ime to get real, folks-- we’re constantly bombarded by society demanding that we take jobs we love, only to have that countered by our work culture demanding with equal force that we become virtual slaves to our paychecks.  Navigating these seemingly disparate issues is the complicated and frazzling job of us as adults.  

But sometimes, jobs and careers just don’t work out like we thought or wanted.  We burn out, are dissatisfied, suffer compassion fatigue, or even get so stressed out that it creates health issues.  It's important to recognize when that’s happening and to put your power behind the resources that can help you change that.  

So let’s talk about:

  • Shift your mindset
  • Searching & Applying
  • Action, not Thought
  • How to Quit like an Adult

Career changes-- especially after all the work that you put into building a foundation-- are not just scary.  They are terrifying.  But use our guide to help you make the most of every resource you have at your fingertips to get yourself in a job that’s better suited to you.  We promise you can do it.  

Time to take that first step in the forward march to a better future.  

a hand drawing a path through a maze
Switching careers can feel like walking a labyrinth-- be sure to prepare yourself for a long road that will lead to somewhere better.  

Shift your brain’s gears

Before you can begin to make positive-- if disruptive-- steps towards changing careers, you simply must reset your brain.  You cannot pour from the proverbial empty cup.  (You’ve probably been trying to for a long time.)

You need to take better care of yourself.  This will allow you to shift yourself into a growth mindset, which will help you see more possibilities and have the emotional and mental strength to jump on them.  

We acknowledge that every step of this process is hard, and different folks will struggle more or less with different aspects.  Everyone struggles with this part, because you’re still dealing with the onslaught of what is draining you.

Start small.  Begin by saying no to extra work or taking smaller roles in projects.  Don’t let your performance slack, but do start to find a better work-life balance.  

This is big stuff, so give yourself time and be gentle.  

The next thing to do is to start assessing your strengths and weaknesses, passions, skills and experiences.  (Now is a GREAT time to start a journal for self-reflection.)  There are several quizzes and questions online, but here are some we like:

  • What am I passionate about?  
  • When do I feel that I’ve done meaningful work?  
  • What does meaningful work look like to me?  
  • What are my top 3-5 values?  
  • What experiences shaped me today?  My career path so far?  
  • Who are people whose work I admire?  What do they have in common with me?  What did they do that I could do?  
  • What do I perceive as obstacles to a career change?  
  • How could those be positives?
  • What do I perceive as my strengths?  

Honest self-reflection like this will really help you focus your efforts later on.  It also stops you from over-analyzing so much when you start acting on your desire to change careers.  We have a tendency to overthink and second-guess ourselves on this journey, so maybe take a few minutes to reflect on what you should tell yourself when that happens.  

a man determining if and how to change careers sits at a laptop, typing
Examine your skill set and refresh your resume to highlight it.  

Searching & Applying

Now it’s time to start gearing up and actually seeing what’s out there.  Examine and refresh your skills set-- every manager, human resources agent, and recruiter out there knows there are specific skills that are usable in all walks of life:

  • Communication-- how do you relate to others?  How do you write and speak clearly and effectively?  Can you help others to see what you see?   Communication is probably one of the top areas where supervisors and upper-level management see the most need for improvement.
  • Cultural Sensitivity-- how have you acted and spoken in a way that’s sensitive to diversity and avoids prejudism?  What steps have you taken to re-think and re-shape your communication and leadership methods in a non-biased manner?  In today’s era, it’s vital to be aware of cultural diversity and gender acceptance.
  • Management-- how do you navigate change?  Are you good at prioritizing and meeting deadlines?  Can you settle conflicts fairly and satisfactory?  Employers really look for candidates who stand out in ways that demonstrate success in achieving balance and compromise for a success.  
  • Leadership-- how do you lead by example?  How do you practice what you preach?  We’re not saying that you have to be in a leadership position or have a title, but you do need to be able to point to how you are recognized as inspiring others to work your way.  
  • Problem-Solving-- How have you turned adversity into a success?  How have you juggled conflicting priorities?  Employers want to see where you’ve applied critical thinking and logic to achieve a goal.  

Take a few moments and jot down ideas for this list.  Then re-shape those ideas into a bulleted list that demonstrates specific ways in which you’ve enacted these qualities.  Combine it with other traditional information-- work experience and education-- and you’ve got a new resume!  

If this approach doesn’t work, it’s perfectly okay to search out a career counselor or a resume specialist.  There are lots of job placement centers, but we recommend starting with either your alma mater or local library.  Many colleges and universities offer their alumni career services such as help with resumes and job applications, and large libraries often have staff specifically trained for this purpose.  Smaller library staff also have experience in helping patrons find resources for resume writing, too.  

