6 steps to a successful career change
Have you ever stopped to consider how wild it is to pick a career path as a young adult and stay there until retirement? Industries change, interests evolve, and life happens. There’s no rule that says you have to spend your entire life working in the same field that called to you as a teenager.
While switching gears can be intimidating, it’s entirely possible. Here’s a guide on how to change careers and find a new job that inspires you.
Follow your gut
If you’re trying to decide if it’s time to quit your job or change career paths it’s likely that you’re unhappy in your current job. Instead of toughing out your current gig indefinitely, Aurora Meneghello, founder of Repurpose Your Purpose, says you should take a risk and apply for something new. At the very least, it’s worth researching and exploring new positions—just don’t expect success to be guaranteed.
“It may be disappointing to hear, but you probably won’t know what to do and how to be successful at it until you do it,” she says. “You will have to follow that hunch that you should be doing something else and then try to do something different, fail, pivot and try again until you find your calling.”
Start by making a list of careers that seem interesting, then review job listings in those fields to determine the qualifications to get hired. Don’t fixate on climbing the career ladder; look for opportunities to make a lateral career move into a field you find more compelling. Lisa Alteri, a consultant who spent years in the C-Suite managing people operations, says there’s a correlation between interest and future success. “If you’re really interested in something, chances are you’ll be good at it… You’ll have the perseverance and drive to keep learning.”
Focus your job search
Now that you know you’re ready to change careers—and you’re ready to follow your gut—it’s time to start a job search. But you don’t want to apply to any ol’ job in your new chosen field, or you could end up back where you started—unhappy and looking for yet another change. “Be clear on what you want, why you want it and what qualifies you,” even if this is a brand-new field for you, advises Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “Without clarity from the very start, virtually every stage that follows will be based on little more than a hunch—and that is an extremely fragile foundation for navigating a dynamic job search.”
Cohen says your job search should include some form of self-assessment. “It could involve taking a standardized assessment instrument, keeping a journal, or talking with people whose advice and feedback you value—friends, family, or a career coach,” he says. “The goal is to achieve self-awareness in the form of a career target.” After that, “the next—and equally important step—is a reality check,” Cohen says. “Here is where you determine that the goal you selected makes sense. Is it appropriate for you and is it attainable?”
As you search, be prepared for the possibility that you may have to take a pay cut when switching fields.
Whip your resume into shape
While you may not have experience in the field you’d like to enter everyone has what are called transferable skills—skills any manager would want their employees to have. These skills are very important to highlight when you’re making a career change, according to career coach and resume writer Anish Majumdar. In fact, Majumdar insists, after a certain number of years as a worker, your training and education take a backseat to skills such as:
- Managing change, i.e. can you handle change well?
- Communication, i.e., can you build relationships, manage conflict, and influence people in positive ways?
- Leadership, i.e., can you coalesce people around a vision for the future?
- Complex problem solving, i.e., can you find the opportunity in adversity?
Take a look at the new job and career field you’d like to enter and identify which of these transferable skills will be the most valuable. Then, make them stand out on your resume.
Majumdar recommends you show—rather than tell—your transferable skills on your resume. Think: hard numbers and facts. For example, if you’ve managed change well in the past, she suggests writing something like, “mitigated the effects of a $42 million revenue shortfall as a result of new policy affecting direct marketing efforts [and] led a digital marketing campaign that cut a $42 million loss into a $5 million loss in eight months.”
Nail your change of career cover letter
While there’s debate among recruiters about whether cover letters are still relevant, it’s best to include a cover letter for a career change. Your cover letter gives you an opportunity to explain why you’re making a career change and what is drawing you to a new field.
The number one rule of a great cover letter is to make it about the company. A hiring manager doesn’t care if you’re excited about the opportunity a position presents; they want to know how you can help achieve its goals. Use your cover letter to connect the dots between your transferable skills and the new company’s needs.
Network, network, network
Much like dating, scoring a job — in your current industry or in another one — is about getting out there. Putting yourself in networking situations will help you, one, speak to people in the industry about trends, companies hiring and current happenings. It will also allow you the opportunity to vocalize your intent to change careers.
It’s not enough to simply apply to jobs in a new industry, you must speak up for yourself and let your network know that you are actively looking for a new job and that you are taking the steps (i.e. Taking classes, learning new skills, rebranding yourself, etc) to position yourself for the change.
A big no-no when networking is coming right out and asking someone you’ve just met for a job. Sure you may be eager, but nurture the relationship a bit before launching into asks. While speaking directly is important in business, being this direct is downright presumptuous and rude. When networking, it’s risky to ask for a job from a new acquaintance. It’s just as risky to request a reference, especially if you’ve just met the person. Networking should yield a mutually beneficial relationship, not an Aladdin and the genie arrangement. Your wish is not their command.
Lastly, remember to think beyond your intended industry. Industries and careers are more fluid than ever, so having a network beyond your immediate skill set may give you a leg up when you plan your next career move.
Instead of looking specifically to cultivate your network, try to find ways to meet more people organically through your interests outside of work. Join a running group or start talking to the regulars at your yoga class. Volunteer or attend a fundraising event in your community. The point isn’t to talk work — it’s just to expand the group of people you know.
Consider informational interviews
As you’re choosing your new career—and applying for new jobs in your chosen field—consider setting up a few informational interviews with people who are doing what you’d one day like to do. They can give you solid advice on how to enter the field and impress in an interview, which is invaluable information to someone completely new to the industry.
“The best way to get a meeting with decision makers is to ask for informational meetings with them,” says April Klimkiewicz, career coach and owner of bliss evolution. “Rather than the ‘hard sell’ of ‘I’m looking for a job, do you know of anything,’ this informational meeting takes the ‘soft-sell’ approach of asking for information and for them to share their story so you gain advice for your job search and career journey.”
Don’t be nervous to ask for a face-to-face, Klimkiewicz encourages. “People who are happy in their work generally love to talk about what made them successful,” she says, “so if you reach out to decision makers and ask for informational meetings, it’s only a matter of time” before someone says they’ll meet.
Don’t be afraid to apply
You’ve found your dream job. You’ve whipped your resume into shape. You’ve talked with people in your new career field. And yet, you’re still afraid to apply because you could get rejected. Apply anyway, encourages Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, MRW. “If you feel stuck in toxicity at work, then do something that feels tangible,” she says. “For example, if you want a job at a specific company, send a resume there. Even getting a rejection letter—or in some cases, no response—is better than doing nothing.
In other words, the energy vibe you will feel—the palpable traction—will be invigorating.. The act of composing a cover letter and focusing yourself on an action that may resolve your work discord is empowering.”
Ready for a career change, but have no idea what else you could do – or where to start? Need more nitty-gritty advice on pivoting into tech, changing careers after a sabbatical or wondering how to navigate the interview questions recruiters are sure to ask? Here are a few related articles that will answer all of your questions: