This Simple Strategy Could Help You Make a Huge Career Change

Part time job
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Ready to kick off a new career?

Whether you’re finishing school, returning to the workforce or just really need to shake things up, a part-time job on the side of your classes or regular gig could be your ticket to ride.

But how can you leverage a side job into a meaningful experience?

About 5% of Americans have more than one job, and the reasons are as varied as snowflake shapes. Sometimes, it’s a matter of making ends meet. If you’re taking on a second gig to earn more spending money or as a path to pay down debt, you may as well have a good time.

But more often than not, a second job can help boost your career prospects just as much as it puts extra money in your pocket.

If you have larger career goals, put on your thinking cap before you start filling out applications.

What Should You Do as a Second Job?

“The key to finding a lucrative side-gig is really to tap into what you’re good at, and it doesn’t have to be something traditionally professional,” said Kimberly Palmer, author of “The Economy of You” and the recent “Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family.”

One way to figure out a good option for you, she advised, is to think about what people often ask you for advice about — then tap into that skill.

Starting a Career? Kick Butt in Your Part-Time Job

“I started part-time with a furniture company while in college, literally sweeping floors,” explained Mike McCann, a South Carolina-based marketer and strategist.

He eventually became VP of operations at the same small furniture company.

How? A little luck, and a lot of hustle.

“I had no clue what I wanted to do when I got to school,” said McCann, who majored in business and played football. “I didn’t have much vision beyond what my four years on the field would be like.”

His job as a small-business assistant, “Was simply what was available to me, and I had no intentions of going into that industry.“

As McCann developed various skills, the husband-and-wife team who ran the company noticed he had a knack for the business.

“I told them I wanted to be a part of the company and be a part of it in a big way,” McCann said, recalling dreaming of leaving the floor-sweeping task behind.

After he graduated, they created a role just for him.

Taking ownership can be a major key to career development, even if the boss at your part-time job doesn’t realize you’re in it for the long haul.

“I stuck close to my bosses… and did my best to prove to them that I could handle whatever was thrown my way,” McCann said.

I acted as if I was an owner of the business even though I wasn’t.

He showed he could be trusted with increasingly complex tasks, even though he was young.

“Where I made a name for myself was doing things that weren’t in my job description,” McCann said. “I didn’t wait for someone to tell me what to do.”

He progressed through the ranks, becoming sales manager, store manager, director of corporate expansion, general manager and VP of operations, before eventually leaving the company to start his own marketing business.

And remember, even the least glamorous of jobs — like sweeping floors — can have benefits, even if they’re not a perfect career fit.

“There is almost always an opportunity to learn and grow as a person and discover more about yourself and the kind of work you want (and don’t want) to be doing,” Palmer said.

“Even your worst jobs can usually end up teaching you something, or at least motivating you to move in a different direction.”

Trying to Hop Careers? Look to Part-Time Work as a Stepping Stone

A part-time gig can help you ease into a career transition without having to plan for time lost in “funemployment.”

The closer you can get to your desired field while taking on a side hustle, the better. If you want to work in fashion design, a retail gig is a natural fit.

Waiting tables, for instance, isn’t as ideal for building skills in visual merchandising (although it may be great for tips).

But if your ideal part-time job isn’t available, you can still make the most of the experience. contributor Susan Kennedy reminds those looking for a full-time career not to undersell the skills they’ve refined in a part-time job.

A retail job, where you need to excel at communication, customer service, sales and problem solving, translates nicely into a career in accounting or finance.

Have you worked as a landscaper? You have attention to detail, and you can probably rattle off examples of teamwork. It’ll be easy to translate those skills to customer service, advertising or sales jobs.

You may have to start at the bottom when you look for a full-time position in your newly chosen career path. But any chance you have to remind potential employers of applicable skills can help you advance more quickly.

A word of warning: Don’t get lazy about it.

Keep your day job, moonlighting gig and your long-term career dreams separate, for the security of all three.

“One big risk is spending so much time on your side gig that you start to focus less on your full-time job, which can mean you end up losing it before you wanted to,” Palmer cautioned.

“It’s important to avoid conflicts of interest and to focus on work when you’re being paid to be there.”

Want to Start a Business? Here’s What to Do First

“A side gig is such a great way to test out your new career move,” Palmer said.

“If you want to be a full-time entrepreneur, you can start selling your product or service on a small scale while still holding onto your regular job. A side gig helps ease that transition.”

When I got laid off from a job and decided I wanted to open a vintage clothing shop, I turned to a local boutique owner I knew for advice.

She offered me a part-time role in her shop, where I performed typical tasks like ringing up sales, assisting customers, and yes, sweeping the floors.

Working in the shop was more than just a paycheck to keep me afloat as I figured out my plans: It was like small-business boot camp.

I learned about how to select merchandise to cater to different types of customers. I saw firsthand the challenges of running a popular neighborhood shop. And I just started dipping my toes into the world of business regulation.

You can read business books all day, but until you see the type you want to start in action, the knowledge doesn’t really click into place.

Your Turn: What benefits have you leveraged from a part-time job?

Lisa Rowan is a writer, editor and podcaster living in Washington, D.C.