- To help determine if you’re in the wrong career, assess what you like – and don’t like – about your current role.
- Approach a career change with an open mind and curiosity. You never know what might pique your interest.
- Find ways to make your application stand out from the crowd, and adequately prepare for every step of the hiring process.
- This article is for professionals who are unsure if they’re in the right career and wondering if there’s a better fit.
Maybe you’re questioning if you’re passionate about your career or your passion is career-worthy.
“It’s hard for people to choose a career, because they can tend to focus on money instead of the job itself,” said Amanda Andino, a former recruiting trainer at a Fortune 500 company. “[They] may take a job they won’t be passionate about or enjoy because it pays well.” [Related article: 10 LinkedIn Alternatives for Job Seekers]
Whether you’re an entry-level candidate or an experienced professional, follow these steps to find your ideal path.
What to do if you think you’re in the wrong career
1. Determine if you’re really in the wrong career.
If you’re considering a career change, you’ve probably been debating this issue privately for some time. First, you need to determine if you’re in the wrong field or just the wrong environment.
“If you picked the wrong [job], make sure you take the time to figure out why it is the wrong one,” Andino said. “What is making you unhappy? Make sure you find what you are looking for before moving on to the next job.” [Related article: Tips for Making a Midlife Career Change]
You may need to dig deeper to determine what is truly bothering you at work. If you are experiencing burnout at your current job and struggle with or dislike your daily tasks, a career transition may be necessary.
“You will know you have chosen the right job when you get up every morning, excited to go to work,” Andino said. “You look forward to the challenges of your day and truly are passionate about your workday, day in and day out. You will also know you have chosen the right one when you align with the beliefs and values of the company you are working for.”
2. Figure out what you want and don’t want.
People end up on the wrong career path for many reasons. They may choose a job to please a friend or family member, to achieve a certain status or salary, or simply because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
“We are taught that if we are good at something, we should do it as a career,” said Joanne Sperans, owner of Volo Coaching. “The problem is, we’re often good at several things, and we’re passionate about several things. It’s where those two meet that we should look.”
Jane Sunley, CEO of employee engagement company Purple Cubed and author of It’s Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer, said that it’s best to be specific about your end goals when deciding on a new career direction. You can discover those goals by asking yourself the following questions:
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What skills do you use when doing the things you enjoy?
- What means a lot to you?
- What are you good at?
- What do others admire about you and why?
- What things do you do that you’re better at than others?
Once you’ve answered these questions, it will be easier to determine where you want to be and what you need to do to get there, Sunley said.
3. Assess your background and personality.
When you know what you want out of your career, evaluate your qualifications for jobs in that field. Two of the most important factors in choosing your ideal path are your background (education, previous experience, practical skills) and your personality (character traits, interests, values). Both should be taken into consideration, but depending on your desired career, your personality may be more important than your resume.
“Obviously, for highly technical careers like engineering, medicine, and law, training is very important,” Sperans said. “However, for the ‘softer’ roles, including executive management, personality traits – like a commitment to one’s workplace and employees, a strong work ethic and empathy – are as important, if not more so. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude and ethics.”
Holding a degree in your chosen field can certainly help, but not having one won’t necessarily bar you from getting a job. A person with the right aptitudes and a willingness to learn can be a good fit for a position, even if you don’t have formal education in that field. Ideally, your career should be a place where your personality and background intersect.
“People who are thriving in their careers are easy to spot because there is such consistency: They are living what they do, and it shows,” said Lisa Severy, career counselor and coach. “People who are dissatisfied and stuck in their careers are usually experiencing some disconnect between what they are doing and who they are.”
If you’re really unsure of where you want to go, explore a few different career paths within a single company.
“You do have to try a few things out before you can make up your mind on your career path,” said Keren Kang, CEO of Native Commerce. “However, jumping from job to job will always be frowned upon. Join a startup. Startups need jacks-of-all-trades and typically require all employees to wear different hats.”
Key takeaway: You are more than your qualifications. For some roles, your personality traits make you more likely to get the job than your technical skills do. Think about what you can bring to a role that requires work ethic and empathy.
4. Ask for advice, but don’t always take it.
Everyone has advice, has seen it all and always knows what to do when it comes to careers, or so they think. Regardless of whether your friends and family offer you great advice, you don’t always have to follow their well-intentioned recommendations.
Career coach Phyllis Mufson noted that outside advice can be very helpful, but only if you take control and ask specific questions that will assist in your self-discovery and career research.
“Suggestions can always be welcomed as a courtesy, but it is unlikely for friends and family to know all the dimensions of the person who is making a career choice,” added Jane Roqueplot, owner of JaneCo’s Sensible Solutions. “Most people don’t even realize their own total person until [they are] assessed to reveal the information about their style, aptitude and values. Family and friends can be far more important in helping one get a job after the appropriate career path has been determined.”
How to change careers
It can be scary to change careers, particularly if you’ve been in one career for a while. Instead, look at this move as exciting and a way to try on a few different roles. You already determined you’re ready for a change, so why not have fun with the process? Below you’ll find some tips to finding jobs in a new field.
1. Examine your interests and skills.
While at your current job, consider writing down the day-to-day tasks you genuinely enjoy doing or are interested in. Are there skills you can transfer from this career to another? For example, if you’re a marketing professional, you could utilize your public speaking, data visualization or writing skills in a different career.
