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Changing Careers at 30: Are You Bold Enough To Do It?

You’ve been dreaming about it for almost a decade. You see it so clearly it’s almost three dimensional. You can practically taste the sweet nectar of success.

Except that it’s nothing more than a fantasy. A pipe dream. One of those woulda, coulda, shoulda things you dwell on, that fascinates and scares you at the same time. It’s painful, but you can’t seem to stop.

You’ve been slowly wasting away at a job you loathe, letting it drain the life out of you, while you eye your friends with envy. You know, those friends that bit the bullet back in your glory days and dove head first into exciting career plans? Who never looked back, not even once?

You keep thinking, “Man, that could have been me.”

Except, well, it wasn’t. For whatever reason. Maybe you decided to take the more secure albeit less exciting route, or that well-paying “safe” job. Maybe you decided to start a family right out of the gate. Maybe you coasted for a few years, drifting from career to career, or project to project, but never really seeing results you’d hoped for.

No worries, friend. Whatever your situation, wherever you’re at right now, life isn’t over until it’s over. Now’s the time to stiffen up that upper lip and chase those dreams in earnest. But where to begin?

Have a Plan

Why? Because planning is cool. And because, well… if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Really though, you don’t want to just drop your life and switch careers on a whim or start a new business without doing some due diligence. Quiz yourself. Ask yourself why you want to make this big change. Can you handle the pay cut that most likely will come (at least initially)?

Do you have the working capital you need to fund your idea? If you’re starting your own business, do you have a marketing budget? Do you need any sort of insurance coverage to legally operate? Assess all the required moving parts that will be necessary to make your career move a success, then ask yourself: Do you fall short in any of those areas?

Consider a Trial Phase

Perhaps your idea is something you can test the waters in first, before making a major move and potentially lighting bridges afire behind you. Ask yourself if the change you are contemplating could be something you could do on the side around your current job, just to make sure it’s viable.

For instance, if you’ve always dreamed of launching your own web design company, maybe you can start out with a couple of freelance projects during your spare time, and see where the waters take you. You might find web designing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and decide you want to focus your attention in another direction.

That’s perfectly fine too. There are no rules that say we have to settle on one career path, and one career path only. Variety is the spice of life, or haven’t you heard?

Deep Dive into Your Dreams

While it can be tempting to want to change careers simply because you see others around you succeeding at something, it doesn’t mean what they are succeeding at is right for you. We humans are a quirky lot, and we each come with our own unique gifts, talents, and skill sets.

Instead of being seduced by the lure of quick or easy money, or dazzled by a career that seems glamorous but doesn’t give you any kind of thrill, sit down and actually think about what you want to do. Analyze your passions, honestly assess your skills and strengths, figure out what lights you up and sets you on fire for life.

Then get to researching and find out if there’s a market out there that will let you somehow marry your passion and skills with smart business. If there’s a market for it, turn that idea into the best career move of your life, and don’t look back. But never forget, switching careers merely because you see someone else doing better than you at something is lame. Don’t do that.

Make Lots of Friends

A big part of changing careers successfully is making sure you have an established network of friends in place before you make the big move.

This is your social circle, your network of people that you know in the industry you’re trying to move into that can help make your transition a bit less difficult. In many industries, they say it’s all about who you know, and this is more true than you probably realize.

Even that guy you say hello to every day at the coffee shop might be a potential contact that could prove valuable in your business at some point. As an entrepreneur, you just never know when you meet someone, how they may affect your life and your business further down the road. Make friends, exchange contact information, expand your network. But do it with class, and don’t be an… well, you know.

Just Do It

Have you done all the research? Have you asked yourself all the tough questions? Have you mapped out some kind of game plan on where you’re going, how you’re going, and what you need to get there? If you’ve done everything you can think of to mitigate potential failures, it’s time to quit talking about the big plan, and do the big plan.

It’s easy to get stuck in some kind of holding pattern as you wrestle with a big life change. Any big life change, really. It doesn’t just apply to careers. “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” is the mental narrative that seems to loop on repeat.

It often triggers something I like to call procrastination assassination. I should know, I’ve been a victim of it myself. Don’t let that be you. Once you’ve reached a certain point, you just have to take a leap of faith. Or give it all up for good and resign yourself to your current ho-hum career.

But if you’re reading this post, I know you don’t want that. You want more than ho-hum. So how about you get busy, and make that long-awaited dream happen?

By my admittedly flawed calculations, I figure now is as good a time as any.

How to Get Your First Job in Tech: 15 Strategies

Want to break into the tech industry?

Let me tell you: sifting through job boards is old news. The real way to land your first tech job? Get your butt out there, get yourself noticed, and build experience. Below are 15 actionable tips on how to do just that.

1. Update your LinkedIn profile.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn yet…where are you? Join the other 300+ million people in the modern world.

LinkedIn is where recruiters go. Meaning it’s where you need to be.

Make sure to add skills relevant to the job you want, not the one you have. And nix your college job scooping ice cream.

2. Be present on social networks relevant to your dream industry.

Designer? Get yourself signed up for Dribbble or Behance.

Developer? You better be grooming a Github profile.

Although it may not be industry-specific, Twitter is also a great place to network. It’s even been called “the cocktail party of the internet.

Professional networking without pants? Yes, please.

3. Network IRL.

Yeah…you do need pants for this one.

Attend tech meetups. Go to industry-relevant conferences. Get cheap business cards made on MOO.com, with your title and contact information.

Don’t be super aggressive, though, about promoting yourself and finding a job. Make sure to have fun. If you make enough friends, the jobs will come to you.

