How to Change Careers

Man working in office and holding his cute dog

5 Steps to a Successful Career Change

You went to college to become, let’s say, an accountant, but after five years in the business, crunching numbers all day for a corporation isn’t doing it for you. Instead, you think you’d like to have a career in the arts—an 180-degree change from your previous nine to five job.

You’re nervous. Is it even possible to make such a big career change, you wonder. We’re here to tell you not only is it possible, but it’s probable—if you’re willing to take the correct steps to achieve your career dreams. Here’s how you can change careers and get a new job.

Follow Your Gut

You’re unhappy in your current field or you wouldn’t want to make this change. But instead of wallowing in your misery, recommends Aurora Meneghello, founder of Repurpose Your Purpose, you should take the risk and apply for something new. “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.”  

She continues, “You might not experience an epiphany before quitting your current job, but when you finally find the right career, you will know for sure.” The point, she says, is to try.

Follow Your Gut

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. So, when you launch your job search, “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 career coach and author of  The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide Roy Cohen. Because, “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?”

Focus Your Job Search

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.”

Whip Your Resume Into Shape

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.

Network, Network, Network

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.

Consider Informational Interviews

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.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Apply

Learn More!

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:

How to Successfully Change Careers

9 Tips from People Who Made Dramatic Career Changes

Ask a Resume Writer: How Do I Showcase Transferable Skills?

How to Break Into Tech Even if You Aren’t a Born-and-Bred Techie

How Has The Jobs Market Changed in the Last 8 Years?

6 Companies Offering Returnship Programs

How Will Your Job Change After You Negotiate Your Salary

Taking Time Away From the Workforce? Here’s How to Protect Your Career

Miss Your Old Company? Here’s How to Get Your Job Back

6 Impressive Skills to Include on Your Resume

Learn More!