How to Change Careers In 5 Steps
Learn how to make a career change in five steps plus get tips on your career change resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile.Build a Career Change Resume
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Many career changers are ready to take the leap, but they don’t know where to start. On the other hand, if you’ve been in your career for a while, you might worry that it’s too late. Do you feel stuck?
The fact is, you should be able to find a job that you love and that makes you feel fulfilled. This guide on how to change careers will help you do exactly that.
With insights and advice from Monica Fochtman, PhD, CPRW, a Career Coach and Certified Resume Expert who specializes in mid-career changes, this step-by-step guide will show you exactly how to change careers in five steps.
How to Make a Career Change:
Step 1 - Determine if a career change is the right decision
The first step is to decide if changing careers is actually what you need. Monica Fochtman, a career coach who specializes in mid-career changes, says this is where many people start off on the wrong foot. “I think a lot of people say ‘career’ when they mean ‘job’, and some people say ‘job’ when they mean ‘career’.”
What is a career change?
A career change means choosing a job in a different industry or field from where you currently are. For example, you might currently be a school teacher. You could switch careers and use your skills to become project manager. If you got another job as a teacher, principal, or other kind of school educator, you haven’t made a career change, you’ve made a job change.
“‘Career’ is really more expansive, more robust, whereas a job is part of a career.”
Are you looking for a new job, something within the field you’re currently in, or do you want to shift into a new industry entirely?
You can make the right decision by thinking of what parts of your current job that you want to change.
Are you in a toxic work situation? Are you being abused, gaslighted, or bullied? Does your pay not match your market value? Does your company’s benefits, values, or structure not fit your needs?
All of these are a sign that you are most likely looking for a different job.
On the other hand, are you burned out from your regular day-to-day tasks? Do you not enjoy the projects you work on? Does your market average pay not satisfy your needs?
These are signs that you need to change careers.
Write down what it is that you need to change about your situation and ask yourself, “Can I get these with a new job within my field?” If not, then it’s time for a career change.
How to determine if you are a good candidate for a career change
How do you know if you’re in a situation where a career change makes sense? “There are so many factors,” said Monica, “ Age, time, geography, industry. Are you in a situation where you have a house and a mortgage and a partner and kids? Not everyone has the freedom to or is willing to take the risk, quite honestly, to go all in on a career change.”
Making a career change is a process. Monica describes it as a journey. “Very rarely is it linear. I use the word iterative, so it’s a lot of circling back on itself.” So, first, make sure you’re in a situation that will allow for some changes or bumps along the way.
Step 2: List your skills and decide which ones you want to lean into
Once you’ve decided that a new career path will bring the results you’re looking for, it’s time to determine which career to change to.
How do you do that?
The temptation might be to start looking at job boards or job descriptions. According to career coach Monica Fochtman, that’s a mistake.
“A lot of people are doing it backwards. So they say, ‘I’m frustrated, I’m underpaid, I’m overworked. I’m ready to search.’ And then they go to LinkedIn or Indeed or Zip Recruiter or any one of the job board sites, and they start to search by title. ‘I’m a project manager, so I’m going to keep doing project management.’ Well, you’re just going to keep going into the same well, and you’re going to get the same results. Whereas a better strategy is to figure out your strengths first and then lead with those.”
The fact is, there might be careers or industries that you don’t know about yet that sound totally different from what you do, but are actually a good fit based on your skills.
“And a lot of times I’ll start a conversation with my clients by saying, ‘What are you good at? What do you like doing? What do people commonly come to you for?’ The sweet spot would be the overlap of ‘this is what I like’, ‘this is what I’m good at’. Because that’s a common mistake that people make is they lead with all of the things that they are good at, even if those are the things that they don’t like doing.”
So, don’t start with job titles or job descriptions. Start with you. What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing?
When you list your strengths or skills, think in broad terms. Don’t think about specific tasks that you are good at. Zoom out to the overall skill or strength you’ve developed.
For example, if you’re currently a school educator, you might be inclined to connect your strengths with your current duties. Your list of strengths might include things like teaching, preparing lesson plans, classroom management, holding effective parent teacher meetings, and tracking student progress.
What kind of jobs do you think you’ll be offered if those are the strengths listed on your resume?
Another school educator job, right?
If you want to change your career path and shift away from being a school educator, you’ll need to think of your strengths separately from your duties.
