What if I told you that you could hack your way into any career you want without any experience? You’d think I’m crazy.
But what if I told you that I’ve already done it? What if I told you that the steps I’m about to outline are verified and proven?
Would you listen? Would you read on to learn more? I sure hope so.
One of the most important things in life is to find a career you love. Unfortunately, most of us never find this elusive job. Instead, we graduate with a “practical major” and begin working in a “practical career,” all without ever wondering what we actually want to do with our lives.
This hurts us much more than the daily pain felt walking into the office of an employer we despise. Each day, month, and year we spend working on a career we’re not in love with takes us further and further away from a career we might actually enjoy. Because while you’re racking up experience in an industry you hate, others are racking up experience in an industry you’d love.
Of course, you already know this. And yet you try to make yourself feel better anyway, lying and saying that you could never switch careers because “you don’t have the experience.” Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong, and if you follow the steps I outline below, you can launch a new career that’s more successful and enjoyable than your current one, and you can do so without any previous experience.
Trust me, because I did it myself. In fact, these are the exact six steps I followed, and the six steps I implore you to follow now:
- Identify Your Interests
- Start Working (Nearly) Pro-Bono
- Build Your Body of Work
- Create a Consulting Business
- Find the Right Partners
- Get Hired Full-Time in a Career You Love
1. Identify Your Interests
The largest challenge when hacking your way into a career you love is to actually find a career you love. Many of us don’t believe on exists. But it does exist, for each and every one of us on the planet.
Why do I sound so sure? Well, because you have interests, don’t you? Things you truly enjoy doing? Good, because chances are you can turn those interests into a career you love.
Of course, believing that you can find a career you love is only the first part of the very first step. From there, it takes a dedicated strategy to actually identify your interests and find a career you might actually enjoy.
Follow the Money
One great way to identify your interests is to follow your personal paper trail of money. Not sure what you’re deeply interested in? Don’t worry, your credit card statements will show you.
Maybe you spend the lion’s share of your budget on food? Well, how about a career in the culinary arts or in hospitality management? Maybe you spend an inordinate amount of money on travel. Well, how about a job that either is based in the travel industry or one that involves a lot of travel (like a salesperson).
I think you get the idea. Watching your spending habits will show you what you’re interested in almost without fail.
Follow Your Time Allocation
Similar to following your money, another great way to identify your interests is by analyzing your time allocation. You might not spend money on it (or you might), but what do you spend the most time doing? …Well, besides working that career you hate, that is.
Spend a few weekends doing exactly what you want to do, and then in retrospect, analyze how many hours you spend doing each thing. This will tip you off on what your true interests are. The best part is that what you spend your money on and how you spend your time are often the same thing.
So, corroborate your interests by finding those things that have an intersection of high expenditures and large time allocations. That would be a great place to start. Then…
Follow Your Passion Funnel
Finally, a strategy that combines the above two into one is something I wrote about many moons ago…like 24 moons.
It’s an idea referred to as your “passion funnel.” I’m actually afraid to even click on the link because I wrote the article such a long time ago, but the principles remain tried and true.
The passion funnel goes a little something like this:
In the beginning of your career, you don’t really know…well, anything. You think you do, but let’s face it, you don’t. So, rather than choosing a career you know nothing about and going full bore up the corporate ladder, you should instead focus on casting a wide net and seeing where your interests lie.
The passion funnel is set up like a triangle on its side, coming to a point from left to right. When you start out in your career, you bounce around a lot, figuring out what you like and what you don’t and further honing your career choices until you find something you really love:
At each iteration or “bounce,” you learn something about both the job and yourself, allowing you to move onto the next job with more confidence. And all the while you’re following your interests and passions, getting closer and closer to “your ideal career.”
Each bounce gets you closer and closer to a career you love. This is a great way to approach your career at any stage. Test, learn, hone, and repeat, until you find something you truly enjoy. It’s all about testing, baby!
The best approach is to start first by checking your spending and time-allocating habits. Identify something that you spend a lot of money and time on. Then, use that information as the first step on your passion funnel. From there, keep iterating on your identified interest until you find a job that you’re good at, pays you well, and is one you enjoy.
Example: I graduated with a degree in finance and started my career in investment banking. From there, I went to work as the Director of Finance for a funded startup. But all the while my ultimate interests and passions weren’t crunching numbers and staring at spreadsheets, but were actually reading and writing.
I identified these interests by simply looking at what I spent the most time and money on: Books. What a divergence from my schooling and training! But I knew that’s where my passions lied. And then from there, I…
2. Start Working (Nearly) Pro-Bono
Once you identify something you enjoy doing, the next step is to start doing it…for free. Eek! Free work, what am I, an intern?
