So you’ve decided that your chosen career path isn’t for you. Maybe what you thought was going to be ground-breaking work in college didn’t quite turn out how you thought it would. Or maybe you were unsure all along and were forced to make a decision but now you’re ready to make a better choice for yourself. Whatever your reasons, changing your career path in your 20s is definitely doable!
Knowing When to Switch Career Paths
First and foremost, how are you supposed to know when it’s time to make a career change? If you’re surfing the internet at your current job looking for other employment opportunities, it may be time to head out. It might also present itself in smaller ways: the jealousy when a friend gushes about her career while you sulk about yours or the tug on your heart to do something more significant with your life. If you’re coming home at the end of each day feeling drained, it might be time. If you hate Sundays mostly because you know you have to go back to work the next day, it might be time. If you’ve ever cried in the bathroom stall at work because you hate your boss and the whole stinking office and your place within it…it’s definitely time.
How to Figure Our Your Next Move
One of the most terrifying parts about changing your career path is deciding what your next move should be. Do you already know where you’re headed? Great! You’re probably ready to skip on down to the bits about your resume. If your future is looking a little foggier, though, (we’ve all been there) have no fear! It’s ok to not know exactly what’s ahead of you and there are a couple of things you can do to make it a little clearer. It’s going to take some soul searching, so put on your comfy pants and get some nice background music going because it’s about to get deep, y’all.
Some of the best advice I have ever been given about my career path was a motivational speaker (yup. I know.). He told us that a person’s perfect career almost always comes from finding the intersection of your passions and your heartbreaks. Allow me to explain with my personal example. One of the things that I value most is leaving something or someone better as a result of having interacted with me. I love doing service work, serving as an example for others, and making a positive impact on the world around me.
On the other hand, some of my heartbreaks include inequality and seeing someone left out or knowing that someone is metaphorically alone in life. Taking these two things and smooshing them together to make one career path baby could have led to many different options. I could have chosen to be a teacher in an underserved area or a social worker or worked for a non-profit. But none of them quite pulled on my heartstrings the way I wanted or needed them to. Eventually, I considered working on a college campus in student activities and found that it was the perfect intersection of my passions and my heartbreaks. It’s an especially great way for me to interact with students who maybe aren’t having the greatest college experience or are struggling to make friends (heartbreak) and to mentor them and help them have a better college experience through student activities (passion).
If you can be open and honest with yourself about your passions and your heartbreaks and figure out how the two can marry into the perfect career path, you’re set. Of course, there are other factors like how much money you want to make, what kind of hours you want to work, and where you want to live. But those things are much easier to figure out once you’ve found your sweet spot.
How to Apply Previous Skills to New Opportunities
Now that you’ve discovered the elusive perfect career path, how do you go about switching from your current state to your shiny new one? We all know that resumes play a huge part in the hiring process and yours is even more important in this pivotal moment in your life. As a 20-something, you may have as little as two years of experience under your belt or you may have been riding this wave for eight years. Either way, you need to be able to take the experience from your former career and look at it through the lens of your new field. Nearly every employer, whether or not they would come right out and say it, is looking for a certain set of employable “soft” skills: loyalty, dedication, perseverance, honesty, diligence, etc. These are the skills you need to focus on when navigating a career change.
Let’s say you’ve been working as a paralegal and you have decided that you would rather be a high school counselor. At first glance, the chasm between them might seem vast and wide. The two actually share many employable skills like being dedicated to working long hours and being comfortable with rolling with the punches. Your “hard” skills like using your firm’s crazy confusing software system might not transfer but saying that you are a self-directed quick learner does.
Take some time to sit down and figure out which “soft” skills you have gained that are transferable and mostly, don’t be afraid to add those to your resume. Acknowledging these “soft” skills is a great way to show that you have put a lot of thought into your resume and more importantly, your career change. Also be prepared to back up those points in an interview with personal examples that will drive the point home. Employers will be impressed that you have prepared enough to know how your skills from your old career will translate to your new one. But if you have other skills that you think might need some improvement in order to get into the career path you like, there are various online programs that you can enroll in so that you're well-equipped and confident with your skills.
The bottom line is that changing your career path in your 20s is not something you should be afraid to do. Now is the perfect time to make a big life change such as a career swap because you’re young, adaptable, and have your whole life ahead of you. Trust your gut, take measured steps to get there, and don’t be afraid to take the leap when the time is right!
Have you navigated a career change in your 20s? Comment below and share your advice!