I want to switch careers. Should I go back to school first?


Q: I’m looking to switch to a new industry, but it requires a different skill set. I’m in sales, and I want to start writing because it’s something I love and that I’ve heard I’m really good at. Do I need to go back to school? What steps should I take to make this transition in the smartest way possible?

I think you ask a really great question. And with the current career trends, it seems no job is for life, and many of us will contemplate changing careers at some point. Whether it’s changing from full-time to part-time, for financial or lifestyle reasons, here are some tips below.

Do you REALLY love it enough to make it your next career?

I definitely encourage you to pursue your passion in writing, but before switching careers, ask yourself if writing is something you want as a career or to keep as a hobby. I’ve met people who love to cook for example, so decide to become a chef. It’s only later they fully appreciate how little cooking they get to do; the hours are long, in the early stages you’re mostly involved in the mundane prep work, and the pay is often not great. With any career, you never spend 100 percent of your day on the thing you love most. So imagine yourself in your ideal career and spend some time asking yourself if writing is something you want as your next career, or if you prefer to keep it as a hobby.

Gain experience on the side.

If writing is your passion and you want to look at changing careers, then consider pursuing this on the side before making the decision to leave your old industry for good. This gives you time to gain experience as well as confidence. It also helps you to refine your writing style and find the genre of most interest to you. You could start your own blog, or offer to contribute to other well established blogs. Start your own Facebook page and regularly post your writings on your timeline. This gives you an opportunity to transition gradually, gain experience and make new contacts in your field. It’s also a good way to see if you are still passionate about it months from now.

Find out and follow the who’s who of your new profession.

Depending on which type of writer you want to become, get to know the thought leaders in your particular area and start following them. Perhaps you want to write for fashion magazines, news journalism, or script writing—research which writers are the best in your field and/or those you most admire and start following them. Find out their stories of how they got into the business. You could perhaps contact them and ask them for tips on how to break into the industry. In some bigger cities such as New York or Los Angeles, the well-know writers may host writing workshops which you can attend.

Should you go to writing school?

It’s hard for me to answer specifically from the limited information you give in your question. However I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. Learning is always great and any additional skills or refinement of your craft is positive. Equally, many people have had a successful career from combining some natural talent and starting a blog, for example. So this is where I would check inside of you and ask yourself: Does it feel right? One benefit of going to writing school, or doing a journalism course is not only the learning, but you’ll also meet contacts, which can be great for networking. Perhaps the school has an intern program which can help you get a job once completed.

Finally, consider writing an ideal scene.

Before starting any new venture, I always like to create an ideal scene of how I would ideally like my new venture, in this case career, to look and feel. There are many ways of doing it. Some people cut out pictures, making a collage of their ideal scene. They stick it to their wall so they can see it every day. Depending on your goals, you could create a mock column of a well known magazine or newspaper and put your name on it. Or include pictures of journalism awards. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as the pictures align with your goals and dreams. I usually write my ideal scene as a list, starting with “I AM” statements, which help to bring it into the present. There are plenty of books you can also consult on creating your ideal scene. One I like is called Visioning: Ten Step to Designing the Life of Your Dreams by Lucia Capacchione.

[Editor’s Note: Have a question YOU would like to ask Julie-Ann? Email your questions to talk@iwantherjob.com or tweet us @iwantherjob using #AskJulieAnn.]