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Essential steps to follow for a successful career switch

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Are you opening your Facebook account and facing just another article telling you it is high time to leave your job? Or are you reading how I changed my life in 30 days for the fifth time? Or are you just pondering about the many other career advice only to realize (once again) you need to switch?

Well don’t worry, we do that too.

But let’s be honest: career switch is not business as usual. Career switch is risky. Career switch is scary. And unless you are Frank Abagnale playing Catch me if you can, you would need more than a new uniform to be able to change your business card.

If the naturally appearing fear and the need for risk-taking wouldn’t be enough to deal with, you got your parents, your friends, and the entire society to question you, doubt you and, overall, just to stop you. But this doesn’t look too appealing, does it?

So, we know that career switch requires courage and a leap of faith. But would it be all that?

Of course, not!

I wanted to find out if career switch is something that we can actually learn, so I enrolled for a class in New York City that promised me the following:

You will:

“- Understand the stages of a career change, including its challenges and opportunities, what you should and shouldn’t be doing in that stage, and your mantra to fall back on.
– Have a completed “getting out there” plan
– Have an inspiring new career story to tell
– Have a chance to celebrate a past career success or anticipated future success in a group (Retrieved from”


I am not sure I left with all the takeaways, but here is what I did take home with me merged with my personal experiences.

Why do we make a career change?

The most common answers are: because I hate my job, I hate my boss, I want to do what I love, I want something bigger, I am not learning anything, I want to be my own boss, I want to try out something new, I hate my working atmosphere, I am bored. Though these are the most common reasons to leave a job, the directions, to which we change, might differ.

What options do you face when you change career?

First of all, you can change between industries. Let’s say you are an engineer but you realized you always had a great desire to work in sales.

Second, you have the chance to utilize your skills as a freelancer. You worked as a PR manager, and now you want to work on projects selected by you.

Third, you can join a startup. If your daily accounting job makes you bored, working for a startup as a project manager would surely shake things up for you.

Fourth, you can do your own business. If you have tried so hard but keep on failing to work under management watch, or you are filled with ideas that are always on hold or rejected, and you are good at motivating others and yourself, then perhaps, you are a born entrepreneur, and it’s time to create something.

What if I don’t know what to change for?

If you follow today’s mainstream (and why wouldn’t you) chances are that out of grad school you accepted your first job and then, either you stayed there, or you job hopped a few times without much thoughts put into what’s next. One of the most crucial – and at the same time the most challenging – steps is to define what we want. And sometimes it can take us a lifetime to figure out our calling. So it is OK if you don’t know what you would enjoy or what would interest you exactly. It is OK if you don’t feel you have any particular skill (though for sure you have) to build around or that you didn’t find your authentic passion to build on yet. Not knowing what we want is a good starting point: we have a new blank page to fill in. Attend different events. Enroll for courses, workshops, and various networking meetings. Mingle with people and ask them what do they like and dislike in their job. Read stories about career-changers and learn what made them move. Learn about different jobs and career paths and then pick one.

Once you have decided on your direction, the real work starts. You have your courage, and you are ready to make a leap of faith. But before you jump, make sure you have an action plan to follow. That would help you to focus, keep track of your development and guide you towards the dream job.

Action plan for change between industries:

  1. Know which industry you want to transfer to. But be careful and don’t let the picture of infatuation trick you. Learn and collect as many information about the new industry as you can.
  2. Make a pro/con list. This will allow you to see more clearly and assess your reasoning more objectively.
  3. Reach out to people in your desired industry. Take them out for coffee and ask for their guidance.
  4. Check the LinkedIn profiles of people in roles you are aiming for. Check what education they hold, what sort of internships they made, what organizations they worked for. Then personalize their journey for0 your aims.
  5. Be ready to step a few steps back. If you are a manager but wishes to divert to a completely new path, be ready to start from the bottom of the ladder again. You might even consider an internship to help you get started.
  6. You have the skills. Remember that a skill gathered in one industry most probably will be a great asset in any other. Be flexible how you interpret your skills.

