A common question we get asked at Popforms is one like this:
“I’m a software engineer, but I have great people skills. I think I could be a really good manager, but I don’t feel like I have an opportunity for that kind of growth at this job.”
“My passion is software, but I don’t have the coding skills I need to get the kind of job I want. Should I quit my day job and try out a bootcamp or degree program?”
Does this sound like you? If you have been feeling like a big change is in order, it might feel like you need to take really big steps to get there, like quitting your job or starting a huge program.
There is so much advice out there telling people that they have to take a big risk in order to get a big win, and that the best entrepreneurs go after their idea even when the odds are against them or they’re just about to run out of cash.
But that’s not true. And I think a lot of the time, it’s actually bad advice.
There are lots of steps you can take to grow your skills and even create a new career path, without giving up the stability of your 9-to-5 paycheck. Sure, taking big risks is a great fit for some people; but it isn’t for everyone. And if it’s turns out it’s not for you, the negatives greatly outweigh the positives.
When you run out of money or energy, you’ll probably end up in a job just like the one that inspired your big leap anyways.
So before you give notice and take a leap off the deep end, try these steps first to get on the path to your dream job without giving up your day job first.
Talk to your manager
Good managers want you to be happy in your role. And if that means pursuing new kinds of skills or projects, a lot of them will be happy to find small ways for you to grow your skills (especially if you are a superstar who is already shining in your current role).
You shouldn’t burst into their office and tell them you’re thinking of quitting, of course. Instead, take time in an upcoming 1:1 and tell them you’ve gotten really interested in ___ lately, and you are interested in learning more about that if possible. Or that you are interested in ___ as a career path.
You’ll be even more successful if you’re already identified a project or a task that you think would add value to the team and help you grow that skill. If you bring them a solution instead of asking them to create one for you, they are much more likely to just say, “Sure, go ahead.”
(And if they are totally discouraging, well, that tells you something too. Specifically, that you will need to find more subtle ways to grow your skills on the job and maybe even use time outside the office for that instead.)
Find a project that can help you grow your skills
Creating a project or getting yourself added to a project at work is a great way to grow your skills without having to give up a paycheck.
And it is easier than you might think.
Start by looking around for how things could be done better (there are always little inefficiencies or tasks that aren’t getting done on busy teams). Then think about how you can make an impact on them.
You can also look for existing projects and offer to help out. Again, it’s usually more helpful here to offer a specific suggestion than just a general offer of help.
If you pitch a clear way that you can add value, people are more likely to say yes. If you just offer to “help out if they need it”, they probably already have it under control and won’t take the time to create assignments for you.
Not only will this help you grow your skills, but it will also help you begin to change your “brand” at your current job. If people see you leading projects, they’re more likely to see you as a good fit for the leadership role you wanted. And if you want to gain technical skills but don’t have all the skills you need, working with a technical team in a lower level capacity can help you learn the way people with those skills think and what you can learn about how they approach their work.
Seek out mentorship for insider knowledge
One of the best ways to learn how to get a certain kind of job is simply to talk to people who have that job. And this is often easier to do that you might think.
For example, if you’re interested in becoming a manager, use one of your 1:1 meetings to ask your manager about their career path — since they obviously know a thing or two about how to get that kind of job (especially at your current company).
But you don’t even have to know the person in order to get their advice.
Try emailing people whose career paths you admire, and ask them a couple of questions. You can even ask, if you’re in the same city, if they’d be willing to meet for coffee so you can ask them about their job.
The more specific you can be in your email, the more likely you are to get a response.
And try to ask questions that lead to really specific, actionable answers so that you get really valuable information from your mentor:
- How did you get your first job in ___?
- What skills make you most successful as a ___?
- What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a ___?
- What skills do you wish you had when you first started?
- Where do you see this career taking you in 5 years?
A lot of times, you’ll learn that the things you read on job descriptions for the role you want are just the tip of the iceberg for being successful in that role. So while you may need to learn to code for a job, for example, there are tons of other skills you should be focusing on just as much in order to land your dream job.
And many of them can be gained without leaving your current role.
This is also a great way to test the waters and find out if your dream job really is a good fit for you or not. Sure, being a manager might sound great when you’re sick of writing code, but talking to someone who does that job every day and hearing what their challenges are might bring it back into the real world and help you gain some perspective before you take a big leap.
Create opportunities outside your office
If there truly is no room for growth in your current role (ie. your current role is so different from your dream role that you can’t squeeze in parts of your dream job anywhere), then look for ways to grow your skills in lightweight ways outside the office.
There are lots of 30-day courses to teach you the basics of code, marketing, and other career skills online in your free time. Try to find ones that make it easy (think: 30 minutes a day or just a couple of hours a week) so you will be sure to keep it up.
You can also educate yourself using books and blogs; there are so many people writing about their industries and advice that you should be able to start getting an expert perspective in any area with relative ease.
Try picking up a project that can help you learn your skills on the fly. You can code a simple program, or create a landing page and try to market your way to as many signups as you can. Keep it low-stakes; it is all about learning by doing.
You don’t have to quit your day job
If you’re considering a massive leap because you’re not happy where you are, try taking some of these steps to improve your situation before you potentially take a huge risk.
Going out on your own takes a lot — courage, money, patience — and it doesn’t always lead to great success. If you fail (or just get sick of not having a paycheck or struggling in a difficult program) you will likely end up right back where you started anyways.
Better to build your skills slowly, just to start out. You will make your big leap eventually — only this time you will have your eyes open and be set up for amazing success.