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How to Change Career Paths: 10-Step Guide

If you’ve been feeling the itch to change your career, you’re not alone — the Washington Post reports that nearly one-third of Americans under 40 are looking to make a career change. Fueled in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, many adults have taken this time to reflect on their goals, what makes them happy, and how they can take charge of their own choices. That often starts with their work.

While making a big change in your job can be thrilling, it’s also no small undertaking. Whether you’re looking to change companies or are making the jump into a new industry entirely, there are some best practices to help you succeed. Here are 10 steps to help you change your career path.

Signs to Change Careers

There are many reasons you might be thinking about changing careers. It could be to earn more money, have a better work/life balance, or embark on a new challenge. Or maybe you’re just bored with your current role.

But if you’re one of those people who are still on the fence, there are some obvious signals you might be ignoring. If any of the following have or are happening to you, take them as a sign it’s time to change careers:

  • Your growth and development aren’t supported by your employer.
  • There’s no room for growth or creativity.
  • The company’s values don’t align with yours.

10 Steps to Change Your Career Path

Okay, you’re ready. And while there is no one-size-fits-all approach to changing careers, here are 10 steps to help you successfully take the leap and change your career.

1. Self-Assess

This is a big life choice, and one you should only make after you’ve done some real soul-searching and introspection. Ask yourself the big questions: why do I want to make this change? What are my interests? What is a feasible new career? What will changing careers look like for me and my family? What career would help me make a difference in the world? Once you’ve got a firm grasp on your “why,” then you can start the fun part of finding and launching a new career.

2. Research Potential Career Paths

There are MANY variables that will impact and influence your choices during the job search. You need to first narrow your scope to the type of role and industry you’re interested in. From there, you can focus on the smaller details that will help you know what job is right for you.

During your research process, some important things to identify about potential new jobs include:

  • Salary ranges
  • Required education
  • Skills and qualifications

The good news is that there are endless resources out there that will inform your search, but a few good places to start include CareerProfiles and the CareerOneStop (operated by the U.S. Department of Labor). These sites will give you career path-specific information that isn’t tied to a specific employer, so you can get a better idea of what that type of work is like.

3. Research Potential Employers

Once you have a job title in mind — or a family of job titles — you can start searching potential employers and/or open positions. Glassdoor is a great place to start, as it is an online resource informed by real working professionals who share reviews about employers, salaries, benefits, work environment, and more.

4. Make a Plan

Once you’ve identified your new career path, now is the time to begin planning your transition. At this point in the process, you’ve likely identified the skills, education, and experiential requirements for this field or position, so now you should plan out exactly what you need to do to become qualified for this role. To help yourself stay on track, create a timeline that allows you to hit those benchmarks without putting too much pressure on yourself.

5. Use Your Connections

As a working professional, you already have several connections within and without your current industry. Use them! Identify any connections you have who might be able to help with:

  • The specific roles/titles you’ve decided to pursue
  • The organizations you’re potentially applying to

Their insight(s) might give you better insight into how a career changer can fare in this specific job or organization and how to go about obtaining said new job. These connections can also help point you in the direction of industry resources or publications that will help you in this next phase of your professional life.

6. Network, Network, Network

Whether you already have relevant connections in your new field or you don’t know anyone, networking will prove to be hugely valuable as you try to change careers. Use your online professional network as a starting point and start reaching out to people you know work in the field you’re looking to enter.

If that feels too aggressive for your liking, reach out to your college alumni network if possible. Once you’ve made a contact, be upfront about your intentions and find opportunities to get their insight into how they have found success. They may also be able to give you a heads up about upcoming job openings and insider tips on how to ace the interview.

7. Consider an Internship

Yes, even as an adult who has been in the working world for several years. As an aspiring career changer, you can and should pursue internship opportunities in the field you aspire to move into. An internship opportunity is arguably the best way to sample the potential new career path without risking too much — you might not have to leave your current job and you won’t have to invest in an educational program. You may feel awkward at first, but adult internships are becoming more and more common amongst career changers and those re-entering the workforce.

8. Seek Out Education Opportunities

If you’re completely changing career paths, odds are very good that there are some new skills you will need to gain in order to land that new job. This makes pursuing additional educational opportunities one of the most essential steps in changing careers. An advanced degree, such as a master’s degree, is one of the best ways to obtain new knowledge and demonstrate your qualifications to potential employers. Not only that, but those who obtain an advanced degree can typically expect higher salaries than those without advanced degrees.

9. Update Your Resume & Cover Letter

Once you’ve identified the open positions you want to pursue, it’s time to update your resume and cover letter to put you in the best position to land the job. This is critically important for career changers, as you want to be sure your materials are written in such a way that your lack of relevant experience won’t automatically disqualify you. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward during the application process.

Resume best practices:

  • Emphasize your transferable skills and experiences.
  • Include a skills section.
  • Highlight your most recent training or education if it applies to the field.

Cover letter best practices:

  • Explain why you’re seeking a new opportunity.
  • Express your passion for this new career field.
  • Connect your prior experiences to the new job tasks.

10. Apply

Once you have all your materials in order — your polished resume, cover letter, and portfolio — it’s time to click submit. This is arguably the hardest part, the sitting and waiting, but this is a monumental moment. You’ve taken the first BIG step in your new career. Be sure to follow up after an appropriate amount of time, and send thank you notes after interviews. And when the right opportunity presents itself, you’ll be ready to make the leap.