Careers

'Barefoot Contessa' Ina Garten’s best advice for making a career change

Ina Garten
Michael Loccisano | Getty Images for (Red)
Ina Garten

While career changes are common these days, few people have made as big of a jump as Ina Garten of Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa," who used to work in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The secret to making a successful career change as she did, Garten tells CNBC, is to not hold back or hesitate too long — just do it.

"I think that people stand on the side of the pond trying to figure out what the pond's going to be like, and you've just got to jump in and just be brave and make a change," Garten said at Eat (RED) Food & Film Fest. The event was hosted by fellow chef Mario Batali as part of Eat (RED) Save Lives, an annual month-long campaign that raises money for the Global Fund, with 100 percent of proceeds going to fight AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

Before she became a television host and best-selling cookbook author, Garten started in an entry-level position and worked her way up to become the budget analyst in charge of nuclear energy under President Jimmy Carter.

But Garten, frustrated by its slow pace, grew tired of government work, The New York Times reports. Where she really thrived was in the kitchen. Garten took pride in her weekly dinner parties and Sunday brunches, which came about as she worked her way through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

Then, in 1978, Garten and her husband Jeffrey saw a listing for a small food store called the Barefoot Contessa in Long Island, NY, and drove up to see it. Despite Garten's lack of business experience, the couple made an offer on the spot.

Garten started sharing her homemade brownies and roasted chicken, and by the end of the first summer, the line was out the door. She hit her groove, and the store's popularity launched her into a successful culinary career, even though she had no formal training as a chef.

Originally, she and Jeffrey had no plans to make running a specialty food shop Garten's full-time job. "I was sure it would be a one-summer thing," her husband told The Times.

But Garten knew what she knew, like what types of foods people wanted to bring home and how to make them taste great. And when she sold the store to a few employees in 1996, she decided to tackle another new challenge: writing a cookbook.

"It's not the end of the road, it's just the beginning," she says of making a career pivot. "While you're in the pond, you'll flap around and find something interesting there."

So how do you know when you should quit your job and move on to the next thing?

Suzy Welch, bestselling author and CNBC contributor, has an answer. "Are you living for the weekend?" Welch asks. "If the answer is 'yes' when it comes to your job, that's a dead giveaway that it's time to go."

"You should never sacrifice five days of life for two," she adds.

However, Welch advises taking a more calculated approach to switching jobs. She recommends coming up with a six-month game plan before handing in your resignation.

You can start by reaching out to people in your network, looking at companies where you'd love to work and refreshing your resume and LinkedIn page. Picking up a hobby or starting a side project are also other great ways to feel less stuck.

But once you do decide to make a move, don't wait. Jump in.

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