An educator’s strengths include public speaking, project management, leadership, giving feedback, and data analysis and reporting. Think about it: those are the same skills listed above, but separated from the responsibilities of a teacher.
So list all of your hard and soft skills first.
Next, decide which ones you enjoy. Which ones do you want to use the most in your next career?
This is key, according to Monica. “Don’t hang your hat on all of the things that you used to do just because you used to do them. A lot of times their collateral will be full of all of the things that they don’t want to do now. So, they are constantly talking about how they responded to a crisis or this situation happened when I was on duty, and this is how I addressed it. And so then I say to them, ‘Okay, great, but you have said in your next role that you don’t want to do that anymore. You’re still good at it, but it’s not relevant to where you want to go next.”
Out of 10 skills, you might use 8 of them most of the time in your current career. But are those the 8 you want to focus on in your next career? There might be 5 out of the 10 that you want to focus on, or 3 out of the 10.
Determine which hard and soft skills you want to use the most and focus on those while going through the process of changing careers.
Step 3: Explore your career options
Now you’re ready to explore new careers based on your strengths and your needs.
How do you find out what’s out there?
Monica’s suggestion? Networking and information interviewing.
Talk to everyone in your network about their job. And don’t limit yourself to close friends or family. Contact former co-workers, friends of friends, and LinkedIn connections. Ask people for referrals. Do they know anyone who would be open to talking about their current career?
Cast a wide net. Start broad. Don’t close off any opportunities. Talk to people in various industries and ask them what their job is like. At this stage, you’re just getting as much information as possible.
Here are some questions to ask:
- What is your job like? What’s a typical workday like?
- What skills do you use the most on a day-to-day basis?
- What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
- What do you find most enjoyable?
- How did you get your job? What was your career path?
- What are some salaries for the roles I’m looking at?
- Why do people leave this field or company?
- What is a typical path for this career?
- Does your work involve any lifestyle changes, such as frequent travel or late-night work?
- What personal attributes would you say are essential for success?
As you do more informational interviews, you’ll be able to narrow down your options.
Monica calls this going through the funnel. “If you think of a funnel, it’s really wide at the top, and then as you funnel through, it gets smaller and smaller.”
After you’ve done several interviews, both formal informational interviews and even chats with friends or connections on social media, make a list of the careers you’ve discovered.
“I encourage my clients to make lists: Yes, No, Maybe. And a lot of times in those first two sessions, especially, the No list is longer than the Yes list,” said Monica. That’s fine too. The goal is to narrow down your options. If you have clear No’s and clear Yes’s, then you’re on the right track.
Just make sure that the careers on your Yes list correspond to your skills that you want to lean into.
Step 4: Choose a new career
Now it’s time to make a choice. It might seem scary, but remember that this is a journey. There might be a few iterations of your career change, according to Monica.
“It’s pretty rare, at least with my clients, that the next gig is the forever gig. Usually what happens is they will make a leap, they’ll make the first step. A lot of them make another leap. It wasn’t wrong, they didn’t make a mistake, but they continued to go through that funnel and they figured out, ‘Oh, this isn’t what I thought’. Or they will get promoted within and advance more quickly in their new space. A lot of my clients are in their next role, one to two years, and then they’ve moved on again.”
You can also use the job interview process to make a more educated decision. If you’re deciding between a couple of careers, apply for jobs in both fields and ask discerning questions in the interview to see if it’s a good fit.
Step 5: Create or update your collateral
Speaking of job interviews, you’ll need to update your collateral for your new career path. Optimize your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile to match the jobs you’re applying for.
This is important for all job seekers, but especially career changers. Your work experience will stay the same, but your hard and soft skills, job descriptions, and bio or summary statement will probably all change. Frame your experience in a way that showcases your transferable skills and your new interests.
Here are a few tips for each piece of collateral.
Career Change Resume Tips:
- Focus your summary statement on transferable skills, rather than specific experience.
- Use the hybrid resume format so that you can showcase your skills first without relying too much on them, which might make recruiters think you have something to hide.
- Carefully review the job listing to see which skills are important to the hiring manager that match your transferable skills.
- Use your job descriptions to highlight your skills rather than duties.
Career Change Cover Letter Tips:
- Write confidently about your ability to transition to a new role.
- Communicate what your unique experience can bring to the company.
- Highlight your transferable skills.
- Be specific about why you’re a good fit for the role.
