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How to Change Careers: A True Story of Leaving the Retail Grind

3.45am. The alarm is buzzing on the other side of the room. Still more asleep than awake I struggle out of bed, turn it off and try to get ready for work. After half an hour of stumbling blurry-eyed around around the house I’m on my way out of the door, ready to start work at 4.30.

**This is a guest post about Richard’s real life. It’s a great read. Hope you enjoy it!**

On the short drive in the same thought is always on my mind: how did it come to this? After all, I did everything my parents and teachers told me to.

change careers - get through college without debtI worked hard at school and came out with impressive grades. I got into a good university, landed the highest mark for my dissertation and came out with a strong degree. Within months (if not weeks) I should have been working in the field of biology, following my passion while making a difference to the world.

The reality, however, was rather different.

As a recent graduate I was full of optimism, and was excited to see what the world had to offer me. As it turns out, the answer was “not much”.

The uncomfortable truth that I hadn’t noticed (and nobody had pointed out) was that getting into the field of biology is tough. Generally speaking you’ll need plenty of experience (nope) or a higher degree (read: more debt).

What to do?

I decided that the best option was to land a job – any job – to pay the bills, while deciding on my next step. A local shop was looking for a trainee manager, so I signed up temporarily.

As it turns out, “temporarily” was a relative term. I expected to spend six months to a year there, looking for other opportunities, but in the end I spent almost a decade working the retail grind.

How come?

Well, an odd thing happened. First of all, employers seemed oddly keen to “typecast” me.

Never mind all the years of study, the degree, the passion. Somehow, working in retail made me less attractive to potential employers. Biological sciences recruiters seemed to see me as a jumped up shop worker. Nothing more. In fact, the only people that were interested were other retailers.

While figuring out how to turn things around and change careers, I found myself continually being offered promotions, or jobs with other companies. And I kept on accepting them, purely as a way to increase my income – and to pay off my student debt.

And that’s how I wound up working 60 hours a week, in a job I loathed, simply because it paid more than anyone else. No surprises really; how many people would get up half way through the night to start an 11 hour shift?

In many ways those were difficult days. I felt trapped in a career I didn’t enjoy, working long anti-social hours in a stressful environment.

Worse still, other employees in the company constantly referred to it as “the curse”. Through a combination of long shifts, and almost continual tiredness, a pattern had emerged at the company. Eventually, my colleagues were all affected; either they fell ill due to tiredness and stress, or their family lives fell apart due to lack of time.

All the most successful people at the company were well-paid but divorced. Work became their life. It was a worrying sign of what I could expect in the future if I carried on down this path. I knew I needed to change careers, but didn’t exactly know how.

Pleasantly, this story does have a happy ending, though not quite the one you might be expecting…

How to Change Careers

The good news is that I no longer work in retail. For anyone that feels trapped, as I did, there is a route out of the career you hate. It might not be easy – but it is possible.

Here’s exactly how I changed careers. Hopefully it can help you do the same…

change careers - benefits of failingGet Out of Debt

If you’re a regular reader of Life and My Finances then you’ll know that debt = bondage. When you pay off your debt, both your disposable income and your options in life increase considerably. That last job, which I wrote about here, was accepted purely on the basis on how much it paid. The reason was simple; I wanted to get out of debt.

I’m pleased to say that’s exactly what happened. For the first time in years my monthly expenses dropped enough that I could afford to take a pay cut, if necessary, to change careers.

Gain Experience

Every one of the roles I looked at wanted some kind of experience. The problem is how to gain this while you’re working full time trying to make ends meet.

For many people, volunteering or taking a part-time job in your chosen field can be a smart idea. Dedicating just a day each week can allow you to quickly accrue experience. Even better, you might even end up being offered a full-time job there if you impress enough.

For someone in retail, however, this was a difficult concept. My days off, and my shift patterns, changed every week. They did so unpredictably, and often at a moments notice. Guaranteeing that I could volunteer every Friday, for example, was just an impossibility.

So I hatched another plan. I’d start a blog, and learn all about digital marketing. I could do this without any time commitment, fitting it around my current career. Then I’d look for a route out that utilized that experience.

Prove You’re Capable

One difficulty career-shifters have is proving that they’re capable of doing the job they’re applying for. I spent quite some time each week poring over job adverts, and noting down the skills each employer was seeking.

Over time you’ll probably be able to generate a list of such skills, and can then figure out how to prove your abilities. For example, if most jobs want project management skills then study for a recognized certification via distance learning. If they want you to be an Excel guru then take a Microsoft course.

The key here is to be able to prove, to a skeptical recruiter, that you really do know what you’re talking about.

For my own part I built up not just one blog, but a number of them. I carried out freelance writing projects. I worked with a few agencies on the side. I took the necessary courses, and collected evidence of my abilities.

change careers - img1Go The Extra Mile

During my time in retail I hired a lot of staff. I must have interviewed hundreds of them. And the ones that really stuck out were the ones who went the extra mile. Their resumes were beautifully designed and written. Their cover letters were works of art. They attended their interview with certificates, charts and presentations.

If you’re fully committed to changing careers then consider what you can do to really “go the extra mile”. How can your application be so good that they’d feel guilty about not inviting you to an interview?

I was told, after landing my job outside retail, that the single biggest factor that led to me being hired was my application. While I had less experience than some other candidates, I went the extra mile with my resume, cover letter and interview that I succeeded.

Be Willing to Start at the Bottom

Lastly we come to arguably the most difficult step of all. If you change careers then it’s quite likely that you’ll be taking a drop in salary (and position) at least to begin with. After all, you’re an unknown entity.

This is the benefit of paying off any debt in advance, so that this drop doesn’t need to be as painful as it otherwise might.

Its important here not to get too wound up in job titles. You may very well find someone younger than yourself is your line manager for a while. But with your tenacity and skill, you’ll be rising again all too soon. So swallow your pride, accept what you’re offered, and be prepared to shine.

Where I Am Now

As I write this article it is 8:30am. I haven’t even started work yet.

I now work as a “professional blogger”. I am employed by a digital marketing agency, helping their clients to grow their businesses through content. I carry out keyword research, I brainstorm ideas, I track their competitors, and I produce long-form articles and newsletters on their behalf. It might not be biological sciences, but it’s a fascinating and rewarding job.

Even better, I now earn more than I used to in retail (after a temporary dip) and I have more than enough free time to keep working on my own ventures.

Oh, and I don’t get up at 3.45am any more…

Richard is a British personal finance blogger and frugality aficionado. Having paid off all his consumer debt he’s now madly saving both for a house and his own business. You can follow his adventures at

Battle of the Mind Money


My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. Working in retail, even briefly, was just brutal. I worked at a place that treated us well and paid us more than required, but that much time on your feet dealing with customers who are jerks for no other reason than you have a job they look down upon was exhausting. I worked retail on top of a full time office job when I realized I needed to get an advanced degree. I used the retail job to pay for the costs of applying for the degree and the moving costs of changing cities. It was a rough year, but I’m glad I did it at 24 and not at 32.

  2. Although I am still working for “the man” I hope to one day be able to just blog all day. The main thing is that I have started.

    I think a lot of people are too scared to release hold of the security blanket of their current job because it’s easy, they know what to do and they are comfortable working there.

    Take the plunge people! especially if it’s what you want to do… but be smart about it. Don’t quit your job based on emotions alone.
    Be strategic and have a plan in place.


  3. ah the retail world, I used to work at Domino’s for about 8 years and looking back, I always wondered how I survived. Dealing with customers was always brutal so i hear you. I recently started blogging again and hoping it’ll be great this time around:)

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