10 Critical Steps to Make a Career Change

At some point, each of us contemplates making a jump to a new job. There can be a range of reasons driving you to look for a new career path. Whether it’s lack of excitement at your current job or maybe you want to pursue a job you’ve been dreaming about for years.

Whatever your reason, we can appreciate the strength and courage a decision like this takes. Many are content to stick with their current job for years, even if it’s going nowhere. So kudos to you for taking the first step by visiting us!

Our goal is to provide you with the right tools and steps to make the career change process less scary and action oriented.

We also know that each person can make the decision to switch careers at any point in their professional life. Certainly the earlier career change occurs, the more time you have to plan and react if the new career isn’t the right fit.

The longer you work in a profession, it becomes more challenging to switch your career path. This is especially true if you’re moving to one which you have little or no experience.

At any stage of life, different challenges come into play which may factor into the decision to make a change.

  • Early 20’s: You may have just graduated college with a new degree that you want to put to good use or are just starting to gain real work experience. Wouldn’t switching careers mean that diploma was a waste of time and a lot of money?
  • Late 20’s or Early 30’s: You could be considering marriage, starting a family, or making a large purchase like a new home. Can I really afford to take a potential pay cut now with the hope of making considerably more later?
  • Mid 40’s or Early 50’s: You may have earned a leadership role at the company you’ve been working at for years. Can I really give up everything I’ve worked for over the past 15+ years to follow a passion?
  • Mid 50’s or 60’s: You could begin to lose the patience to learn new skills and retirement may be right around the corner. This could prevent you from landing a job if you’re up against fresh talent. Is it too late for me to pursue a new career?

While the answers to the questions above depend on your specific situation, the short answer is NO for most people. Honestly, there is never a “perfect” time to make a career change.

There will always be a reason out there fighting to hold you back. It will take courage and some risk to take the first steps.

This is why we’ve outlined the 10 critical steps to making a career change. We provide actionable advice to help you along the way to finding your dream career.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

– Steve Jobs

1. Identify your ideal profession

The first major step is to identify the profession you want to be working in over the next 3-5 years. This may be aligned with your current job or it can be in a different profession entirely.

In other words, what do you want to be when you grow up? If you haven’t thought about it, this may require time and research to narrow down your target profession.

We recommend thinking about your ideal profession from a long-term perspective. Considering where you want to be 3, 5, or even 10 years down the road will help you establish a clear path to achieving those goals. It also prevents you from making critical decisions that limit your career options.

Take a look at our Career Resources for questions to consider when thinking about switching careers.

If you need some examples, we’ve covered the Best Jobs without a College Degree and The Muse also provides great tools for coming up with great career ideas.

2. Determine your career goals 

The next step is to determine what you want to accomplish over the rest of your career or just with the next job. This will help define the vision and set direction for your future career.

Defining your career goals can be done in parallel to the item above since it’s important to align your long-terms goals and desired profession.

Let’s say for example, your top career goal is to start a new business and be your own boss one day. You may want to gain knowledge of sales, finance, or customer service functions. Having this experience will help you build out those capabilities for your own business one day.

To get you started, we’ve included some questions below that may spark some ideas for your own goals.

  • Do you want the responsibilities of being a people leader (e.g., manager, director, vice president) or be an individual contributor (e.g., analyst, associate)?
  • Do you want to work for a non-profit, private company, or public service/government?
  • Which industry do you want to be in? (e.g., healthcare, financial, consumer goods, technology, communications)
  • Do you want to be self-employed by starting your own business?

If you need additional support figuring out your goals, I’d recommend engaging with a Career Coach. These are incredibly valuable resources that can help you think through what’s most important to you personally and professionally.

You can often find local career coaches, but our recommended online coaching service is The Muse. They provide a range of services to help you find a new career and set you on a path for success.

3. Consult your network, family, and friends

Your manager, co-workers, friends, and family know you better than anyone else – excluding yourselfThis is a great way to validate your goals with people close to you and get external input on how to change careers.

It can also open the door to new ideas or opportunities you didn’t realize where available. Your manager may be able to offer guidance on what it will take to move up the ladder if that’s what you desire. This can include earning a professional certification to establish your expertise in order to move into a new career path.

Your family and friends have been in your life for some time. They understand your personality, passions, and potentially what makes you happy. These are great resources to bounce ideas around and provide support as you go through the career change journey.

If you are married or have someone that depends on you financially, this is a good time to also talk about how this may affect both of you. Do you need to cover any training expenses? Will your budget change due to potential increase or decrease in income?

It’s important to remember that a career change doesn’t impact only you. For better or worse, it has the potential to affect those around you as well. You should bring your significant others into the decision making process where it makes sense.

4. Identify relevant job titles or roles in your target profession

By defining your target job title, it will help you get more specific with your career goals. You may not end up in the exact position, but going through this activity helps to narrow down jobs that fit both your goals and experience level.

This also gives you a chance to take a pulse on the job market for your target career. You can use websites like Glassdoor or Indeed to find related jobs in particular industries, companies, or professions. You can also use Glassdoor to get insight into the average salaries for the career paths and jobs you’re considering.