4. Ask people out for coffee.

Know your dream job? Find people with *that* dream job on LinkedIn or related (like from their blog). Casually introduce yourself. Ask to talk over coffee. Basically, “Pick their brain” (but for the love of God please don’t actually say that).

Tips for the initial email:

  • Keep it short (they’re probably busy)
  • Connect with them — find similar interests (oh hey, we both love to ski) and if possible compliment them (Ex. “I really liked your blog post on ____.” Make sure it is genuine!)
  • Ask for a short amount of time (15 minutes or so — the less time you ask of them, the more likely they’ll say yes)

Tips for the day of:

  • Be present. Ask them questions, like “Can you share helpful resources?” or “Any good books I should pick up?”
  • Be legitimately interested in what they’re saying, and don’t check your smartphone
  • Send a follow-up email…again, keep it short. Thank them
  • Stay in touch over time. Eventually, ask if they can connect you with the HR manager at their company

Not everyone will say yes. In fact, most will not respond. But some will. Just keep at it.

5. Get a mentor.

If you play your cards right, the people that you take out to coffee can turn into mentors.

Mentors are awesome.

  • They will help connect you to others down the road
  • Offer career-related recommendations
  • Give you an “in” at their company

It depends on the mentor, of course, but it never hurts to have an extra person on your side.

6. Reach out to friends/family.

You’ve probably heard this a thousand times: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

And that’s true. (Though you do need to have skills, too. Don’t nothave skills.) Your friends and family almost definitely know people who need design or website work. Or they have sites themselves.

At the end of the day, money is money. And experience is experience. In the beginning, you *need* experience!

7. Start a blog.

Seriously. Even though it seems like everyone and their aunt has a blog nowadays, there are still so many opportunities that can come from blogging.

You don’t need an actual blog with a domain name, either. You could write on Medium, which is easy to create and syncs to your Twitter account.

The key is to write content your dream potential employer wants their candidates to be familiar with.

Is your dream to work for a startup, building Ruby on Rails apps? Then your blog better talk about stuff that a person at that startup would care about. Industry news. Related code topics. (Example: if you know they use Angular in their applications, talk about Angular on your blog.)

Do NOT just post funny pictures of your cat. Yes, Mittens is adorable. No, employers do not care.

8. Build a killer (but simple) mini app.

Make it free. Aim to get it on Product Hunt. Get noticed.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler the better.

Take a look at Jon Chan, as an example. After teaching himself how to code and building personal projects, he landed his first full time, salaried, job at Stack Overflow. Demonstrating initiative and independence can get you far!

9. Volunteer.

Sometimes when you’re first starting out, you need to take some lower-end projects. Or even work for free.

And what better way to do that than to volunteer your services for a non-profit? Help spruce up the website of an organization you care about. Maybe build them a new site altogether. Add it to your portfolio/Dribbble/LinkedIn.

Plus, if you work for free, you’re much more likely to be able to get a glowing testimonial.

10. And on that note…get testimonials!

When you’re first starting out, getting testimonials or references from people you’ve worked with is really important. This helps establish that you know what you’re doing.

  • Ask clients you’ve done volunteer work for if they’ll write a recommendation on your LinkedIn
  • Reach out to former bosses to comment on your work ethic (even if it was for a non-tech role)
  • Even connect with old college professors who remember your work to give a recommendation

11. Look locally.

Make sure to check the big job sites like Indeed and SimplyHired for local openings, as well as smaller sites like jobing.com or even your local chamber of commerce.

And don’t forget Craigslist! I’m kind of obsessed with Craigslist.

It’s a great way to find little jobs and “gigs” to make extra money while building up your portfolio. Plus, CL offers remote/telecommuting positions, too. (So you can work in PJs now and then!)

12. Think beyond traditional job boards.

Don’t limit yourself to the big top job hunting sites only. Check out niche ones, too!

CrunchBoard is specifically geared toward Internet and tech jobs. Coroflot is a great resource for designers. GitHub Jobs narrows their focus to programmers and developers. There are many other industry-specific job boards too; check out this list of 100 broken down by category.

Additionally, you can explore websites that let you know when new jobs are posted. For instance, TweetMyJobs allows you to sign up for alerts via email, text, or Twitter when a job is posted in your field.

13. Post on forums.

No, not the kinds of forums people posted to in the early days of the internet.

I’m talking about online communities like:

  • Quora
  • LinkedIn groups
  • GrowthHackers
  • Product Hunt
  • Stack Overflow

If it’s relevant to your industry, you should be posting on it. Don’t just post boilerplate comments like “Cool.” Instead, provide value to the discussions.

These kinds of online communities, centered around a particular interest, are essentially yet another way to network online.

14. Show that you’re passionate.

This is oversaid and kind of cheesy…but seriously, whatever you do, show that you care.

It sounds simple, I know, but many people hire for passion, not skill. Skills are trainable, but passion is something you either have or don’t.

15. Create your own job.

You don’t need an employer to make money or establish yourself as an expert in your field.

You can always:

  • Make your own product/service
  • Work as a freelancer/consultant
  • Start a blog/website and monetize it

In the long run you might even earn more working for yourself, because salaries don’t always make you rich.

Striking out on your own gives you the freedom to carve your own destiny. And when you have tech skills, the options for that destiny are truly limitless.

When it comes to getting a job in any industry, it’s all about putting yourself out there. So do exactly that — in person and online.

It’s not all about sifting job boards; it’s about getting experience and making connections. And if you’re unable to land a job immediately, don’t fret: create your own. Your success is up to you!