Instead of merely changing jobs and hoping for the best, consider taking a step sideways.
Think outside the box. Create your own unique career path.
Find fulfilling work by adapting your role to incorporate your talents. Or go ahead and pick up some wildly different skills that will impress the headhunters and interviewers.
For instance, if you’re down on your luck and can’t get your ideal job right now, why not try doing something completely different? Strangely, it might put you back on course and even place you ahead of the pack at your next interview.
Make your own alternative job experience. It might be the change your career has needed.
These days it’s so easy to start freelancing. Start a blog and put up a portfolio of your work, then write a clear, copy written page designed to entice your clients to hire you.
Whatever you’re looking to do, be sure to add to your portfolio some specific examples that prove you can do exactly what you’re applying for. Do this just before approaching every new client, whether you do so directly or via a freelance job board.
- A coder might write a simple game.
- A designer looking to get work designing posters might make up some mock-up posters for a fictional company just to prove they have great poster design skills.
- A writer might start a blog on the topic they most want to write about.
Start a Business
Often starting a business is the logical extension of a successful freelancing career. You might simply hire people to do the work you’ve been doing up to now.
But there are other ways to start a business quickly:
- Develop an app.
- Resell something useful.
- Create an information product.
- Sell crafts; or any other creative product.
It might seem off-the-beaten-track, but the skills you’ll pick up being a small business owner will be useful in the future, and employers know this.
Many industries rely on internships to prove the mettle of graduates before they’re hired in the “real world”. If you missed out on one, you may be surprised to note that it’s now possible to undertake digital internships.
Match your skills on virtual internship sites:
- Check out Coursolve to see if there’s something available in your industry.
- Internships.com curates 121,574 internship positions from 84,188 companies in the U.S. Many are virtual positions.
- The Indian internship company LetsIntern.com has 8000 companies on its network.
- Browse through the online intern jobs available through LinkedIn.com.
It might well be the alternative career path that not only gives you an insight into an industry, but also a breakthrough.
Volunteering for Nonprofits
Volunteering your professional services is a sure way to demonstrate your knowledge to the next employer you encounter. It is also a surefire route to network your way to better opportunities.
Watch Tuan Nguyen speak about the benefits of volunteerism.
If you’re a web developer, just check out the websites of any non-profit organization you feel comfortable working with. If their website sucks, offer to make them a new one. And voila, here’s your portfolio creation underway.
- If you’re a coder, try volunteering some time at Donate Code.
- As an an IT professional you could check out IT4Communities and similar organizations.
- For everyone else, take a look at Idealist, Volunteer Match, and Online Volunteering.
It might not be your dream job, but tutoring people who are still studying in your field is a clear way to demonstrate competence yourself. This could be extended to include all forms of teaching, such as teaching online, coaching private learners or consulting to private firms.
Here are a few teaching platforms you can look into. There are many more.
Demonstrate Your Competence
Whitson Gordon, who is editor of Lifehacker, tells an interesting story of how he got his break at the blog. What did he do? Well, he studied the articles on the blog, then went and started a blog purely to showcase the fact that he could write articles just like that. And guess what? He got hired. It’s that simple.
There are lesser-known stories in this same vein. I’ve heard of reporters getting their break because they just went out and recorded some interviews on their own phone. Don’t worry about your equipment and your experience. If you think you can do it, just go do it.
- Doing 10-hour shift in a retail counter? Why not use Pinterest and showcase all their products with a new account?
- Start blogging. Start vlogging. If you’ve actually got something decent to show your next employer-to-be then you’re streets ahead of the competition.
Create Something Awesome
Do you know how Felicia Day got her big break? Well, she had a notable role on Buffy, but that wasn’t what really did it. She was trying to get her big break as a producer with no success, so she went and made The Guild instead and let the Internet watch it anyway. She soon got noticed and now has all sorts of opportunities come up.
As she said in an interview about her Internet geekdom.
I was a huge fan of video games; I wanted to write something, and I saw the tools at my fingertips to upload a video to my audience, and that’s why I’m here today.
For some reason, she still loves catering for an Internet-based audience to this day. Maybe because we stop and pay attention when someone is AWESOME.
Do Something Completely Different
It might seem weird, but doing something really off-the-wall different could actually benefit you. Try these examples.
So, you’re fresh out of university and can’t get a job as an anthropologist? Go on a working or a learning holiday abroad doing just about anything. When you return you’ll have hands on experience working with different cultures.
If you majored in English/Communications/Marketing and haven’t got a job yet, take on a position at the business of any of your favorite hobbies: rock-climbing gym, dance academy, cooking school etc. While you’re there getting paid to work the cash register, casually offer to help out with their blog or social media efforts.
Later that role goes on your resume and demonstrates your proactiveness. Meanwhile, you’re still getting paid and doing something related to what you love.
Better still, take an overseas vacation doing some memorable extreme sports, then see what professional services you can offer while you’re there. You can turn your free time into an adventure vacation easily. You never know — and you can bet future employers will remember the snowboarding web designer.
What Alternative Career Path Have You Taken?
Did you ever drop off the beaten track for your chosen career? What did you do? Did it reboot your career in the long run? Did people think you were crazy? Tell us about it!