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Career change phase one: Planning your journey

Note: This is the first in a series of posts on how I transitioned from a career in librarianship to working in UX as a content strategist. My hope is that learning about the steps I took will help others, whether librarians, other higher ed workers, or whatever, find their own way through career change. Some of the content will be very specific to my particular journey, but much of it should be transferable for anyone looking at career change.

The year was 2020. We were six months into a global pandemic and I had never felt more disenchanted with librarianship and, more generally, working in higher education. After almost 20 years in academia, I knew I was ready for something different, but what? I’d been in the ivory tower so long, I didn’t even know what the hell people do for a living in the “real world.” And even if I could identify a new career, how would I convince people in the field I had the skills they were looking for?

Having a coach is like working with a travel agent: they can tell you about destinations you might not have considered, get you there in a more efficient way, and provide you with tools to make better-informed decisions.

Where do you want to go?

I heard about a career coach through a friend, and I decided to meet with the coach for a free 45-minute consultation. She was so insightful in that brief meeting that I knew I was going to sign up for more. Having a coach is like working with a travel agent: they can tell you about destinations you might not have considered, get you there in a more efficient way, and provide you with tools to make better-informed decisions. But as with a travel agent, you need to make sure you find a coach that understands what you value (secluded beaches/lots of autonomy?), what you absolutely can’t tolerate (4-attractions-a-day bus tours/working in a cube farm?), and what little details will really delight you (a tree house hotel?/a pet-friendly workplace?).

Travel Work
What I valuePrivacyAutonomy
What I can’t abideBus toursMonotony
What delights me“Live like a local”Donation matching
A pointless chart to hammer home this travel planning metaphor

But before I go into too much detail about the kind of help you can get with a coach (and how to DIY it if coaching is out of reach for you financially), let’s talk about two considerations vacation planning and making a major life change have in common: time and money

How much time do you have?

Schedule specific days and times to work on career transition, preferably when you won’t be totally exhausted.

How miserable are you at your job right this second? Could you spend a year exploring new career options, gradually re-skilling, networking at a reasonable pace, tweaking that resume as you learn more about your chosen field? Or are you at the end of your rope, ready to swing to the closest branch, even if it’s a little spindly, a little spiky? In her newsletter, Nice Work (which you absolutely should go subscribe to right now), coach and workshop leader Sara Wachter-Boettcher of talks about what she calls “recovery jobs,” the kind of jobs you take when you just need to get out of your high stress, high burnout situation. These are lateral (or even downwardly mobile) jobs that you take because you know they’ll be less all-consuming while you look to your next big move. And that might be just what you need while you figure things out. If, however, you think you can stick it out a while, your chances of landing somewhere closer to your dream job is much better. 

Be realistic about how much time you can devote to the transition. I am a single parent to one human and one canine, I recently became a homeowner, and I have ADHD. Initiating tasks is tough for me, as is sustaining projects once I get bored. I had to be very realistic about how many hours a week I could devote to this project. Some ways to schedule your career change planning time:

  • Schedule specific days and times to work on career transition, preferably when you won’t be totally exhausted.
  • Give yourself a quota to meet: two informational interviews, one job application, 30 minutes of freewriting about what kind of work tasks you enjoy most, etc
  • Write a list of tasks to complete by the end of the week (and maybe even find a friend to hold you accountable, if that’s a good motivator for you). 

I did a combination of all of these, and changed it up as I had more or less time in a given week. 

One caveat that might only apply to my neurodivergent peeps: beware turning researching a new career into a special interest. If that’s something you’re prone to, make sure you are specific about how you are allowed to spend your career change time. For example, I could easily fall into the trap of tweaking my website for the rest of eternity as a way to avoid working on a cover letter, the most loathed genre of writing known to humankind. If you feel the same, allot 30 minutes to cover letter writing/week, or make it a percentage of the total hours you’ve devoted per month. I also had a habit of collecting job postings on LinkedIn and Indeed and just letting them sit there because it was more fun to search than to apply. So I set a deadline every week to apply to a certain number of jobs. Know your habits, know how to effectively disrupt them.

Money money money money…MONEY!*

Depending on how big of a change you are making, you might need to take some classes or get a certificate.

While it’s definitely possible to make a career transition without spending any money, you’ll want to have a budget for how much you’re willing to spend. I decided early on that coaching was a good investment for me because I struggle with follow-through. Having someone to check on me at specific milestones was crucial. Also, depending on how big of a change you are making, you might need to take some classes or get a certificate. You’ll definitely want to attend webinars and conferences, and you might want to join professional orgs so you can attend networking events and get access to paywalled job boards. (More on all of that in a later post.) Some other expenses you might encounter:

  • Resume writing and/or reviewing services
  • Web hosting fees, consulting fees if you plan to hire someone to design your site
  • Photographer fee (for LinkedIn photo, if needed)
  • Petty cash fund for your informational interviews–you should be buying their coffee if they agree to meet with you in person!

I think I spent about $1700 over the course of nine months on career change-related expenses, with the bulk of that being on coaching services. 

Now that you’ve figured out what your time and money budgets are for this journey, you’re ready to start figuring out where you want to go, and how you’ll get there. In my next post, I will share a bunch of diagnostic tools and thoughts on discovering new career opportunities.

* If you immediately started singing this song to yourself, congratulations: we are now best friends.

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