How to Change Careers Without Going Back To School

Ah, college. You fun, expensive, tedious monster. Some days I miss college, but most days I’m just happy it’s over. (I’m sure most people would have a similar sentiment.) But what can you do when you fall out of love with the job you got your degree for? Or better still, end up in a career path that isn't a match with your degree or interests?

Maybe you just want a change or are excited by a new opportunity. So, how can you land that new job without going back to school?

With the astronomical burden of student loans weighing on most millenials, I'm one of the few unicorns who graduated without any student loan burden (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) Perhaps because of this, I was super reluctant to go back to school and take out loans.

I'm lucky that my blog led to a different career path than the one I was on, (click here to learn how to start a profitable blog of your own…) but I worked really hard at it before I earned a single dollar.

Here are the steps I took to go from actress to admin to a full blown career in marketing as a content strategist, and finally a professional blogger. 

How to Change Careers without Going Back to School

Figure It Out

You could be in a career you hate and looking to make a change. You could leave that career and fall into whatever happens to comes next, but that's a job and not a career path. Building a career takes focus, calculation, and skill, especially since the job market is so competitive these days.

If you know your current gig isn't working out for you but aren't sure of what comes next, my best advice is to do something small each day to attempt to figure out it out. Examples include:

  • Researching a career path on the internet that sounds interesting.
  • Taking a class that you've always wanted to take.
  • Starting a blog just to write to clarify your feelings or put it all out there.

Two years ago I found myself unemployed and used my free time to start the blog I always wanted to write but couldn't when I was working full time at a hedge fund. I got a subscription to money magazine, and took every webinar under the sun about social media..

Become a Subject Matter Expert

If you want to make a career change without going back to school you're going to have to become an expert. Going to school gives you the knowledge, but that isn't the only way to get where you want to go (unless of course, you want to become a doctor or lawyer or need some other type of post-professional degree.) Blogging and writing are some of the fastest ways to become a subject matter expert for two reasons:

1) You'll have to read and research a lot to create content.

2) Writing is a great way to dispel thought leadership and build your portfolio. Blogs are proof you know what you're talking about! You'll also be able to get to know others in your field by reading their thought leadership.

Becoming a “subject matter expert” is going to beef up your resume. You'll be able to list places you've been published, courses you've taken, and your blog and additional related experience on your resume in the place where your formal education should be.

Go Online

Well, since the internet is a place of boundless opportunity and knowledge, it’s only natural that there are a ton of online certificate programs for just about everything. For example, if you want to work for an online blog or business that needs help with social media or search engine optimization, consider taking an SEO certificate class. Not only do certifications look good on your resume, but they also can help you negotiate better pay or really prove your worth to a company. Just make sure that you only take courses from trusted certificate programs – and always research before you pay for any class!

Network with Existing Contacts

Everyone says to “network.” Everyone, everyone, everyone. Admittedly, I hate networking, but if you're looking to make a career change, the key to the position that starts you on the new path probably lies with someone you already know. Someone who can vouch for your character, your willingness to learn, and your work ethic: the three things that matter when you don't have a wealth of education or work experience to speak for you. Network to get where you want sure, but don't discount networking with your existing contacts as well.

Networking is a very real skill that can open up some very real opportunities. Humans are social animals and part of a great work environment is socialization. There’s a reason that “watercooler” talks are such a popular trope in TV and movies. Why am I mentioning this? Well, you want to work with people who you like and who support you, right? Making connections and friendships with people in industries that you potentially want to work in can come in super handy when it comes time for an interview. A recommendation from someone who already works there is probably going to be more valuable to a recruiter than a recommendation from your old college roommate.

Current employees will also probably know more about the company than you. They’ll know about job opportunities or positions you may not realize are available.

Be Willing to Make Sacrifices

Anyone can make a career change, but it is rare to shift careers completely and come in at the level and salary you were previously (unless you were entry level before.) You'll have to start from the bottom and work your way up, just as if you were starting out right after college. Depending on your age and circumstances this may not be acceptable for you. Still, if you factor in the student loan/costs of school, a pay cut to change careers might be more economical.

