Steady paycheck or dream career? Have both

  @Money November 21, 2013: 4:22 PM ET
How to pursue your dream job
(Money Magazine)

So the corporate club isn't quite what you imagined: 11-hour days, constant deadlines, never-ending meetings. Your one ray of sunshine? Biweekly direct deposit.

No wonder 80% of workers in their twenties said in a recent Harris survey that they'd like to change careers. Why don't they?

"Many young people are reluctant to pursue jobs they're passionate about because of financial constraints," says Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?

Well, stop suffering. Here are three ways to go after your ideal career without resigning yourself to a lifetime of ramen.

Start on the side

Don't quit your day job; instead, test-drive your dream profession in your off-hours. A corporate worker eager to launch a business might dedicate weekends to devising a plan and researching potential investors (get help at score.org).

Related: Top-paying jobs

An aspiring comic could perform at open-mike nights after work, honing his craft without worrying about how to make the rent. Plus, staying longer in a stable job can prove useful.

"If you want to be an author, you'll benefit from gaining experience and building contacts," says Brad Karsh, author of Manager 3.0: A Millennial's Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management.

Build a bridge

"Dream job, day job doesn't have to be an either/or proposition," says Reeves. If you can, merge the two. Maybe you're a financial analyst but you'd rather work in fashion; look for jobs in business development or accounting at a major fashion house. See it as a transition to your ideal job that will allow you to make connections and learn the inner workings of the industry. That way you're better prepared for an eventual full-on switch.

Take a well-planned leap

"Waiting tables in the hope you can land that acting gig is more feasible at 24 than 34," says Karsh. Before you give notice at your current job, though, set yourself up financially: Live on a pared-down budget for a few months to build savings, line up that part-time job in advance, move back with Mom and Dad for a while -- or at least see if you can go back on the family cellphone plan.

Once you do jump ship, set a timetable for assessing feasibility.

If you want to pursue acting, say, give yourself a year to land a small speaking role. The idea is not to spend so long away from your practical career that you can't pick up from where you left off if things don't work out.

Related: Best Jobs in America

Says Karsh: "If an employer asks about the gap in your résumé, you can honestly say: 'One of my dreams was to pursue acting. I'm glad I did it, but it wasn't enough to make a career out of, and I'm moving on to the next step.' " To top of page

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