Your Guide on Making Successful Career Changes

Last updated: July 13, 2024
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Heath Alva
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Your Guide on Making Successful Career Changes
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The economy is going through a lot of changes right now, which is leading to an uncertain job market.

Many people were laid off from jobs due to the pandemic. Some jobs are being outsourced. While certain industries and roles are seeing declining demand for other reasons.

If you’ve been impacted by any of these, finding new work similar to your old job will be quite a challenge. You may have better luck changing careers and looking for something different.

Shifting to a new line of work sounds daunting, but don’t worry — people change careers all the time. It’s not as hard as it sounds if you follow the right steps. When you shift careers successfully, you might even find it to be the best job decision you’ve ever made.

In this article, we’ll define what a career change is, look at some reasons you might want to shift to a new career, then give you some actionable steps on successfully making that move.

What exactly is a career change?

It’s hard to define exactly what a career change is.

For example, you may get promoted to a new role at a company with day-to-day responsibilities that differ from your previous job. However, you’re still working in the same field at the same place. But it’s still a career change to go from an entry-level role to management.

That said, when most people talk about a career change, they’re talking about shifting to a new industry or taking on a role that is significantly different from your current career.

For example, if you move from construction to a customer service role, you’ve clearly changed careers. There may be a few similarities between both jobs, but they are undoubtedly different roles.

Career changes are tough since you’re often applying for a position you have little to no work experience with. But, fortunately, plenty of skills you’ve learned over your career are transferable to numerous other occupations.

We’ll get into this more in a minute. First, let’s discuss why people often find themselves changing careers. If you’re thinking about changing fields, reviewing these four common reasons can help you identify if you’re ready to make the move, and what you’re looking for in your new job search.

Reasons you might change your career

People change careers for many reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Sometimes, there are multiple causes at play.

Here are some signs that leaping into a new career may be your best move.

Your values change

When you first entered your current career, you might have been excited about the work or passionate about your new company.

However, your values will change naturally as you get older, progress in the working world, and figure out what you want out of a job.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that people are more likely to stay with their chosen career the older they get.

This graph from the BLS shows that people’s cumulative number of jobs held increases drastically early in their careers, but that number’s growth slows down into the mid-career and late-career ages.

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It makes sense. You’re newer to the working world — maybe you have less idea of what you want in a job, and you have to move around. Plus, when you’re younger and have fewer financial responsibilities, you can more easily afford to switch careers.

However, you may know better what you want out of your career when you get older. Your values, passions, and skills have been solidified through work and life experiences.

Your responsibilities change

As mentioned earlier, you might have entered your current career without too many financial responsibilities. You may have been single with no family to worry about, making it easier to get by with less pay, an unpredictable schedule, or longer work hours.

However, things change drastically once you have a family to worry about.

Stability in pay and benefits becomes important — not to mention a larger paycheck — because of your increase in responsibility.

Plus, a predictable schedule provides you more time to spend at home with your family and allows you to plan your newfound responsibilities around work.

Your current job’s career outlook is poor

Job outlook — the predicted change in the number of jobs available in a field — is vital to consider when you’re choosing a career.

This can change over time. Your current job’s overall career outlook may have been fantastic when you started, but opportunities might be in decline today.

Not only does it become harder to find a new job in your field, but you and your co-workers could be laid off if the trend continues.

Consequently, a career change could offer you more opportunities for work.

This could apply on a local level, too, especially if you have a family and there’s no other work in your area.

Uprooting your family to stay in your industry places plenty of challenges on everyone. Staying where you are but shifting to a new career lets you stay in your community without losing income.

You feel burnt out

Feeling a lack of motivation at your job? Does it leave you feeling exhausted or stressed all the time?

You may be experiencing burnout — and you’re not alone.

Gallup found that around 76% of employees report feeling burnt out in their jobs at least sometimes, and 21% feel burnt out “very often.”

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Even if you love your job, factors such as long work hours, bad workplace dynamics, unclear job expectations, and more can leave you feeling burnt out.

