How to Make a Career Change Without Going Back To School

how-to-make-a-career-change-without-going-back-to-school

I don’t get many emails, but I did get one the other day after I wrote about increasing my income on The Huffington Post. My lovely reader wanted to know how I was able to get into freelance writing, which then devolved into a conversation about my own unique career path, (you can see all 30 of my past jobs in this post here.)

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 really 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, but I worked really hard at it before I got there. Here are the steps I took to go from actress, to admin, to a full blown career in marketing as a content strategist. 

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.

I’m not saying to beat your head against a desk, or wait until the answer falls out of the sky. I also don’t think there isn’t anything wrong with not knowing what comes next. I wrote about embracing the “rock bottom” of life over in my guest column at Ask the Young Professional a while back. There is something wrong with being dissatisfied and doing nothing to remedy the situation.

If you know your current gig isn’t working out for you, do something small each day to attempt to figure out what you might want to do. Research something on the internet that sounds interesting. Take a class that you’ve always wanted to take. 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.

All of the tiny steps that eventually led to where I am today.

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 is one of the fastest ways to become a subject matter expert because of 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, build your portfolio. 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.

Network with Existing Contacts

Everyone says to network. Everyone, everyone, everyone. Yet, 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.

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 upon 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 acceptable.

If you forgo school, you’ll have to make sacrifices that may not be monetary to make up the difference: “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.

What do you think? Do you like my tips? Think it is possible to make a major career change without going back to school?


  • http://thebrokeandbeautifullife.com Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life

    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.

  • http://www.thefrugalcottage.com Nicola

    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.

  • http://add-vodka.com Daisy

    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!

  • http://www.ineedmoneyasap.com Thomas

    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!

  • http://leblancetlenoiruk.blogspot.com Victoria

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