned so much about the industry, what roles sounded interesting, and what kinds of jobs I definitely did not want to do.
10. Be okay with changing your direction.
If you realize that career path isn't for you, great! You know what you don't want. You probably figured out some things you do want, though, so keep moving forward.
I got very far down the path of career discovery in the outdoor industry, including taking 2 college biology courses, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t for me. Through additional self-discovery, I figured out that my biggest passion is the ability to bring impact through relationships in the community. And that volunteering in the outdoors industry might suffice if I was able to make impact through other means of work.
11. Write down your vision for the future. Even if it is a 3-sentence paragraph, at least you have something written down to remind yourself of what you want.
A couple years ago, I wrote down a short paragraph of what I was looking for in my next job. This included event planning, community engagement, and making an impact. I had no idea of how to search for this type of role on the job boards, but a few months later, a friend referred me to a job opportunity. I read the job description and it was everything I wanted (and more). I interviewed, loved the team, and got the job. That was how I started working for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC. I never would have imagined that kind of job could be my career.
12. Set your parameters on your job search to send you alerts.
You can be vague about what you are looking for or very specific. Having a variety of keywords will send you many job feeds in email to sift through, however, you get to see opportunities that are outside of the box.
13. Keep your ears to the ground and tell your connections what you are looking for in a new role, even if it is a little vague.
You can set up one-on-one meetings with people to catch up or send them an email with your resume and job parameters. Encourage them to send you anything that might be of interest, especially if you are vague about what you are looking for. And thank them when they do!
14. Take on any projects or education opportunities within your current role that give you relevant experience. Going to leadership training or participating in a work-related effort could lead to some valuable relationships or resources.
As you saw before, being part of a women’s leadership cohort allowed me to access a book about career transitions. Taking on the role of the leader of the Charity Committee for an early career job led me to a passion for event planning.
Remember, your skills are valuable and you can combine them with your passions. You might feel like it is too random, but then you’ll come across the exact right job for your experience. If someone had told me I could get paid working with events and the community and building high-profile relationships, I would not have believed them. But that job from the Chamber landed in my lap, like the universe created it just for me.
However, a dream job might last for a while and then we want something new again. It’s all part of the seasons of life. I loved working for the Chamber and for the community. I have always felt a pull to own a successful business, though, and that kept feeling stronger and stronger over the last couple years. Once again, utilizing my network for advice, understanding what people wanted in the community, and where I could host my events. So was born Emm Co in June of 2021. In late fall of 2021, I left the Chamber to pursue my business full time. Now I get to do event planning, create impact in the community by helping people build better relationships, and do strategic contract work for small businesses.
If you are serious about finding a career that plays to your passions and skillsets, it is so valuable to do the work to know what you might enjoy doing. Talk to people in the industry, build the relationships, and be open! The right opportunity will come along.
If you have any questions about this topic, please send me an email!