Of course, staying within your current career but moving companies may solve the issue.

However, in some cases, a broader career change could be what you need to enjoy heading to work every day.

How to change to a new career successfully

Now that we’ve looked over some reasons for changing your career, you can follow these steps to make a successful career change.

Determine if you truly want to change careers

Many people are forced into changing careers. Maybe your employer shut down, and there aren’t any other similar companies in the area. In this case, you’ll have to switch to a new line of work or move away.

For others, changing careers isn’t necessary. But, it still might be worth doing.

If you’re not happy with your current job prospects, it may be time to sit down and determine if you truly want to change careers.

For example, if the above situation might happen in your industry but hasn’t occurred quite yet, it may be time to make the switch.

If it’s not, think about whether you genuinely don’t enjoy your current career path or if you’re simply unsatisfied with your current role.

If you don’t like the type of work you do anymore, that may be a sign that you need more than a move to a different company in the same field.

If you believe you’re ready for something new, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Brainstorm new career options

First, you’ll want to sit down and brainstorm various career options.

Consider your values, experience, past roles, and skills. Look to industries and roles where these apply.

Talk with family, friends, and others in your network to gain new ideas. They’ll offer some outside perspective on what kind of work you’re best suited to.

From there, you can research jobs in your top few career choices online and see if they align with what you want before picking one you’d like to move forward with.

Learn everything you can about the new career

If you’ve picked the next career you’d like to move into, learn as much as you can about it before making the jump.

First, see if you can do an informational interview or two with people you know in the field. This is where you would talk to them to learn more about what their day-to-day is like and whether they like their work.

Try shadowing someone in your desired career to see if you’d like it. You could also try and get some volunteer work or even freelance experience as a “test-drive” to see if your choice is right for you.

Gain skills and certifications in your new field

In some cases, you can switch careers by relying solely on relevant skills and experience.

However, getting relevant certifications can seriously boost your chances of landing work in your new career.

Certifications and other coursework demonstrate two things:

  1. You gained new skills and industry know-how that make you a valuable asset to employers in your new field

  2. You’re willing to work hard to achieve results

Today, dozens of websites such as Udemy offer online courses in all sorts of subjects — not to mention traditional in-person courses and certification programs.

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Make sure to add these courses and certifications to your resume, covered next.

You could also look to your current job for more opportunities to build skills relevant to your new career.

Prepare your career change resume

Your current resume is probably the reverse-chronological resume style, which lists your work experience from most recent job to least recent.

This isn’t the ideal format for a resume when switching careers. Most of your work experience and duties in each role won’t be relevant to these new employers.

Instead, hiring managers are concerned with what skills you bring to the job.

You’ll need to create a career change resume that emphasizes your transferable skills and any achievements from past jobs that are relevant to this new career.

There are two types of resumes suited for switching careers.

The functional resume puts skills at the top and elaborates on them. Experience is included below the skills section, but it’s much shorter and less detailed.

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Your other option — a combination resume — combines the standard, reverse-chronological resume with the functional resume.

In doing so, it expands the experiences section but shifts the emphasis toward duties and achievements relevant to your new career.

This resume structure is an excellent choice if your new career shares similarities with your old work experiences.

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Sell yourself in the application and interview

In your application, writing a high-quality cover letter is even more critical for a career-change situation.

It gives you room to explain to hiring managers why you’re changing careers. You can elaborate on why your skills make you an excellent fit, despite the new territory.

On top of the standard interview questions, you’ll likely get a few new ones about why you’re changing careers and what makes you qualified despite being new to the job.

Again, focus on how your skills apply in this new position.

Make a seamless switch to a new career

If you’re unsatisfied with your job, burnt out, or need more pay (or benefits and work-life balance), a career change might be your answer.

Hunting for work in your own field is hard enough, so changing to a new career can be daunting. However, it’s possible when you go about it properly.

Follow the tips laid out above to maximize your opportunities and make that transition easier.

For more job search tips for career-changers, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.



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