Changing Careers: Success Stories

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A recession may not be an ideal climate for a career change, but that doesn’t mean there’s a ban on hunting season.  In fact, contrary to what you may believe, a bad economy can actually benefit workers looking to make a switch.

“Making a career change is a personal decision that is up to each individual worker,” Allison Nawoj, Corporate Communications Manager for CareerBuilder.com, says. “Sometimes a layoff or other kind of termination can be a catalyst to switching careers.”

Consider, as an example, Eileen Roth of Scottsdale, Ariz., who told MainStreet she became a professional organizer (and went out to write Organizing for Dummies) after she was laid off twice in one year from two different association management firms. Or look at Carrie Rocha of Minneapolis, who started Pocketyourdollars.com after a new budget plan indicated she could be laid off from her Chief Operating Officer position.

“I went from being the Chief Operating Officer at a Minneapolis-based nonprofit to being a full-time blogger,” Rocha explains. “There I was, truly a behind-the-scenes COO where I ran the inside and my boss, the President, was the face person. Now, by way of example, I have done 120 plus media appearances in the first year in my new role as a money-saving expert.”

While Rocha’s and Roth’s stories are undoubtedly impressive, prospective career changers will be happy to know that they’re not terribly unique.  

“Over the past year, I’ve seen marketers morph into business developers, in-house recruiters turn into office managers and CIOs take jobs as software developers,” Liz Ryan, workplace expert and former Fortune 500 Human Resource Executive, says. “We are in the midst of a massive national rebranding.”


Ryan also said that more job seekers will stop being pragmatic and move toward working in a field they really want to as the job market opens up and the economy improves. How do you get in on the craze? Well, it seems, most successful career changes starts with some serious soul-searching.

“The first question is ‘are you running toward something or running away from something?’” Ryan says. “If we are already passionate about a new career field, that’s great. That’s the perfect scenario. If the only thing we know is that we’re sick of what we’ve been doing, we need to do a little more work.”

The other question to ask yourself is whether or not you can financially handle the speed bumps associating with shifting careers.

“Unfortunately, for a lot of people it really comes down to their financial situation. Are they really in financial position to take a calculated risk?” Nick Jimenez, Executive Vice President of Climber.com asked. “If the answer is no, maybe look at what you can do to make it possible. For example, reducing expenses or perhaps going to school at night might be a good alternative.”

Once you’ve assessed your motives and financial status, you should put careful thought into what it is you are actually looking to do (and whether or not that industry is feasible to dabble in).

“I have people construct a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles,” Ryan says. “We’re looking for the intersection of what we’re good at, what we love to do and what the market will pay for. Once we have a spot nailed down, we can begin to create a job-search brand, a resume and a set of stories that reinforce and amplify that brand.”

Ryan adds that you can stand out to prospective employers regardless of experience if you package yourself correctly.  “What you need above all, in order to make a career change, is a cohesive story that makes clear how and why you journeyed over your career from Point A to wherever you are now,” she says.


Beyond that, those committed to changing careers should seek out ways to get relevant experience in their new field. Nawoj suggests taking unpaid internships or applicable volunteer positions while looking for your dream job. Those who are employed and don’t have the time to take on an additional unpaid position should consider going back to school.   

“Many community colleges and state universities provide workshops, which can be a fantastic option for those on a budget,” Jimenez said. “This shows prospective employers they are serious, while providing a candidate with the up-to-date skills necessary to compete with people who may be more experienced in their field of interest”

As someone who went through the process of changing careers, Rocha says the steps are simple.

“Identify what flicker of energy or excitement you have on the inside and think about that. Let that seed of a thought develop into an idea, then a dream,” she says. “Then step out and do it.”

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