Career Change LinkedIn Profile Tips:
- Use your headline to cite transferrable skills and certifications or degrees.
- Don’t shy away from telling your career change story in your About section. Confidently explain why you chose your new career and why you know it’s a good fit.
- Study several job descriptions and include keywords or skills that you see repeated over and over.
- Use your Work Experience section to showcase the skills needed to do each job, not necessarily what you did.
Finally, consider practicing for common job interview questions so that you have updated answers based on your new career and not your old one. Be ready to confidently speak about your career change. There’s no need to hide. Practice clearly articulating why you’re making the change, what transferable skills will make you an asset to the company, and why your career change journey is a strength, not a weakness.
With the information you’ve gathered from your conversations and interviews, a clear understanding of your skills and strengths, and newly updated collateral, you’re ready to begin your career change journey.
You might still have some lingering questions about how to change careers.
Is your resume optimized for your new career?View full results and optimize your resume
Can I change careers without going back to school?
Monica’s answer is simple. “Yes, 100%. You absolutely can.”
Of course, if you want to be a nurse or a lawyer, a degree is required for that. But there are plenty of careers that don’t require long-term education. If you’re looking at a career that requires some basic training, there are plenty of online platforms that offer on-demand learning for many fields.
In addition, there are other ways to demonstrate those skills without going back to school. Ten years of experience as a school teacher, for example, is a great way to demonstrate that you have project management skills, even if you don’t have the degree or certification.
How old is too old to change careers?
Monica says there’s really no age that’s too late.
“Maybe the caveat would be ‘How close are you to retirement?’ So, for example, maybe you’re 60 and you are fortunate and you can retire in five years at 65. Should you make a career change? I don’t know. It’s hard to say.”
That’s a personal decision to make.
Although ageism is a concern as we get older, there is no limit to what age a person CAN make a career change.
Common career change mistakes
Here are Monica’s top 4 mistakes people make when trying to change careers.
Leading with old messaging. “They’re leading with the top three skills in their old space instead of the top three in their new space. So they haven’t rebranded, they haven’t gone through the process to think strategically about, ‘Ok, this is what served me in my old industry, but that’s not what’s going to serve me in my new industry’.”
Outdated collateral. “Resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, interview answers that aren’t updated. The resume especially has to match the target. People have documents that speak the language of their old industry, and you need to flip it so that it matches your new industry.”
Casting an unfocused net. “When you’re doing informational interviews, you want a wide net, but when you’re applying for jobs, you want a smaller net. You’re better off submitting fewer, stronger applications than ‘spaghetti at the wall’ to see what sticks.”
Starting with specific job titles rather than informational interviews. “What happens there is that the titles don’t transfer. And there’s so much jargon in postings that if you’re only looking at the posting and you’re only looking at the title, you’re going to get frustrated really quickly and then you’ll lose momentum and then you’ll give up.”
More Career Change Guides
Career Change FAQs
What is a career switch?
A career switch means choosing a job in a different industry or field from where you currently are. For example, you might currently be a school teacher. You could switch careers and use your skills to become project manager. If you got another job as a teacher, principal, or other kind of school educator, you haven’t made a career change, you’ve made a job change.
How to switch your career path
According to career coach Monica Fochtman, switching your career path takes five steps:
- Determine if you need a career change or simply a job change
- Determine your transferable skills and which ones you want to lean into
- Explore your career options through informational interviews
- Choose a career based on interviews and research
- Create or update your collateral – resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile.
How do I write a resume to change careers?
- Use the hybrid resume format for a career change resume.
- Focus your summary statement and job descriptions on your transferable skills.
- Highlight your broad skills and strengths in your job descriptions rather than your specific duties.
- Use commonly mentioned keywords from the job listing in your resume copy.
Where do I start if I want to change my career?
The first step is to determine if a career change is what you need or if a new job will solve the problems you’re dealing with. Once you’ve made that determination, then you should make a list of all of your hard and soft skills and choose which ones you want to use the most in your next career. You might be good at something in your current career, but if you don’t enjoy doing that, then don’t focus on that skill when searching for a new career.
What is a good reason for a career change?
- Your current career doesn’t offer the salary advancement you need
- Your interests have changed
- There’s uncertainty about the future of your industry
- You want to focus on other skills you’ve developed
- You don’t enjoy the work in your current field and have no interest in it
- You want to pursue a “dream job”
- You enjoy challenging yourself
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