How to Change Careers in 7 Steps

CTU Tips on Changing Careers

Children are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Interestingly, working professionals can find themselves asking the same question as they reflect on their current career. The circumstances that may lead to this reflection can take many forms:

  • Changes in the role, like downsizing or new leadership
  • Boredom and lack of interest in current work
  • A desire to do work that aligns with a passion, purpose or interest

Whatever your reasons for planning a career change, you may feel a mix of emotions as you consider a new future – from uncertainty to jubilation. To ensure a more successful progression into a new career, follow this 7-step plan to make sure the change you make is the change you want.

Step 1. Take a Personal Inventory

Before launching into a new career, it’s helpful to assess your current career situation. Do you have a lengthy list of what you dislike about your profession? Great! It’s good to know what you don’t like as you begin to consider what you want from your career. But don’t stop there. Think about the positives too. What aspects of your current work do you enjoy? What would make your current career more exciting or energizing? 

To gain additional insight into potential career paths, it may be useful to take one or more career assessments. There are a number of assessments available that can help you identify possible careers that may work with your abilities, personality, interests and passion. If you’re currently enrolled in a college degree program, check with your university’s career services department for career planning resources that may help you. The main goal is to re-discover yourself to move toward your next career path.

Step 2. Research Potential Careers

Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with the activities that draw your interest and evoke your professional passion, it’s time to research new career options. If you’re apprehensive about this step, don’t worry. Change is difficult, especially when you’re thinking about the possibility of a drastic career switch, like medical to technology field. But armed with the information, you can create a strategic career plan that take you where you want to be.

As you begin your research, consider visiting the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which releases the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The handbook is available online and contains a wealth of information about a wide-range of professions, including median pay, projected outlook and insights into how to enter specific occupations. The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors the My Next Move site that allows you search careers by keyword and by industry, but also offers an online tool that suggests careers that match your interests and training.

Step 3. Identify Transferable Skills

Now it’s time to combine what you learned about yourself with the potential careers you researched. Even if you’re thinking about making a major career change, chances are you have skills and training that can be used in your new career. For example, a former IT professional realized that she loved helping people solve problems and that people naturally trusted her. She parlayed those skills into a new career as a sales trainer, helping people learn how to close complicated sales.
Compare the skills you have – leadership, communication, analytical thinking, planning, etc. – alongside the skills needed for your new career path. You may be surprised at how many skills overlap, giving you the opportunity to transfer what you already know into your new career.

Step 4. Obtain Necessary Training and Education

Even after assessing transferable skills, you may still notice gaps that require additional training and education. For instance, if you’re moving from a paralegal career into the healthcare  profession, you may need to expand your knowledge to include medicine, science and healthcare management.
As you consider the possibility of returning to school, take your time. You may be anxious to enter into your new career field right away, but be strategic about your approach. Think about ways you might gain necessary experience and training on your own through volunteerism or accepting new side projects. If your career change is related to the work you already do – for example, moving from an accounting role to a marketing one – think about talking to your employer. Some companies support employees who want to grow within the business, and may even offer tuition reimbursement that can provide financial assistance when you decide to return to school.

If you do decide to pursue a college degree, carefully research universities – checking for accreditation, as well as the ability for you to successfully integrate school into your current lifestyle.

Step 5. Build a More Powerful Professional Network

An essential element that can significantly contribute to your career change success is networking. The people you know can not only provide you with a wealth of insight and information about potential career paths, but may also reveal new opportunities and job leads that can move you closer to the career you want. 

If you’re concerned about the effort it takes to develop your network, rest assured it’s not as difficult as you may think. Start by creating (or refreshing) your LinkedIn profile. This is more than an online resume. Use LinkedIn as a tool to keep in touch with people you already know – friends, colleagues, family members, etc. Eventually, LinkedIn can be used to connect with people you don’t know as you discover connections to new people through existing relationships.

Finally, network within your organization and your profession. You may find that by building more meaningful relationships with others, you reignite fresh passion in your current work. As you expand your network outside of your company and career field, you may also discover the career path that will be perfectly suited to you.

Step 6. Keep Working

When you’ve finally made the decision to change careers, you may want to quit your current job to focus 100% on your new career path. That can happen eventually, but in the early stages it makes sense to stay where you are, especially if you need the income. But more important, use the time that you are employed to gain the experience you need for your new career. You may find that minor tweaks in your current job can provide you with much-needed experience that you can take into your new career. 

Alternatively, think about taking on side jobs, part-time work or volunteer gigs to gain the experience you need. For instance, if you have an interest in an emergency management career, some cities have citizen volunteer programs that lets you gain direct experience you can use later.

Step 7. Find a Mentor

Moving into a new career path is a major life change. It’s helpful to have a mentor who can help guide you through the challenging times and provide encouragement as you reach milestones. A mentor might also provide you access to his or her network. Keep in mind that your mentor won’t necessarily be a high-ranking executive, but can be a person who has been where you are – ready to make a career change – and has successfully navigated the transition. 

You might also find a mentor in the career you’re interested in entering. Having inside knowledge of the field can help you determine the path you want to take.

Take the First Step

You have the steps to prepare for a career change, now take the first step. As you move through the transition and realize that you need additional education or certifications, CTU is a resource that can help. We offer over 100 degree programs uniquely tailored for working professionals, delivered online and accessible from wherever you have an Internet connection and computer. 

Image Credit: Flickr/Bob Ramsey