If you forgo school, you'll have to make sacrifices e.g. “side hustle” until your income matches your full-time pay, stay up late and take courses after your 9-5 gig, or dip into savings while you get your business off the ground.

 Be Your Authentic Self

If you want to make the shift into doing something you love, you're going to have to be your biggest cheerleader, brand advocate, and champion. If you've followed my steps and figured out what it is you want to do (for the next few years anyway) and it is something you are truly passionate about, you should be unafraid to promote the things you are doing to your friends, family, and network. It could be a great way to get discovered.

Don't be afraid to bring up your new passion in conversation with others or on potential job interviews. Even if the job is “just to pay the bills,” employers want passionate, hard working people. You never know when the job could lead to something else, or who you could meet through that opportunity. You just have to be willing to speak your passion.

When I moved back to Atlanta, the CEO of my former company really wanted passionate folks at his start-up. I was interviewing for the executive assistant position (so I could move out of my parent's house) and he asked me about my interests outside of work. I had just started blogging a few months prior, so I proudly pulled up my blog and talked about my interest in finance and what I was learning about social media. He was so impressed he offered me a different job running that company's blog and social media accounts.

Start a Side Hustle

Maybe instead of working for someone else, you want to start your own business. That’s awesome! I’ve always said that everyone should have a side hustle, and I’m lucky enough that what was once a side project has become my full-time job. So if you’re tired of that 9-5 life, see how a side hustle can totally change your life.

Almost everyone has a skill or talent that they can use to make money. But keep in mind that it’s not going to happen overnight. Grow your side hustle while still working that desk job to have some financial security. Then, when you’ve got a reliable stream of work and income, take the plunge into small business ownership!

Finally — Makeover Your Resume

Since many potential employers now accept applications online, your resume is possibly going to be the only thing that your potential employer knows about you before an interview. So you probably shouldn’t be using the same resume you made in your college capstone class. Follow these beginner’s tips for a quick update to the meat of your resume, but also make sure that you are tailoring your resume to each company!

Most companies are looking for specific skills – for example, find and describe how you lead a project group that delivered great results, or how you promoted an event by engaging the community.

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6 Steps that demonstrate how to change careers even without going back to school. No money needed, just a little ingenuity.

 

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  • Elizabeth Stapleton
    November 16, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Awesome post! These are all great tips, but networking is definitely key, there is no faster way to find opportunities or realize that something might not be for you. Just talk to some people, it can be hard if you’re an introvert but it makes all the difference.

    • Lauren Bowling
      November 17, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      I admit I do not network the way I should because I am an introvert and a lot of networking events feel really forced and awkward but yes. It is SO necessary!

  • Giulia Lombardo
    November 8, 2016 at 3:59 am

    interesting point of view in my hometown sometimes there is opportunity to addend free course to learn a new job but online courses, side hustle jobs helps a lot

    • Lauren Bowling
      November 14, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Yes – if you can become a “master” of something on your own time, that goes a long way!

  • Victoria
    July 31, 2014 at 6:35 am

    This was massively informative and inspirational! I am new to your blog and am really enjoying it so far! Thank you, Lauren!

  • Thomas
    July 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Networking is key if you don’t have the educational background required for your new career. A certificate tells an employer that you probably have the skills. But networking and having conversations with these employers can and will do the same thing. But, as you say, you do need to be an expert and have the skills in the first place. I had a friend who did this and is now a director at a medium sized company with only a high school education. So its possible!

  • Daisy
    July 24, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Starting a blog and establishing yourself in your desired career path online is also an invaluable way to learning more about the subject and growing as a professional in it. I love the new look, by the way!

  • Nicola
    July 24, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Great post and I completely agree with what you say. I think that time and sacrifices are something that people have to contemplate when wanting to change careers.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
    July 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Absolutely. My degree and all of my professional work experience is in theatre, and people now call me a finance expert from two years of writing- and honestly only 6 months of professional writing. Like you said, the important things, character, work ethic, and a willingness to learn are keys to success in any career- so if you can master those, you’re good to go.

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