Calm down, calm down. You can do it mostly for free if working as an “intern” is beneath you. But I implore you not to feel as if it’s beneath you, because the whole point of this step is to gain some experience in a career / industry in which you have none.
Ok, I know I said you can do this without any experience, but what I mean is that you can do it without any prior experience. You’re still going to need examples to point to (not to mention actual skills) if you want any chance of hacking your way into a career.
There are two ways to start working (nearly) pro-bono and cultivate those examples and skills:
The first thing you should do is hit up your existing network. Let’s say, for example, that you want to transfer from a “hard science” career to one that’s much more artistic. Maybe you want to start developing websites but you’re stuck in finance or accounting.
Well, I’m sure you have friends and family who need websites build for them. And chances are they don’t want to spend the time doing it themselves. To help them (and to help yourself), put the word out via email, social media, phone, and old fashioned word-of-mouth. Let people know you’re developing web sites for the cheap (or for the free).
Remember, the key here is experience, not money. Money comes later. If you can make some money for your time, great, but that’s not the goal.
Now, with this option, you can actually make a little money (cheddar, skrill, greenbacks, etc.). Upwork is a platform that connects freelancers with people who need freelance services (typically one-off tasks). So, using the same example above, if you want to become a web developer, you can create a profile on Upwork selling your web development services.
Afraid you don’t have the experience to offer? Well, of course you don’t! The point of this step is to get the experience. But the smart people over at Upwork figured that out already, and they let you list your level of expertise and set your standard rate. Then, those in need of cheap labor that’s not expert level can find you and pay you for your services.
You can also search their open jobs and apply manually, taking a proactive approach (which is what I recommend). Jobs can be filtered by expertise level, giving you the work you need to gain some experience in a field you’ve never gone to school for.
Example: Once I figured out that reading and writing were my passions, I immediately went over to Upwork and filled out a blogger profile. From there, I looked at all the jobs with “intermediate level” requirements, because I felt that even though I’d never written for anyone, I’ve read a lot and write on my blog, and I can provide better than novice services.
I worked job after job on Upwork, many of them one-off tasks, and before long I was rated a top blogger and people started soliciting me for my services. Who woulda thought? And all the while no one knew that my background was in finance and not creative writing.
3. Highlight Your Body of Work
Great! Now you’ve got some experience under your belt and have some work that you can actually show people. Amazing!
Just think about an accountant who now has audio engineering skills. Or how about a marketer who now has business planning and investor relations skills? It’s all possible if you follow the first two steps to this point.
From there, it’s time to start highlighting and displaying your body of work so other people can take notice. This will help you increase your expertise level and find more complex and higher paying jobs, giving you more money and a greater body of work. You can do so in one of two ways:
Take it from me, a personal website is great. It allows you build credibility and highlight the things you’re really proud of. No need to file away that blog article in your desk drawer. No need to shelve that new song you’ve been working on in Ableton. Instead, you can link to them on your personal portfolio website and show people what you’ve been working on.
WordPress is a great tool for these types of things (it’s what I use), although Squarespace and Wix have come on strong in recent years. Granted, I’m brand loyal, but the other two options seem easier for a novice (however, not as customizable as WordPress).
But you aren’t pigeon-holed to a website. If you’re an aspiring musician, for example, you can start with SoundCloud. Remember that the goal here is to highlight your work so you can point people to your experience as well as have people find you organically.
Live “Off-Platform” Work
The other option is to have your work live on someone else’s website or online platform. A lot of times when you do work for other people it’s considered “paid” and not “owned.” This means that they have the rights to your work and you don’t. But that’s ok, because the point is to gain experience and highlight your work and not necessarily own it.
If this is the case, make sure your work is live out there on the Internet and then link to it from your portfolio website, social media, or something similar.
Example: It’s a bit easier for me because I’m a writer (among other things). So, I can easily post all of my personal writing projects on a portfolio website. Once I had a significant body of work, I launched my website and posted all my pieces as blogs. I then continued to update my blog with weekly articles on the things that interest me: business, philosophy, and self-improvement.
And I also made “business partner” tab where I linked out to all my articles that lived on someone else’s blog. This way, people could come to my site and see everything I’d written up to that point. And because it was all indexed and searchable, I not only pointed people to my website, but I got organic traffic as well.
4. Create a Consulting Business
Ok, well now that you have some experience and some actual work in a career you love, the next step is to create something that actually looks good on a resume. You can hack your way into a career you love in one of two ways:
- Start a business
- Consult until you find someone who is a good fit as an employer
If you want to go with option number one, this would be the last step. If, however, you want to find a career you love with a reputable company, there are a few more steps that follow this one. Take it from me: Starting a business is great, but the stress can sometimes make you hate the career you thought you’d love.