Also, defining your target job titles or roles will help with the next step as well. You may need to have specialized training or earn a certification to even be considered for a job in some cases.

5. Research relevant training or certifications

As part of your search for a new career, you’ll need to consider whether training or certification is required to accomplish your career goals. If you haven’t earned a college degree, some careers may also require you have one as well. This is going to heavily depend on the profession you are pursuing.

For example, to become a Registered Nurse you’ll need to go through an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. They often look for candidates with at least a bachelors degree as well.

To be a Project Manager you should have earned Project Management Professional (PMP) or the entry-level Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). However, this is an example where it may not be required to have a certification, but your odds of getting hired without one are very low.

There are countless professions that may not require training or certification. On the other hand, the number of opportunities available to you will exponentially increase if you have some training under your belt.

This is especially the case if you are switching into a brand new career. You don’t have the experience on your resume, so you need something to show your ability to succeed in the position.

Once you have clarity on your goals and desired profession, it should be easy to research the prerequisite training or certifications for your desired career.

Here are a couple links to assist with your research if you’re interested in technology careers:

6. Take online or classroom training 

After you’ve selected your new career path and identified whether training or certification is required – it’s time to learn. This is a must do, regardless of the experience you have, how much you think you know, or whether you need to get certified.

If you are getting certified, most high quality training courses are designed specifically to help you pass the certification exam.

In addition, if you are venturing into a new career path without experience – it’s highly recommend you not skip this step. This is the best way you can build enough knowledge to hold a conversation on the topic during a job interview.

The training also prepares you to hit the ground running once hired. Managers love employees that pick up new skills quickly and don’t have to hold the employee’s hand for months learning the basics. This will go a long way with your employer.

Our top recommended online training services are Udacity and SimpliLearn. SimpliLearn is offering 30% off online courses by using code M30 during checkout. This is a great deal to help boost your career options.

With either service, you can find courses for a lot of career paths to get you started on the right foot. You may also find ideas for career paths you haven’t considered before.

7. Earn a professional certification

Certifications may not be valuable or necessary for every career path. However, it is strongly recommended if one is available within your desired profession.

We’ve covered how certifications give your career a boost and is sure to make your resume stand out. In short, it will help you focus on building the right skills and knowledge to be effective in the role.

During interviews, it often becomes an area of focus since it’s likely current employees and even other candidates haven’t achieved certification. It also demonstrates your desire to grow, which benefits both yourself and the company you are hired into.

While this can be a stretch goal if not required for your profession, it can certainly be achieved with the right preparation and training.

8. Update your resume and get it reviewed

It’s suggested to update your resume every couple years as you gain new experience. You also never know when life will throw you a curve by getting laid off or being presented with a new opportunity in your company.

However, we know most people forget about their resume until it’s time for a new job. This isn’t necessarily always bad, especially if you are wanting to completely switch career paths.

The effort to update your resume increases when the experience to get your current job doesn’t match your new career direction. You’ll need to rethink each line on your resume to make sure it tells the story of why the experience makes you perfect for the new job.

This doesn’t mean you completely wipe out everything from the resume, but you may need to take a trip down memory lane.

Take a look at job descriptions for several positions you’re wanting to target. Were there other roles, responsibilities, projects, or actions from your previous jobs or experience that are more relevant?

Then, make sure you include any formal or online training you’ve taken related to the position at the bottom of the resume.

Given the changes required to your resume, it’s highly recommended to have your resume reviewed by someone else. You’re friends and family can be good resources, but nothing beats working with a professional that spends their careers getting people hired.

TopResume is by far our top resume review, editing, and writing service provider. The rates are fair and the value they provide is outstanding. They’ll help you with everything from resume formatting to shaping the content to effectively tell the story of your career.

TopResume - Resume Editing Service

Finally, you should also be updating your LinkedIn profile or creating one if you haven’t already. Many hiring managers will do an online search of your name to get more insight into your background.

9. Apply to at least 10 job postings and take all the interviews you can

At this point, it’s time to start getting your resume out there. If you skipped step 4, it’s going to take time to research job titles and roles relevant to your target profession.

As you are changing careers, you should be applying to 10 or more jobs. This is just a starting point since you may get fewer responses to your applications given your potentially limited experience.

If you’re still not getting responses, have someone review your resume if you haven’t done so already. Then, apply to more jobs and follow-up with the hiring manager or HR, if possible.

While there are many job boards out there, our recommended job search sites are Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. You can also apply directly through a company’s website.

Also, this could also be a chance for you to shop around for jobs at your current employer. Most modern companies encourage movement since they’d rather have you in a new position than to complete lose your talent and knowledge.

If you do get responses, take all the interviews you can. Even if you don’t land the job, the experience will make you even better for future interviews.

10. Accept the job that best aligns with your career goals

This can be a very challenging step, especially if you have multiple offers on the table. Weigh the offers against your career goals and accept the one that fits best.

DO NOT SETTLE FOR JUST ANY POSITION! If your first offer is from your dream job, take it. Otherwise, fully evaluate your options before making a final decision.

You’ve invested a lot of time in this career change process. Make the best of it and make a decision you’ll be happy with in the long run!

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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