Finding a Job

How To Change Careers

May 26, 2021

If you are currently considering changing careers, you’re not alone. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that over 6 million people decided to change occupations in 2017. There are several steps you can take to determine when and how to make a successful career change.

A career change will usually involve researching new career paths, assessing your current skills, and finding opportunities that fit well with your lifestyle. In this article, we’ll outline several steps to consider while making a career change.

Deciding to change careers

As you consider making a change, it can be helpful to reflect on things you’ve liked and disliked about your previous positions. Start by creating two lists: One for what you don’t like about your current career and another for what you want in a new position. It might also be helpful to organize the items in both lists by how important they are to your career goals.

For example, your two lists might look like this:

Current career
Long hours and low pay
Little opportunity for advancement
No support for additional training
Few openings in other locations
No travel

New career
Schedule flexibility
High pay
Good benefits
Opportunity for advancement
Emerging or growing job market
Opportunity for travel

As you’re making your lists, try to include only items that are true of your position or career in general, not those that might be specific to your current employer. Additionally, keep in mind which qualities on your “new career” list are most important both for your lifestyle and long-term goals. While you might not be able to get every item on your list, you will find several opportunities that can provide your most important nonnegotiables.

Assess your current experience and skills

Now that you have a good idea of why you want to leave your current career and what you’re looking for in a new one, consider which skills and training you currently possess that make you a strong candidate. While your new career might not exactly align with the experience you have, you likely have several relevant, transferable skills valuable to employers. You may even have acquired new skills in your current career that are in-demand in another field.

To organize your thoughts, create another list of both your hard and soft skills. Hard skills are often acquired through training and practice, such as knowledge of specific software or speaking a foreign language. Soft skills typically involve your personality, so interpersonal skills include things such as creativity, ability to work as part of a team and timeliness.

Here is what a list of your hard and soft skills might look like if you’re looking to transfer from a customer service career:

Soft skills
Punctual
Effective problem-solver
Adapt well to new processes
Communicate well with clients

Hard skills
Significant product knowledge
Knowledge of Python and HTML
Advanced WordPress skills
Excellent writing and grammar skills

For ideas, sometimes it can be helpful to think about specific accomplishments in your career or personal life and what qualities and/or skills helped you achieve them. Remember to be honest when listing your skills.

You may also want to list any technology platforms you’ve used in your current career such as CRMs, point-of-sale systems or workflow and customer support ticket applications. Even if the next field you pursue uses different technology, there may be similarities in how or why it is used.

If you don’t feel comfortable performing a certain skill in the workplace, consider leaving it out until you’ve had more practice with it.

Align your current skills with your career options

For this step, create three separate sections for different career options. Write down which of your hard skills transfer to those careers, and add any skills that will need to be learned. Here is a breakdown of the three different sections:

1. Transferable skills: Careers that won’t require any new knowledge or training (i.e., jobs where your current hard skills transfer immediately)

2. Some training needed: Careers that may require a small amount of additional knowledge or training (i.e., jobs where some, but not all, of your current hard skills transfer immediately)

3. Advanced skills required: Careers that may require a moderate or significant amount of new skills or further educations (i.e., jobs where few, if any, of your current hard skills transfer)

Soft skills tend to be transferable to most career paths, so it’s up to you how much those factor into your selection of a new career. Consider which soft skills you’d like to use in your next career. The most important ones can become part of your selection criteria.

Now that you know what you’re looking for in a new career and the relevant hard and soft skills you currently possess, it’s time to discover what career options are available to you.

Research new careers

You can start your search using Indeed. Not only can you search by type of job, but you can also search by specific keywords. This is a good method to find new career opportunities that align with your current hard skills.

For example, if you are knowledgeable in WordPress, enter “WordPress” in the search engine. From there, you’ll see a long list of openings ranging from WordPress Developer to Graphic Designer. You can refine your search by typing in multiple words. If you put those words in quotation marks, such as “WordPress” and “HTML,” you can further refine your search to only get results that have those exact sets of keywords.

Be creative and thorough in your career search. Remember that for now, you’re not necessarily looking for a specific job but a career change. You will hopefully learn about what additional skills may be required for new careers you didn’t know existed or find careers that you qualify for immediately.

When completed, your list of potential new careers may look something like this:

Developer
Higher pay
Potential to work remote
Opportunity to advance
Paid training

Brand Ambassador
Travel
Higher pay
Opportunity to build networks
No training needed

Technical Writer
Similar pay
Potential to work remote
Opportunity to write
May need more training

Software Analyst
Much higher pay
Marketable for future jobs
More training needed
Python skills advantageous

Once you have a list of careers you want to explore, reach out to friends and family that might currently work in those fields. Search for industry groups in your area or on online forums and social media. Ask people in the field whether your current skills are easily transferred to that career, and what other skills you might want to acquire before sending out job applications.

Update your resume

After you’ve found a few potential career options, update your resume to reflect the relevant skills and experiences that make you a valuable employee in these positions.

It might be appropriate to develop more than one version of your resume, depending on the positions you’ll be applying for. For those careers which you believe you may already qualify, update your resume to emphasize the hard and soft skills important to those positions.

For example, you may have WordPress skills on your current resume in a secondary position. If you’re applying for jobs as a WordPress Developer, you might consider including a personal website in the first section of your resume that highlights the extent of your skills and abilities in WordPress. You will also want to include more details about your WordPress training and skills in your skills section.

Repeat those steps to tailor your resume to each position. For clues, look to the job postings for relevant skills, experience and qualities the employer is looking for. Tailoring your resume to each career will quickly help your resume stand out over those more general applications.

Related: Functional Resume Tips and Example

Find additional training

If you’re dedicated to applying for and getting hired in a career where your current skills don’t exactly align, try to acquire as many requisite skills for that career as possible before sending out applications.

That may mean delaying your career change for several weeks or months, but it may be worth it if you’re able to spend time developing additional skills. In some cases, better pay, benefits and career satisfaction are worth the extra time preparing yourself.

Depending on the type of skills you need to acquire, you might consider:

  • Taking self-taught online courses
  • Taking online courses through a local college or university
  • Volunteering at organizations where you can acquire necessary skills

Regardless of which route you take to acquire those needed skills, make sure you update your resume to reflect your acquisition of skills the employer requires. While you don’t need to have completely mastered a new set of skills, you’ll want to be confident in your new ability. Many employers hire candidates with moderate skill levels and provide on-the-job training. Possessing in-demand soft skills and with a solid foundation in the hard skills employers need makes you a competitive applicant.

Make a transition plan

It may be tempting to leave your current job with the hope that you’ll get a new, better one soon. However, you may want to avoid leaving your current career until you have a job offer in hand. There are no guarantees with any career change, even those within the same career.

After you’ve received a job offer, it is important to leave on good terms with your current employer. A nice and respectful resignation letter will help maintain a positive relationship with your employer even as you leave for another career.

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