How to Start a New Career Without Starving To Death

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Let’s say you are dying to do something different professionally but you feel stuck. You feel this way because you can’t afford the inevitable pay cut that comes with staring out fresh. If this describes you, I think I can help. I’m going to show you how to start a new career even if you think you can’t afford to do so.

I can understand this problem. I faced the same dilemma when I was newly married and our first daughter was born. The solution that I used to launch my career is what follows. Let me also own up to the fact that I made plenty of mistakes too.

In retrospect, I would have done a few things differently. Had I done so, I would have avoided several years of wasted effort and needless worry. Had I followed the suggestions I am about to share with you, I also would have launched my business years before I actually did. Let’s get to work.

How to Start a New Career without Risking Your Current Job and Starving To Death

1. Play the Odds

Unless you are independently wealthy, live at home and/or are supported by someone else, you won’t get unlimited chances to reinvent yourself. This may not be very “PC” but I must tell you that you have to be realistic about your choices. Consider your abilities, skills, education and experience but don’t stop there. Think about your liabilities and the things you don’t like doing and/or are unskilled at or plain aren’t good at.

Assess your odds of being successful in your new career and then think about what your life looks like if you are successful. Just because you are successful in a certain field doesn’t mean you are going to like the life you build for yourself.

A friend of mine wanted to be a sound engineer. He studied that vocation and he’s really good at it. And you know what? He’s pretty successful too. But in that profession, “successful” means he makes minimum wage and travels around the country all the time. He doesn’t see his family very much and he’s generally unhappy. If that is “success” who needs it?

Think about what you are about to embark upon. Then ask yourself the following questions:

a. Do you have a shot at being in the top 20% of this profession?
b. If so, why do you think so?
c. What stands in your way of being successful?
d. What kind of life do the people in the top 20% of this profession have?
e. Is that the kind of life you want?

My sister-in-law Carol is a CPA. To be honest, I was amazed that she became a CPA because she’s not a detail oriented person at all. As much as I love Carol, I happen to know a lot of CPAs who have better skills and are more professional than she is. Carol is about average as a CPA.

But you know what? Being in the top 50% is good enough for Carol. She is very happy with the lifestyle her career affords.

She knew before she started down the road that she’d never be a star but she didn’t have to be in order to have the life she wants.

Pick your career very carefully. Avoid wasting time and energy going down a road that doesn’t go to a place you want to be.

2. Become A Beginner

Now that you know the new career path makes sense, consider becoming an unpaid or a paid intern, This step can be the secret sauce that allows you to launch your new career. That’s right.

No matter what stage of life you are at, you can and should “taste” what this new career looks like before you make a huge commitment of time and money. And there is no better way to do this than by interning. By doing so you’ll be able to keep your old job, learn about the new gig and start making valuable connections all at the same time. If you play your cards right, you will also get a little spending money for your trouble. Above all, you’ll make invaluable connections and gain insights that will pay huge dividends for you down the road.

3. Don’t Waste Time

In a bit, we’ll talk about how to land your internship. But there is one huge caveat you need to be aware of before we get there; please do not waste your time. Just because someone in your target profession is willing to give you an internship, it doesn’t mean you should accept.

Before you even approach the host, write down what it is you want to get out of the experience (and how many hours you can devote to the job). Your goals could be as simple as discovering whether or not the career is a good fit for you. Alternatively, your goal might be to master all the skills. Or you’d like to be able to start being self employed once the internship is over. Write down what your goals are and be willing to share them with potential internship providers.

4. Hit List

Without limiting yourself, think about who you would love to intern for. If you knew that person would agree no matter who you approached, who would you ask? Write it down.

Now, assuming you could not reach this person, who else would you enjoy working for? Who else can provide the experience and training you want? Talk to people who are successfully doing what it is you want to do. Ask them who you should approach. Try to get as long a list as possible. As hard as this may be to believe, not everyone is going to jump at the chance to train you.

5. Prep

Now is the time to prepare your sales approach. Don’t just start calling people. Prepare first to increase your odds of landing your internship. The best way to prepare is to draft an internship resume. Start off by jotting down what your goals are. This is a restatement of what we discussed above. What exactly do you want out of the internship? How many hours are you prepared to invest? Do you need to make money? What is the least amount you would be willing to accept in order to put the time in?

Next, brainstorm all your talents and abilities. What are you going to offer the internship provider? What is she going to get out of this exchange? Are you a hard worker? Do you pay close attention to detail? Have you demonstrated leadership elsewhere? Do you have experience being successful in new situations and adding a lot of value? Write all this down because this is what you’ll use to sell the employer on taking you under her wing.

At this point, you’ve carefully evaluated which career you’re about to pursue. You’ve decided you want to become an intern in order to develop a better understanding and more skills while holding on to your current job. You’ve also created a list of places you’d like to intern and you’ve developed how you’re going to approach these people.

All that’s left for you to do is to get out there and start knocking on doors. If you reach a potential internship provider and they close the door, take advantage of the connection. Tell them you understand that they cannot offer you an internship but ask them to meet with you anyway. Interview them about the industry and profession in order to learn as much as possible. At the end of the interview, ask them who else they know who might provide an internship opportunity or at the very least someone who would allow you to interview them to learn more.

At the end of the day, you can absolutely start developing your new career without jeopardizing your current one if you become an intern. It will take some work, but it will be worth it.

Have you used an approach like this to kick-start your career? What other ideas helped you get started? Do you think there are better ways to start a new career? What are they?

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