But regardless, step #4 is to start a consulting business. The reason is that you need a “job” to put on your resume so you can get hired in the career you love. This way when you hack your way into your career, you’ll come in at an “above-entry-level position,” because you have the experience of running your own consulting biz in the exact industry you’re trying to enter!
You can do so in two ways:
Cold Call / Email
This is how I did it. Once you have enough examples of your work, either on your website or on someone else’s, you can reach out to potential long-term clients via email or cold call.
For example, if you want to become a web developer, after you’ve worked some one-off jobs via Upwork or friends / family, you’ll need to sign recurring and long-term clients to further your credibility. The goal should be to have 4 – 5 recurring clients that you can refer to in an interview. Further, you’ll have case studies and references to provide potential employers who stand as the barrier between you and the career you love.
Upsell Existing Network
Similar to cold calling or cold emailing, you can source long-term clients from your existing network. If you’ve been working with the same people on Upwork, for example, pitch them a recurring engagement and see how they respond. Chances are they need the help and are happy to hire a part-time person.
Example: Ok, so once I had a body of work to show people, I launched my consulting business through cold email sequences. My consulting company was a “content marketing consultancy” for fintech startups, which is a fancy way of saying that I write finance articles for tech startups.
I found my clients by going to AngelList and searching for fintech companies with at least $5 million in funding. I used these parameters because fintech companies were in my niche, and with $5 million in funding I could safely assume that they had money to blow and they also didn’t have a full-service marketing staff.
For those who don’t know, AngelList is kind of like LinkedIn for startups. You can search for entrepreneurs’ and investors’ profiles as well as company profiles, which include industry and money raised.
5. Find the Right Partners
Once you have a few monthly recurring clients, the next step is to sift through your opportunities and find the right partners to hire you full-time in the career you love. Now, you might love your consulting business, and if that’s the case, great! Stop reading.
However, take it from me, consulting can be a grind and you often don’t learn much, since you’re supposed to be the most knowledgeable person regarding the service you’re delivering. You can learn a lot more, and reduce your stress, by working as a traditional employee in the career you love.
So, the goal here is to identify a person or company that might hire you. You can do so in two ways:
- Your Existing Network
- Traditional Job Applications
Sometimes your clients are looking for a longer-term option than an outsourced consulting business. If this is the case, then you can throw your hat into the ring regarding full-time employment. Keep your communication open and honest and the opportunity may naturally present itself.
The beauty of this option is that you’ve already worked with this company and you can often bypass an interview altogether. They know how you work, and as long as you’ve been living up to their expectations, hiring you should be a no-brainer.
The other way is through a traditional job application. Using your consulting business as your experience, update your resume and apply for a career you love through traditional means. While this may feel archaic, it’s actually a great option for hacking into a career you love.
Just make sure you’re confident and apply for a mid- to a high-level position. You’re not an entry-level employee; you’ve run your own consultancy for god’s sake! This is the manifestation of “hacking” your way into an industry, jumping up the corporate ladder without working the menial jobs that others were forced to work.
Example: Once I had my consulting business of 4 – 5 recurring monthly clients, I used their referrals and my body of work to identify writing opportunities that surrounded business and entrepreneurship. I was lucky because I made enough money with my consulting business where I wasn’t desperate, which gave me time to find the right opportunities.
I spoke with a few of my clients who referred me to a job posting on AngelList for a business journalist, which I applied to just to see what would happen. The job was for an experienced business writer, which I now was! I applied with full confidence that I could knock the job out of the park.
6. Get Hired Full-Time in a Career You Love
The last step is frankly a simple one. You’ve done all the hard work up to this point. The only thing that remains is to accept a full-time opportunity. Go ahead, take a deep breath and marvel at your life. You’ve just hacked your way into a career you love with no previous experience!
Example: Leveraging my consulting business, I found a great opportunity writing as the lead finance writer for one of the top small business websites on the Internet. And the best thing? Even though it was a traditional job application with a traditional job interview, I pitched their CEO in an attempt to keep my consulting business running and bringing them into the fold as a client.
And the result? He said yes! So now, rather than stressing about one-off work and a small number of recurring clients, I now have a W2 job (along with health insurance, 401(k) match, etc.), and I still have two of my favorite clients. I work remotely and on my own time. I did it successfully. I’m now a bonafide business journalist AND a small business owner in a career I love…without any previous experience.
What else is there to say? These steps literally worked for me. Now get off your ass and stop making excuses as to why you can’t find a career you love (and hack into it without any previous experience).