Changing Careers: A Step-by-Step Guide

A career change can feel like a daunting task, so we asked career experts to help with each step of the process.

portrait of Evan Thompson
by Evan Thompson

Published on March 23, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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Changing Careers: A Step-by-Step Guide


On the surface, the idea of changing careers seems simple. First, you leave your job. Then you switch to a different industry. Boom. Done.

It's all the details in between that are fuzzy. If someone were to ask you how to change careers right now, would you be able to explain how to do it?

If your answer is no, that's perfectly normal. Changing careers isn't as straightforward as switching jobs. You may need to veer off the path to upskill or go back to school to change industries.

Ultimately, It takes time, preparation, and planning to pull it all together. And that's where we come in.

We put together a step-by-step guide for changing careers — vetted by career experts — to help from start to finish.

Step 1: Figure Out Your "Why"

The starting point for changing careers is critically understanding why you want to shift directions in the first place.

Sarah Doughty, vice president of talent operations at TalentLab, said this first step is key. Understanding the why doesn't just provide a roadmap for your career — it also can be a compass for solving the "how," "when," and "what" that also need answers.

"The 'why' should be at the very foundation of your career change and will help anchor the journey, keep you focused on purpose, and ensure when you do finally accept a new role, it's the right one," Doughty said.

Step 2: Take a Personal Inventory

Next, carefully consider your strengths, passions, and preferences. Think about what got you here, and where you want to go.

Ask yourself questions such as:

The more you know about your likes and dislikes, what you're good at, and what you enjoy, the better chance you'll have of honing your dream career.

Step 3: Research Your Options

Now it's time to research your options and find the best possible career for you.

During your career search, take what you've learned about yourself and put it to good use. Look for careers where your passions and skills would be useful. Specifically, see if any roles might have a crossover between what you're good at and what you enjoy.

As you familiarize yourself with what these careers entail, do another round of self-evaluation:

Lastly, consider what your life will look like after changing careers. Are you in a better position to succeed? Are you ready for the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead?

Tim Toterhi, a career coach and human resources executive at Plotline Leadership, said a successful career change requires research into what that will mean for you moving forward.

"When changing careers, you have to change your mindset and face the brutal facts on both sides of the equation," Toterhi said. "Yes, you will gain a lot, but you’ll also be letting go of things that came with your old life."

Toterhi added that skills and knowledge may transfer, but the same salary and rank might not.

Step 4: Sell Yourself to Employers

To successfully make a career change, you need to sell yourself to employers. You have to show how the skills from a different career will be useful for solving problems in a new one.

Obviously, you'll need a cover letter, resume, and possibly a portfolio. But it's what goes in them that matters.

Sarah Berry of Career Consultants told The Telegraph that career changers need to create a sales pitch for themselves that demonstrates how they'll help a business.

“Focus a CV on experience that is suitable to the role," Berry said. "This is about mixing hard skills, such as qualifications and evidence of strong performance, and soft skills, such as leadership and working in teams."

For example, let's say you led a team of eight baristas in your last job. If your desired career needs leadership and managerial skills, explain how your experience managing team members' schedules and performance will make you a good fit for the new role.

Step 5: Start Networking

You've done the heavy lifting of reflecting, thinking, researching, and selling yourself. The next step is to network.

Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, a career coach at Beyond Discovery Coaching, said networking with acquaintances and people you admire is a great way to build your confidence and knowledge in a particular field, company, or industry.

"These types of connections often yield the most surprising and inspiring little nuggets of insight and wisdom you weren’t even expecting," she said. "Be open to where the conversation and networking opportunity will take you and you might be pleasantly surprised."

Although Ibrahim-Taney recommends using LinkedIn to find people to connect with, the goal should be to move it offline to a face-to-face conversation as quickly as possible.

Ibrahim-Taney said: "Be direct with your ask, when you are available, and what you want from someone."

Step 6: Prep for Job Interviews

Good news: You've reached the job interview stage.

While you may be in a new career field, virtual and in-person interviews are the same. As long as you've practiced your "tell me about yourself" speech and are ready to discuss your past work as it relates to this new opportunity, you're good to go.

Ibrahim-Taney also recommends asking a few questions to help you figure out if this career, team, company, or way of work is right for you. A few examples include:

Step 7: Analyze Your Job Offers

So you’ve networked, applied, interviewed and have been offered a position. What next?

Now is a perfect chance to go back to the first steps and remind yourself why you're making a career change and what you want from your next opportunity.

Ibrahim-Taney said one way to streamline this process is to list values that matter to you and give those values a score. Your assessment scale might look something like this:

For each offer, calculate a rating based on your values or wants. Then see which job comes out on top.

"Making a career change is different from getting your first job," Ibrahim-Taney said. " You know you are hirable and you have skills, abilities and experience organizations want. So don’t take the first offer that comes."

Conclusion

A career change is a big move, to say the least. It should be anything but a rush to the finish.

Be intentional and strategic with your career change. Ensure the next step makes sense in your life and career right now and in the long run.

A new career that pays a little less than your current role, but has better opportunities for promotions might be worth the risk in the short term because of where it can lead.

But, above all, remember that each career change is different.

"There is no one right way to progress your career," Ibrahim-Taney said. "Listen to yourself, go after what you want and don’t settle for roles that no longer or will never serve you the way you want or need."


Feature Image: 10'000 Hours / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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