Once you have a resume that’s refreshed and modern, it’s time to start searching for your next options.  

a composite image showing professional workers
Don’t just search and apply to jobs online-- get out there and connect with people!  Network!  

Action, not Thought

The next step is to take action-- start job searching-- but more importantly, start networking!  Many people make the mistake of thinking that job searching is the only way to get a job.

No-- that’s the traditional way, but not the only way!

And especially when you’re looking to make a career change, you need to take steps to find one that allows you to still perform your current job successfully.  Networking allows you to explore a host of options without committing too much time to exploring them.  

You need to treat this process like dating-- get out there and talk to people about trends, skills, and who is hiring.  Get out there and stay out there-- and stay connected to the people that you meet with whom you build a rapport.  Try to build your network around your skillset instead of just the industry in which you’re interested-- you never know what can happen!  

There are other ways to research and experience other jobs, too.  Try volunteering or job shadowing-- and don’t rule out opportunities to switch jobs with your current employer.  However, if the situation is toxic-- just get out.  Trust us-- it’s not worth the mental, emotional, and eventually physical stress and decline.  You deserve better.  So go get it.  

And yes, you do have to job search.  Again, utilize resources from the library, your alma mater, or job centers-- it’s such a slog-fest to do this part, and it definitely helps to have someone who is invested in your success on your side to keep you accountable and motivated!  

Whatever you do, remember that you are not alone.  Yes, you’re doing a lot of work and trying to hold together your life-- but you’re not alone.  We’re rooting for you!  You can do this!  

a woman in a purple dress signs papers
Try to tell your boss in person about your resignation, and hand her your letter afterwards.  Give at least two or three week’s notice.  

How to Quit like an Adult… Even if They don’t Act like One.

What’s interesting is that most people don’t agonize as much over whether they should quit their job-- they agonize over how to quit, probably because it’s best accomplished in person.  It doesn’t matter if your boss is toxic or wonderful, you’ll probably still be a nervous wreck about actually delivering the news.  

And that’s okay!  That’s human!  

If your boss is hard to reach, know that it’s in both of your best interests to send her an email or voicemail that you have to speak with them about an important, time-sensitive matter.  They’ll probably suspect, but you can’t let that stop you.  They might not like the news, but they should recognize that you’re trying to give them their best window of opportunity to prepare.  

If your boss is completely unreachable-- like on vacation-- it’s perfectly acceptable to hand your resignation to human resources, the person your boss left as acting supervisor, or even their boss.  

Have a letter of resignation prepared, just to create a paper trail to keep it all official.  Don’t lead the conversation by handing the letter to your boss or acting supervisor-- hand it to them afterwards.  

Here’s a sticky point for some folks-- don’t get into the negative reasons why you’re leaving.  You want to make sure that your employer has no reason to give you a bad review-- even if you’re not planning on making them a reference in the future-- and you want to make sure that you kept your head high.  Try to frame your letter in terms of “I could not pass up this great opportunity” or “my career interests have changed.”

The key to this interaction is for you to remain professional… even if your employer doesn’t.  

In the rare cases where your boss or other employees create a hostile work environment, you can decide if you want to offer to leave early.  You’ll forfeit the pay, but don’t feel like you owe them your time and energy if you’re going to be treated that way.  To do this like an adult, say something to the effect of: “I’d like to work the remainder of my time here, but it’s clear that my staying isn’t helping with the transition.  Would it be better if I left earlier than planned?”  That should be your boss’s cue that the behavior is unacceptable.  They may straighten up but if the environment is too hostile, then tell them that you’ll be leaving earlier than planned and state a specific end date.  

Further steps to take before you leave are up to you-- after you inform your boss of your departure, you are generally okay to tell your coworkers (unless otherwise directed).  Try to spend some time writing up general procedures and tips/tricks/guidelines for the next person who takes your job.  Finish up projects and take home personal items.  Clean up your area and be sure to do the small things on the last day-- like turning in keys and security badges.  

No matter what, stay graceful and tactful.  Be a professional until the end, and beyond.  

a man wondering how to change careers sits with his laptop on the ground
Set yourself a new career path.  You can do it!  

Once you’ve left your old job, be sure to to speak about it in tactful ways.  Regardless of how it ended, how you speak about your former job says a lot about your professionalism to your new job.  Be discreet if it was a bad experience, but if it was a good experience feel free to say so.  

Making a career change is hard, but it is attainable.  Stack the odds in your favor by playing up your skills, networking, taking advantage of resources, and staying professional.  You can do this!  

Have you or someone you know successfully navigated a career change?  Tell us the story!  We’d love to share the inspiration!  

Original posted 3/27/2020. Last updated 7/8/2022.

Jul 8, 2022