How to Change Careers Smoothly in 6 Simple Steps
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Whether you’re looking to earn more, your work goals have changed, or your boss isn’t great, you might be looking to switch careers.
About half of adults have made a dramatic career change at some point in their lives, according to a survey conducted by Indeed.com.
But jumping immediately to a new career could cost you time, money, and energy — for a new role that might not be a good fit. If you’re interested in changing careers, it’s best to set up a plan of action first.
7 Ways to Find a New Career
A lot of people know they hate their jobs, but they’re not sure why or how to improve their work life. They also might expect a career change to happen overnight.
“A typical job search within the same career field can take months,” says Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs. “But a career change to something very different may take much longer.”
The process starts with figuring out why you need a change and what risks are involved. Once you have a firm sense of what you need, find the right fit.
1. Take a career quiz.
Online career quizzes like the Princeton Review Career Quiz take you through a series of questions and measure your interests and personality. Each quiz has a unique algorithm, so you may get slightly different responses for each one you take. But they can serve as a starting point, directing you toward a particular industry, providing a list of jobs, and explaining why you’re a good fit.
Some even describe the training involved and starting salary to help you make a more informed decision about changing careers.
2. Update your skills and intentions on LinkedIn.
Recruiters often use LinkedIn to find job candidates, so having a well-crafted profile on this professional networking site can help you land an interview in your new field.
Danisha Martin, senior search consultant at Nonprofit HR, offers these tips for updating your LinkedIn profile:
- Ask for recommendations. Whether they come from colleagues, managers, or clients, these should emphasize your potential to transition careers. Ask them to highlight your transferable skills, coachability, and adaptability.
- Use keywords linked to your new career. Recruiters use keywords to search for candidates, so include them throughout your profile. Personalize it with your voice, especially the summary paragraph.
- Include volunteer work and part-time jobs. These are easy ways to gain experience in your new field, so list these opportunities in your profile and any skills you developed.
Once you’ve polished your profile, connect and network with others by joining groups, participating in discussions, and posting articles.
3. Volunteer or work part-time.
If you’re not ready to fully commit to a new career yet, test the waters with a temp agency or by volunteering, job shadowing, or working part-time.
It’s a good way to “do a controlled test before jumping in with both feet,” says Kathy Robinson, founder of TurningPoint, a company that provides career counseling.
Websites such as VolunteerMatch and FlexJobs can help you find these new opportunities. Use this time to learn everything you can about the industry, network, and invite people to exploratory interviews. Working side by side with someone is “where you have an opportunity to truly assess if what they do for work would be meaningful for you,” Martin says.
4. Consider education and training requirements.
Gaps in your skillset may make it hard to crack into a new career. Get yourself up to speed by making a list of skills you already have, the skills you need, and any requirements of the new role.
“For some fields, short online training and certification courses are great,” Reynolds says. “For others, they may require a new degree. Talk to people in the new field through informational interviews to see what’s recommended.”
Also research any costs involved and whether you qualify for grants and scholarships that might help offset the expense of any courses, certifications, or training. “If there’s a positive from the COVID-19 situation, it’s the increase in available online training,” says Anna Huffman, human resources director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “Resource availability has increased, and costs in some areas have decreased.”
5. Research your interests.
Whether you love cooking, writing, or taking care of animals, there’s likely a way to turn your hobby into a job. “If people can turn their hobbies into their careers, they will never work a day in their life,” says Renee Frey, a recruiting expert, speaker, and author of “I Hate Mondays: A Guide to Landing a Job That Makes You Jump Out of Bed.”
The career quiz you used at the beginning of your research can match you with a new industry, while your interests, personality, and goals can help guide you to a specific role. If you’re matched with the medical field and you tend to stay calm under pressure and enjoy helping people, then a career in nursing may be a good fit.
Here are a few ways to let your interests guide your career research:
- Think back to your childhood dream job. Did you tell everyone you wanted to be a veterinarian, actor, or writer? Remembering these goals might help you figure out what you’re still passionate about.
- Take money out of the equation. If you didn’t have to earn an income, would you start a charity, volunteer with kids or animals, or travel? Think about ways to monetize these passions.
- Think about what you do really well. Maybe you’re a great chef, a skilled woodworker, or advanced yogi. How can you jump-start a career with these skills?
As you think through these questions, write them down in a notebook or Google document. Take some time to reflect on your answers as you consider which career might be the best fit for you.
6. Build relationships in your desired industry.
Networking and building relationships will be critical to success in your new career.
“The No. 1 way people find jobs is through who they know,” Frey says. “It’s easier to transition to a completely different career if people know you and can vouch for you.”
