If you find yourself wondering why you majored in psychology, philosophy or biology when the truth is, none of those are fields you care to pursue, youre in good company.
The nagging feeling that youre not suited for what you just spent four or more years studying doesnt often go awayit just continues to grow with time. You cant ignore it.
Early on in my career, I faced this exact dilemma when I graduated with a degree and background in computer science, yet no desire to enter the field. After literally spending years studying one thing, I was dismayed to realize that I didnt want to go in that direction.
Instead of ditching my background and skills and pretending that I wasnt knowledgeable in computer science, I found a way to navigate the job search based on what I knew about myself and what I wanted to do with my life.
“I don’t have a Plan B. I have a degree in Theatre Tech with a minor in Movement. Why did my parents let me do that?!” – Liz Lemon
Caileigh Scott (@CaileighScott) August 6, 2014
Here are a few things I learned along the way. I hope theyll help you on your career path, no matter what you majored in and what youd like to do instead.
1. Figure out what matters most
When I realized I didnt want to go into programming, I knew I had to focus on why I felt that way.
I liked the work itself well enough. I love solving complex problems, and theres something really satisfying about sitting down, just you and your computer. But in the programming classes and jobs Id taken, I never felt very comfortable.
The most notable example of this was the warning I received from a hiring manager in an interview. He told me that Id be working in a quiet lab and probably wouldnt have a lot of fun when I come into the office, but the job was mine if I wanted it. As hard as it was to resist a ringing endorsement like that, I passed.
While I definitely know programmers who are team players and development environments that are dynamic and exciting, theres still a pattern of individualism and relative quiet that doesnt mesh with my work style. Ultimately, social, collaborative settings are where I do my best work and feel most energized.
Have you ever really thought about what kind of environment invigorates you most? Its critical to identify why youre unhappy with your current career path to figure out next steps. Whether its due to culture fit, day-to-day tasks, or work-life balance, understanding what you need to be happy at work will make it much easier to figure out which positions and workplaces are best for you.
2. Go lateral
When you dont have much (or any) background in your desired field, it can be tough to get companies to take a chance on you.
Often, you run into a paradox where you need relevant experience to get a job, but you need a job to get relevant experience. Your saving grace is if a company already knows what a bright, hard-working, and talented employee you are since itll be a lot easier to get convince it of your value.
Near the end of my college career, I took an internship in tech support at a company I really enjoyed. Although the department wasnt ideal, I loved the people, culture, and product. After the internship ended, I sent personal thank you notes to all of the executives I had met and reached out the recruiter to let her know I was interested in working there full-time, albeit in a different position.
Since I wasnt sure about which field I wanted to go into yet, I just let her know that I would be interested in any position outside of the engineering department. My familiarity with the company and recommendations from co-workers helped convince her to take a riskso when a position opened up in marketing, she brought me in.
When you want a significantly different experience at work, you might think you need to seek out a new company. But many times, companies are happy to let you explore a new role if it means they get to retain a valued employee.
Talk to your manager (and HR department) about your interest in pursuing something else within the organization, and explain why you think youd be great at it. If you can effectively make your case, theres a good chance youll be considered for a position outside the team you interned with.
3. Embrace your past
Diversity in the workplace is criticaland not just when it comes to race, gender, and age.
Having people with different backgrounds, skills and experience guarantees that a team will be able to approach problems from different angles and come up with unique solutions. So when youre looking for a position in a new field, make sure to use your work history as a selling point.
In the years that Ive been in marketing, Ive found a computer science background has not only been helpful, but its also given me additional credibility, and the opportunity to work on projects I might not have been considered for otherwise. My education has also helped me understand the needs of technical teams on a deeper level.
Whatever youre bringing to the table, make sure to bring up some examples of how your skills are an asset for the position youre after. When youre competing against dozens of other applicants, its a surefire way to stand out and gain an edge of the other candidates.
Changing your career is a big decision, and its okay to feel nervous or intimidated. After all, its a big change. But at a certain point, you need to stay true to how you want to spend your day, which problems you want to solve, and what you want to learn. And if youre not finding that in your current position, its time to make a change.
If you can identify what you want, leverage established relationships, and sell others on your past experience, youll be that much closer to discovering where youre truly meant to be and what youre truly meant to be doing.
While it was daunting to essentially start over after four years spent studying one very specialized field, Ive never regretted my decision. College isnt about learning the laser-focused skills you need for your future careerits about developing and enhancing your critical thinking and problem-solving ability, which is applicable to any number of jobs.
And when I look back at the doors my background in computer science has opened, Im able to confidently say that if given the choice, Id do the same thing over again.
This article originally published at The Muse here