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.
- Changing careers is more involved than switching jobs.
- This step-by-step guide takes you through the process of making the transition.
- Career experts share advice on everything from upskilling to networking.
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?
www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Ready to start your journey?
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:
- What am I good at?
- What am I passionate about?
- What do I like about my current role?
- What's missing?
- What do I want more of? Less of?
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:
- Do these careers align with your values and goals?
- Do you have the experience to fit the role?
- Do you need additional training or qualifications?
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?
"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.
“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:
- What have others done to be successful in this job?
- How does this particular team like to celebrate big successes and wins as a team?
- What do most people do after this position? Do they move up within the company or move into different areas?
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:
- Pay: 0-25 points
- Work environment flexibility: 0-25 points
- Good, fun culture: 0-25 points
- Opportunities for promotion: 0-25 points
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."
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
Top 12 Jobs for Career Changers in 2022
The Best and Worst States to Change Your Career
BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Compare your school options.
View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.