The lucky few who know what they want to do in life from a young age enter the workforce in the industry and usually remain in it for the rest of their career. While this may be ideal, it’s a little unrealistic for most people because it’s hard to know at 20 years old (or younger) what will make you happy for the next 30+ years. That’s why it’s not uncommon for adults to find themselves in jobs or industries that no longer bring them satisfaction 10 or 15 years into their careers. But, by that point, is the only other option to try to get into a new profession by starting from scratch?
After putting in a decade or more into your career, the idea of going back to the starting line isn’t exactly appealing. Looking back, you may have done internships, worked in low-paying positions, and possibly held jobs where you gritted your teeth for a year because it was worth it for career growth. It probably wasn’t ideal then, and it may be downright impossible now that you are a parent.
There is another option, though. You can start to dip your toes into a new job or industry you’d eventually like to get into full time while you’re still employed in your current position by freelancing or taking on contract work. To do this, you’ll need to be extremely motivated and have the flexibility to work extra beyond your typical schedule. However, all of those extra hours now will help you eventually transition into a new career full-time without having to start all over.
Why Take On A Side-Gig?
Yes, you’re probably busy enough as it is between work, family, and social obligations, not to mention trying to squeeze in some time for self-care, so the thought of adding more work to your plate might be downright humorous. If you truly don’t have anywhere that you can carve out some extra time, then you may need to wait a little while before you start this transition, and that’s okay! Once you’re in a spot where you can free up 5-10 hours a week, whether it’s over your lunch breaks after the kids have gone to bed or even first thing in the morning, there are a lot of good reasons to devote that time to a side-gig.
Freelancing allows for a slow entry into something new.
Let’s say you’re artistic and find yourself dabbling in graphic design for fun. It is an interest or hobby that can easily turn into a career. However, it would help if you usually had certifications and a solid portfolio of work to get a full-time high-paying job as a graphic designer.
If you don’t already have those certifications, you can first use those few hours a week you’ve set aside to start earning them. Not only will this help you learn the basics and build up your resume, but it will also allow you some time to figure out how much you like the learning process and the work without having to sacrifice a ton of time and effort.
Once you’ve learned the basics, you can start taking on some small jobs. The chances are high that these first few jobs will be relatively low-paying, short-term, or project-based jobs. It might feel like grunt work, mainly when you’re used to more high-level work in your career, but think of this as your internship stage. You’re at the starting line, but you don’t have to let go of your mid-level salary to do it.
An important thing to understand about this stage is that you need to be realistic about how long you’ll be in it and the kind of pay you’ll be getting for these early projects. You can’t create a portfolio of quality work overnight, and you can’t ask for top-dollar contracts when you have no experience to show. It is simultaneously the most tedious and important part of the transition, so stay motivated by keeping your eyes on the bigger picture.
Side-gigs can help you build out a new network.
Let’s say you currently work in healthcare administration and have no connections to someone in the art or communications departments who works in graphic design within your organization. You may have some possible contacts within your wider network who can help you with this transition, but you’re going to need more industry-based professionals to help you along the way to do this full-time ultimately.
Your side-gig will connect you with clients who can connect you with other people within the industry (hopefully by referrals to get you even more work). The more projects you take on, the wider your network will become.
Additionally, you can join freelance/contract groups online, such as through Reddit, Facebook, and The Mom Project’s Community, and connect with peers within your industry. Not only will you have an opportunity to learn from these people with more experience, but they may also share their own contacts or offer to refer you to a client who reached out to them for a project they can’t take on.
Networking is essential to any job hunt, and by focusing on it alongside gaining new skills through your side-gigs, you’ll eventually have enough of both the experience and contacts to make a smooth transition.
Contract and freelance jobs offer low-risk growth opportunities.
Again, the best part of a side-hustle is that it’s low-risk because you don’t have to just up and quit your full-time job to do it. Because of this, you can grow your business at a pace that works for you. Maybe that’s sticking with those 10 hours a week for a year before you change things up, or perhaps over time, you’re able to reduce your hours at your full-time job, so you have more time to devote to your side-gig (which means more time to get clients, make contacts and create work to add to your portfolio).
Eventually, when you feel like you have the experience you need to transition fully, you can start applying to full-time jobs in your new industry. Those are more in line with your current job level or at the very least aren’t internships or entry-level positions. Like with any other job search, you’ll need to have some patience during the process, but since you already have an established side-gig, you can continue to gain experience and add work to your portfolio throughout the process, which will only help you along the way.
📖 Read More: Check out our guide to freelance work to determine if it’s right for you.
It’s A Process, But It’s Worth It
Making a big career transition after you’ve already put in more than a decade of work in another industry can seem a bit scary. That’s why side-gigs are so great. They’re low risk and give you a lot of time to decide whether or not this is something you want to do full-time. The most frustrating part is how long it takes to make a complete transition, but remember that you’re trying to build your resume up to the equivalent of 10+ years of experience in only 5-10 hours per week. It won’t happen overnight, but if you stick to it, it will eventually happen, and you’ll feel confident in both your abilities and your decision to move into this new profession.
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