How To: Change Careers


Dr. Paula Johnson from last week's interview has successfully changed career paths multiple times. From physician, to starting her own medical research center, and then from Public Health professor to her current role as the President of Wellesley College. Because she's so experienced in different realms, we asked her about it! Below are her brilliant and insightful top 4 tips for changing careers.

1. Believe in yourself.
You need “to really have the imagination that you could do something else. I do think it does take an imagination of what else could be fulfilling and meaningful and wonderful in your life. So I think you have to open yourself up to the what if.”

2. Understand what you like best.
“Another one, I think would be, to really think about the things that you enjoy doing, the aspects of work that you enjoy doing. And what it is that gives you the greatest joy and fulfillment. And for different people that will be different things. But for whatever those things are, those are the things you have to look for in different positions if you’re thinking about making a change.

You know, once i was approached about a very big job, and I looked at it, and I realized what was exciting me about the job was not the job. It was something else about the larger mission of the organization. And so you really have to be clear with yourself, particularly at my stage of the career which is a more advanced stage, based on your experiences, what is it that you really enjoy doing? And then think about that as you think about the transition.”

3. Think about your transferable skills.
“Skillsets and what you enjoy doing, they aren’t always the same thing. What are the skills that you’ve mastered through one phase of a career that would be applicable to another? And I think that takes some real analysis and thinking, and I think that’s absolutely important.”

4. Remember that it’s a risk worth taking!
“You know, it’s risky! It depends on what stage of your life you’re in. When you’re a little earlier, the expectation is that you’re going to be experimenting. In my generation, that experimentation has been a little less the standard, I think it’s becoming more the standard. So you do have to open yourself up. If you have been in an area where you’ve had success, to change, it’s always a risk. You have to be willing to take that risk, but you’re taking the risk for something that you believe is going to be wonderful. But it is a risk. So I’ll leave it at that!"

Thank you so much for the incredible tips, Dr. Johnson! Readers, once you've absorbed this wisdom (and perhaps taken a moment to write out all your biggest dreams), come back next week to meet a woman who oversees a major city's Teacher's Union. (Photos provided by Christopher Hennessey)