How Pam Beesly (and You) Can Find a Dream Job

Turning a hobby into a career works, as long as you move carefully.

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To many viewers of The Office, it's clear that Pam should leave her dead-end receptionist gig. Despite an endless stream of daily distractions, including elaborate pranks and marathon games of FreeCell, her apathy shines through: "I don't think it's many girls' dream to be a receptionist," she says. Pam's real passion is art, so it's frustrating to Pam fans when she passes up a graphic design internship.

But who could blame Pam for doubting the practicality of turning a pastime into a profession? The idea sounds like a piece of E-mail spam: Do what you love, and get paid for it. But given the right connections, plenty of research, and a clear-cut strategy, it can be done—whether your goal is self-employment or simply a transition to a new industry.

Perhaps Pam could take a few cues from Anna Kahoe, who says she spent much of her 20s as an "office drone." Working in an office complex that housed many small-business owners made her realize that starting a business wasn't so daunting. After earning a certification in leadership coaching, Kahoe took the plunge and became a self-employed life coach. "I had to let go of the idea that I couldn't get paid for what I love to do," she says. Incredibly, Kahoe made a second career leap two years later when she learned that a local antiques store was up for sale. After refinancing their home, she and her husband, Daniel, submitted the winning bid. Today, the two run GoodWood, an antiques shop in Washington, D.C.

Starting point. Before making your own leap, it pays to do some homework. "Think about your skills and how to shop them to other industries," says Cheryl Lynch Simpson, a career coach in private practice. A good starting point: websites that let you search across industries for jobs that incorporate a specific skill, such as online.onetcenter.org and careerinfonet.org.

Consider careers and positions tangentially related to your hobby, such as products or services that would be of interest to others. Here's a real-life example: When Jenny Hart, an Austin museum archivist, discovered embroidery seven years ago, she was disappointed in the heaps of old-fashioned instruction manuals at hobby stores. "There really weren't any updated resources for embroidery," she says. "The books I did find were difficult to understand because they spoke to another generation. They were very grandmotherly."

A year later, she formed Sublime Stitching, a company that makes cheeky, modern patterns like martini glasses, pinup girls, and sushi. Today, Hart's Austin-based company sells embroidery starter kits at bookstores, gift shops, hobby stores, and online. Each kit comes with "instructions that are fun to read and make sense," she says.

If you're angling for self-employment, experts recommend at least six months' worth of income in the bank before you quit your job and start a business, says Simpson. "Most people find that starting on a part-time basis makes sense and helps them answer the question, 'Do I really want to do this?' " she says.

Joining. Volunteering is another way to try on a new career. To connect with specific types of organizations, contact a referral service, which is often your local United Way chapter. Simpson also recommends joining an industry association related to the new field or taking a class. It's all about baby steps, she says: "When you make a career change, you're likely to have to start over in terms of salary and seniority. So look for ways to gradually move yourself in the direction you want to go." Pam seems to be on the right track: Later in the series, she begins art classes and designs a logo for an in-house commercial.