Need a New Career? How to Make a Career Change

According to Fast Company, over 50% of Americans planned to change jobs in 2021.  The pandemic created opportunities for many to reexamine their work and consider alternative paths. 

Whether you’re changing your career to follow your passion, gain more flexibility and work/life balance, or make more money, preparing well for your career change makes all the difference.

In this article, we’ll cover how to choose your next career, how to create a transition plan, and how to research and network in your new field. 

What should you do for a new career?

Some people begin a career transition with a specific job in mind, others know what field they want to break into but don’t have a specific role. Sometimes, all you know is that you need a change.

Even if you already have an idea of what you want,  there are a few important factors to consider when choosing a new career.

What work do you enjoy?

The best way to find a job you’ll enjoy and find fulfilling is to reflect on the work you’ve done in the past. Look back on previous jobs and ask what type of tasks and working conditions you prefer. 

For example, perhaps you found that you like planning projects and campaigns but dread having to perform ongoing project management tasks. What parts of your jobs have you seen as rewarding or meaningful? Looking back on your career, what have been high points and why?

Along with types of work, it’s important to reflect on the working conditions under which you perform best. Do you prefer to work collaboratively or on your own? Do you find frequent check-ins with managers and colleagues helpful? Do you like consistency or thrive on varied assignments? 

list of questions for choosing a new career

Make a list of both the kinds of work you like and the working conditions you prefer. You can then compare this list to some of the new careers you’ve been considering. The good news is that most industries have a wide variety of roles, so if your original goal doesn’t align with your needs, you can look for a related position. If you don’t have a specific role or industry in mind, you can search for jobs with some of the qualities most important to you, like “fast-paced jobs” or “jobs with flexible hours.”

Google search bar with query for jobs with flexible hours
If you don’t know what job you want, you can start with the qualities you like.

Compensation and benefits

Most people don’t change careers because their current job pays too well. If pay is a big reason for your transition, this should be a big part of your reflection and research. Even if your job transition isn’t primarily for money, you still need to consider the financial landscape of a new career. 

List of new career compensation questions

Having identified some industries or positions in which you are interested, start researching their average compensation. There are many free resources, like Glassdoor and Comparably, that offer salary estimates and averages for a wide range of positions. The trouble, however, is that most of their data is unverified and therefore not the most reliable. 

Speaking with a recruiter or career coach is another way to understand how your career interests and compensation expectations align. These experts can also point you toward opportunities you might not have considered.

Growth opportunities and the industry’s future

The kind of work you do and the compensation you receive are essential factors in planning a career change. But you should also look to the future, particularly if you plan to stay in your new field for many years.

Research the current and future states of the industries you are considering. Is the field growing? Dying? Transforming? You can’t predict the future, of course, but look at business and industry publications to see what kind of changes employers and workers are planning for. For example, if you wanted to begin a career as a realtor, it would be smart to understand how artificial intelligence and automated advisors are impacting the field.

How to start a career change

Once you have an idea of what your new career will be, you can start the process of making that shift. Here’s how to learn quickly and adapt yourself to break into your new occupation.

Research your new field

Having researched the compensation and future opportunities in your new field, you can now learn how to get started. You can start by asking what specific role you can begin with. Then research what formal education or training you need (if any). If you want to become a licensed counselor, for example, many states require a master’s degree and a certain number of hours of supervised experience.

Perhaps your existing education overlaps a great deal with your new career. In that case, you should consider what kind of experience employers expect. Job descriptions for your new role are the perfect place to find out what employers expect.

You can do a lot to adapt your existing resume to mirror a position you want, but you may need to gain experience, either in your current job or through volunteer or recreational projects. 

Start making a list of the classes, skills, or experience you need for your new job. There are some jobs where you need to pass tests or achieve certifications, so be sure to note those as well. This list of required (or recommended) preparation will be important for your next step.

Three illustrations of requirements for new careers

Along with this list of qualifications and experience, it’s extremely useful to get in contact with people in your intended field and ask how they got started. They may be able to tell you about pathways and opportunities that aren’t as well known. Moreover, you can learn what skills and qualifications are most important. For example, many coding and development jobs will accept candidates who have less formal education if they have an impressive portfolio.

Make a career transition plan

People who write down goals are more likely to achieve them. That’s why writing out a career transition plan is such a powerful move.

This is where you take your research and turn it into action. Start with the things that must be done (classes, certifications, tests)  and make a plan and schedule for tackling those. There are lots of free or inexpensive courses available on platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning. With concrete qualifications like this, you can set deadlines for yourself. 

The next step in your career transition plan will be gaining experience and soft skills you’ll need for your new career. Identify ways to gain experience (volunteering, freelancing, etc.) and track what you work on. For fields like graphic design and writing, building a portfolio of work will be very important. 

Your career transition plan can help get you where you want to go, but there will probably be setbacks. Research shows that anticipating and planning how you’ll respond to these challenges makes you more likely to reach your goals. Think through what life events could delay or complicate your transition and brainstorm ways to manage and overcome these challenges.

Build your personal brand and network

If you want people to see you as a certain type of professional, it helps to give them clear signals. If you want to move into a career as a software engineer, tell people. In today’s digital world, that means cultivating an online presence that communicates your interests and goals.

One of the fastest and simplest ways to get people thinking about you in the context of your new career is by updating your LinkedIn and other social media profiles to reflect it. Use titles and keywords that show up in job posts that interest you.

Twitter bio for Maureen Kyne
Use social media bios to tell people about your career interests.

You can also spread your name and connect with people by commenting and sharing. You will not only be placing yourself in conversations with the right people, but by reading, considering, and responding, you will learn and develop a deeper knowledge of your field.

Discussion on LinkedIn between colleagues
Add a meaningful comment to an online discussion to start making connections.

Digital branding and networking is important, but don’t forget how valuable in-person connections are. Look for in-person mixers, talks, and industry events. LinkedIn, Meetup, and Eventbrite are great for finding these events. Again, you’ll not only encounter new opportunities, but you’ll also learn about the state of your field.

Change your career, change your life

This might sound like a lot of work, but your career is a big part of your life and it’s worth investing in. Some work upfront can place you on a path you are passionate about. Not to mention, you don’t have to do it all at once. 

Throughout the process, keep returning to and reevaluating your priorities. And keep in mind that your first position in your new field might not be exactly what you want. It could, however, be the doorway to your dream job.