You should additionally take note of what you do not enjoy about your day-to-day tasks. By understanding what you don’t want in a job, you can narrow your search and get closer to your ideal role.
2. Consider different fields.
Once you’ve been in a career for a number of years, it seems impossible that you would be considered for anything else. Instead, approach this process with curiosity and an open mind. You never know where your skills might be useful and appreciated. It is often an asset to bring in an outside perspective to an organization.
Consider using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to help you explore fields predicted to have open jobs. Check out sites that feature salary comparisons and reviews, such as Glassdoor and Indeed, to find more information for specific positions and companies.
3. Conduct informational interviews.
Another way to explore possible careers is to set up informational interviews with people in positions you find interesting. Think of the people in your current network you can ask. LinkedIn is also a great resource to find people based on their job titles and companies. Once you’ve connected, use this interview to learn as much as you can about their jobs rather than pitch yourself.
Here are some things to remember as you plan your interviews:
- Keep your introduction short. You’re not there to talk about your entire career journey, but to learn from this person. Speak briefly about your background and why you’re thinking about transitioning careers, and seek their feedback.
- Plan your questions. You want to make the most out of these interviews and respect your interviewees’ time. Do your research and map out your questions before meeting. Ask probing questions about how they got into their line of work, what their organization looks for in a new hire, and what they like or dislike about their current role.
- Follow up. At the end of your interview, ask if they know anyone who might be helpful, and ask for an introduction. Then send a follow-up email thanking them for their time and suggestions. You ultimately want this person in your network, so it might be worth following up by referencing that you read a book they recommended or connected with their colleague or friend as a way to keep the conversation going.
4. Consider freelance or volunteer work.
Volunteering or freelancing is a great way to get to know the ins and outs of a company, and it will allow you to try a few different skills before committing. Perhaps you want to move into the nonprofit space after being in the for-profit world. Volunteering will allow you to better understand the needs of the organization. Freelancing for a company may also allow you to try more creative opportunities than your current role provides. [Related article: 9 Things Every Freelancer Should Know]
5. Strengthen skills and obtain new certifications.
You may have landed on your ideal career transition, but you don’t quite have all the necessary skills for the job. Decide whether you’ll need formal qualifications such as another degree or certification, and factor that into your overall transition plan. You can also find online certification courses, workshops or conferences to make yourself more marketable for your new career.
Tip: Before going back to school for a career change, research possible alternative roads into this new field. For instance, if you’re interested in the tech industry, you could save time and money by earning certifications instead, such as the best cybersecurity certifications or big data certifications.
How to get a new job
So you’ve found the field and positions you would like to apply for, and you’ve decided that you have the qualifications. Job searches can be intimidating, particularly if it’s been a while since you’ve updated your resume or interviewed for a job. Here are a few tips to make your job search smooth and successful.
1. Find ways to stand out.
Many job postings will have hundreds of qualified applicants, and it can be difficult to get your resume to the top of the pile, particularly if you’re changing careers. But you can employ a few strategies to get your application to stand out.
For example, be sure to keep a version of your resume on your mobile device so that you can apply to a job as soon as it’s posted. Many hiring managers want to fill a vacancy as quickly as possible, and it is often a plus getting your application in early.
Did you know?: Recruiters now use social media to find candidates, so it’s important to update your social media with relevant professional information as often as you can.
2. Combat impostor syndrome.
It can be intimidating to change careers and even more so when combating impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is a general feeling of inadequacy that includes an inability to assess your skills and competencies properly. Try to focus on your past professional accomplishments, and give yourself credit for as far as you’ve gotten. More than likely, you already have the qualifications for a new job.
A person’s social status can also impact their confidence. For example, those in perceived lower socioeconomic statuses may believe their professional networks are smaller and less helpful in their job search than those within a perceived higher socioeconomic class. Because of this, these job seekers may not take advantage of the personal ties they do have. Think about your network, despite your current job or status, and just reach out. You never know who may be able to help you on your career journey.
3. Prepare for every step of the hiring process.
Job opportunities could come at any moment, so it’s important that you are adequately prepared for every step of the hiring process. Aside from having an up-to-date resume and applying as soon as possible, think about the other steps of the process, including screening interviews and full interviews with a supervisor.
4. Find a new job while still employed.
It’s often smart to look for a new job if your current job isn’t fulfilling. So, instead of quitting and then starting your search, try looking for a new job while you have the security of a job. This will allow you to really focus on finding what you truly want in a new career without compromising for the sake of a paycheck.
However, you must be smart and respectful if looking for a new job while still employed. Here are some tips to balance your current role with your job search:
- Do not search on company time.
- Keep it to yourself.
- Be careful about your status on job boards.
- Schedule interviews outside of work hours.
- Continue to put effort into your current job.
No matter the stage of your life or career, the most important thing to remember when choosing a job is to keep your options open. If you’re just entering the job market, take the time to explore your interests and learn about different career paths.
“Trust your own instincts, and refrain from being swayed by naysayers,” said Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, owner of The Career Success Coach. “Know that trial and error in choosing a career path is part of the process.”
The same can be said for individuals making a career change; it’s never too late to achieve your professional goals, Kang said. Even if you’ve been on the wrong path, you can still switch to a job that you may not have considered but will make you far happier than the one you have now.
Shannon Gausepohl contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.