While in-person conferences and networking events are typically the best way to create relationships, there are ways to virtually network that are just as effective:
- Using LinkedIn, connect with successful people in your new career
- Do an informational interview via video chat
- Join virtual meet-ups
- Attend virtual conferences and webinars
Once you make connections and let people know you’re looking to change careers, colleagues in your new industry may be able to help you find a new role.
7. Hire a career counselor.
A career counselor can help you find good career options, set up a plan of action, and even introduce you to others in the new industry, but they may charge a fee for their services.
If you want to go the free route, find someone who’s successfully made a career change and schedule some time to talk with them. They can give you the low-down about what it takes to switch over.
You can also reach out to your college’s career services center or alumni network for assistance.
6 Steps to Change Careers Seamlessly
Once you’ve nailed down your career choice, you’re ready to tackle your action plan.
1. Start building skills.
Now it’s time to develop the skills you researched at the beginning of your search. You might need to take a course, complete an online certification, or earn a degree. Ask your current supervisor for stretch assignments, challenging projects intentionally beyond your current skillset, to develop skills that might transfer to your new career.
You might also develop these skills during a part-time job, which “may actually give you experience that counts toward your new field,” Reynolds says.
2. Create a new resume.
It’s crucial to make your resume stand out so you land an interview and get the job you want.
“Hiring leaders and recruiters only look at the top quarter of the first page on your resume,” Frey says. “In seven seconds, they make a determination if they will read your resume or if you are going in the recycle bin.”
Need a little help creating a great resume? Sites like MyPerfectResume.com can help you write the perfect resume and cover letter to highlight the top skills employers look for. Tell MyPerfectResume how long you’ve been working, and they’ll recommend an appropriate resume template. From there, they’ll walk you through each section one at a time, from your personal information to education, work experience, and certifications.
They’ll also provide helpful, pre-written examples that you can tailor based on your work experience. Once you finish creating your resume, choose a 14-day access pass for $2.95 or a monthly subscription of $5.95. With either plan, you’ll have unlimited access to create, spell check, and download resumes and cover letters. If you aren’t satisfied with your experience for any reason, you have 14 days to request a refund.
3. Start your job search.
Leverage the contacts you made when networking, volunteering, and researching your new industry.
“Reach out to your network to find contacts who currently work in the new field,” Robinson says. “Ask for guidance and any connections they’re willing to share.” Their company may also have an opening that’s a perfect fit for you.
Start researching companies, learn about the culture, and consider whether you’d fit in. Martin suggests identifying your top 25 companies and looking for open roles. Write a cover letter tailored for each position, and start submitting applications with your letter and resume.
To keep track of your job search and to make yourself a better interviewee, Martin suggests keeping a spreadsheet of where you apply and adding notes about your interviews and any feedback you receive.
4. Schedule job interviews.
It’s exciting when your resume gets noticed and you get a call to schedule an interview. This meeting is where you can talk about your experience and show why you’re a good fit for the company and the role, even if you have no prior industry experience.
“Create a succinct story of why you’re changing careers that shows your enthusiasm and energy for your new field,” Reynolds suggests.
Here are some ways to prepare for a job interview in your new career:
- Research the mission and goals of the organization you’re applying to.
- Prepare relevant questions that show you understand the new industry.
- List your experience in the new industry, which can include volunteer work and part-time jobs.
- List transferable skills from previous roles that you can use in the new industry.
You should also prepare the items you’ll bring to the job interview. Afterward, consider sending a thank-you note, asking for feedback, and applying the advice in the future.
5. Negotiate your new salary and benefits.
You might feel like starting a job in a new career means taking a pay cut, but that’s not necessarily true. You can negotiate a good salary with some preparation.
Using websites like Glassdoor and Payscale, you can research the average salary of your new position. Use that information in conjunction with your previous experience to negotiate a fair salary.
Also think about what would make you happy at the new job. You might be willing to take a pay cut if the new role allows you to strike a work-life balance, offers more benefits, or provides training and opportunities for salary growth.
6. Put in your notice at work.
Most organizations want to keep top talent, so give your employer a chance to keep you on board, Huffman suggests. Your organization may be able to promote you to a new position, transfer you to a new department, or increase your responsibilities and pay.
But if your mind’s made up, then make sure you leave the job on good terms. Give at least two weeks’ notice, and tell your manager you’re resigning to pursue a personal passion.
“Don’t speak negatively about your experience,” Frey says. “Keep everything positive. You never know when your paths may cross again.”
Find a Career You Enjoy
A career change can be a great way to fulfill a dream or break out of a rut. Use this list as a starting point to figuring out what career you want and how you’ll get there. A good plan can help you adjust your career path so it aligns with what you’re passionate about, Robinson says.
“It’s sort of like a custom-fit suit versus grabbing something off the rack and not ever really liking how you feel in it,” she says. “The thinking goes: The more you like what you do, the more reward you get.”