Action plan for switching to be a freelancer:

  1. Decide what you want. You have endless options, such as writing, marketing, designing, finance, teaching, programming. Choose the one that fits your personality, set of skills and desires.
  2. Be as specific as you can: ‘I want to be a copywriter for the high-tech industry’. ‘I want to teach elderly people for basic Internet use.’
  3. Stand out. Such as your CV should get the attention of any HR, your portfolio should be professional, appealing, and unique to you and your work. Answer the question: Why would I use me?
  4. Instead of pitching for all to get a chance, get targeted. Make a list of potential clients or projects and reach out to them. Then follow up on them and nourish any contacts you might get.
  5. Don’t be afraid of free work, but know which free work is worthy to accept. You certainly shouldn’t refuse to work for free for a potential client you admire, but perhaps you shouldn’t undersell yourself only to have your first client.
  6. Make your online presence is credible. Tell your story, and tell your readers why you are the best.

Action plan for switching to join a startup:

  1. Be focused: who do you want to work for? Keep in mind that startups are starters for a reason. They might be at a fragile state, they might not survive until next year. Unless you are OK to get on their boat, choose companies that have at least 50 fix employees already.
  2. Make a list of companies stating why you like them, why do you want to work for them and who you wish to contact.
  3. Check out if they are hiring for a specific position.
  4. Check if you have any connections to that company. Use social media to your advantage. LinkedIn is the best platform to reach out to someone you really would work for. You could say: ‘Hey Jacky, I saw that you work in the marketing department. I don’t even know if you are hiring, but I am thinking to change and love what you are doing…’ Then follow-up with them now and then to make sure you are at the top of their head. But avoid being pushy and desperate.
  5.  Make sure you are hard-worker. Startups are truly the place where laziness won’t stand long. Even if you have no other relevant skills to offer, make sure they know you are ready to move mountains.

Some platforms to get started:

Angellist The Muse – Startuphire – Mashable – Meetup – Startuply

Action plan for switching to build your own company:

  1. Choose what your business would do. Of course, the choices are endless but the bottom line of each business still comes down to problem-solving. What is the problem you are offering a solution for?
  2. Be very specific. Avoid being ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.
  3. Test your market. Once you have the idea, you must check whether there is a market for that. Many entrepreneurs-to-be believe that their idea is going to be the next big shot. It might be, but the biggest mistake you can make is not to seek any sort of validation for your business idea. How big is the market? How many people would actually buy my product? Don’t be sluggish to invest time asking around, interviewing a sample of people, make trial selling to make sure you are on the right path.
  4. Make a team from day one. Entrepreneurial skills or not, you always need people to complete you. Then why not to create the right team from the beginning and sharing the costs and benefits together than facing an ultimate failure alone?

When to quit your full-time job?

It all depends on your personal comfort level. Can you afford to be without pay checks for a few months? Do you have a family to look after? Do you have a loan to pay back? Don’t quit until the stress of not having an income is greater than your desire to change.

Why your online presence is so important?

“If you don’t define yourself the Internet will.” I bet you have already googled your name to see what comes up. Be assured, HR people do that, too. According to Patrick Ambron, the CEO and co-founder of, 1 billion names are googled every day. If you just recently sent out your CV, most probably you are one of the billion. Today 75% of HR are required to search candidates’ online presence. Make sure you make the right impression.

Here are Patrick’s hints on how to brand yourself:

  1. Get on social media
  2. Have 10 – 12 high-quality page about you
  3. Get a domain name for your name
  4. Create a personal website
  5. Use your real name at all platforms

Although we are living the age of virtuality, some people might want to stay low-profile and keep some privacy. You can choose to be invisible, but you might close your doors. Keep in mind what you do when you are looking for your next handyman? Yes, you search him online. Would you choose him if you find no information about him? Would you choose you without any credentials?

So what is my take-home message?

If you are not happy with your job, if you are thinking about change, if you are ready to take risks, don’t stay in your comfort zone. But make an action plan and follow these tips to make your career switch smooth and worthy.

Virág Gulyás is the founder of MissCareer/Less, a startup dedicated to women who embrace change, and works as a freelance creative project manager. As a former ballet dancer, she faced the challenges of what it means to change a career and start a new life in a culture where success is defined in linear terms. She believes that raw, honest storytelling is the new generation of women empowerment. Virág is an author, speaker and develops workshops to empower women and young (un)employed people.

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