Is it Time to Change Your Career?

changing your career

Changing careers is a process that takes time, preparation, and self-exploration. If you try to cut corners or rush things, your next career can be as ill-fated as your first. That’s why anyone thinking of a career change should form a plan to identify and narrow down their best options.

Thinking of a Career Change?

If you’re unhappy with your career, the first step is to reflect on what you want from your work.

  • What is it you don’t like about your current job?
  • Would you prefer working with people, or in a solitary environment with a flexible schedule?  What do you want from your career?
  • Is there anything you’re great at?
  • What are your skills, preferences, and goals?

Knowing the answer to these questions is critical to ensuring your career change is for the better.

As you’re answering each of these questions, it’s worth tapping into your personal network to see if your friends and family have any valuable input. The people who know you best usually have insight into your strengths and weaknesses, which can be great for getting your career search started in the right direction.

Changing Careers Without Experience

Finding what you want to do is essential, but it’s only the first step.

Whenever you change careers, you’re going to lack experience in your new field. Your qualifications for your next job may not be obvious to either you or hiring managers. That’s why it’s important you determine exactly what skills you have and how they apply to your new line of work.

  • Lean on applicable skills while learning new ones. Maybe you’ve never worked as a social media manager, but you have experience dealing with customers while working in retail. Knowing what existing skills you have can help you determine if you’re qualified, unqualified, or underqualified for a job you want. This can help you identify what skills you need to learn to cover the gaps in your experience. Once you identify those gaps, you can take courses to hone a new skill set for a new career path.
  • Understand the difference between “underqualified” and “unqualified.” Sometimes a company needs a fully qualified employee who can hit the ground running on their first day. Sometimes a company will hire someone who lacks one or two qualifications, knowing the last bits of experience can be learned or trained on the job. You can overcome being underqualified, but if you lack more than one or two qualifications, you’re probably entirely unqualified. In either case, your next step is to identify and develop the qualifications you lack before putting skills on a resume or your career changer cover letter.

The Three Steps to Get Started

Step 1 - Figure Out What You Want To Do

It’s easy to say “I want to be a doctor.” It’s much harder to look at the realities of a career path, and see how comfortable or uncomfortable they make you. Try and learn everything you can about prospective careers that interest you. Checking out salary is important, but don’t forget to think about the day-to-day experience of the job.

Will you work 65 hours a week? Do you have to pursue extra education? Is the industry growing or shrinking? What makes the best people in the industry so great at what they do?

Thinking about questions like these will help you find if you can picture yourself happy and successful in any particular career. You can discover more career opportunities uniquely suited to you by checking out our Career Wizard tool.

Step 2 - Identify Your Skills -- Including “Soft Skills”

Once you have a better idea of what kind of career you want, take an assessment of the skills you currently have. Do you know coding? Can you speak two languages? What have coworkers said about you? Are there achievements or distinctions you’ve won in the past?  

Often, it’s hard to see what skills you’ve developed in a prior career because they’re soft skills. Soft skills include attributes like having a positive attitude, good written and verbal communication skills, problem solving, teamwork, time management, and being able to work under pressure. Did your last job teach you to prioritize, multi-task, or work as a leader? If so, you’ve developed quite a number of soft skills that are attractive and applicable to nearly any job on the market.

Employers are always on the lookout for soft skills. You can teach someone a computer program they don’t know, but it’s far more difficult to teach something like a positive attitude. In fact, one study found the majority of companies say soft skills are as important as hard skills. When you break down your work experience in terms of soft skills, it’s far easier to show a hiring manager how your experience applies to the job you want.

Step 3 - Volunteer to Get Any Must-Have Career Knowledge

If you’re changing careers, there’s a good chance you won’t have all the knowledge or skills needed for the job you want. Figuring out what skills you need to develop can be as simple as looking at a job board and seeing what qualifications are requested. However, if you need to figure out which qualifications you should prioritize developing, it’s a good idea to talk directly to a hiring manager. They can tell you what skills they feel are essential to the job, and which can be learned as you go.

Making yourself more qualified doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school. Internships and volunteering can be great opportunities for you to show real examples of success. When no internship is formally offered, you may find smaller companies are open to the idea of trading labor for experience, if only you ask. Any step you can take to develop real examples of your success tend to be far more valuable than course credit on a transcript.

Understand That Career Changes Take Time

When you know where you want to be, it’s only natural to feel a sense of urgency to get there. But a career change can take time, especially if you’re starting near square one in a new industry. You’ll likely want to develop news skills and expand your list of industry contacts before you begin building job experience.

It can be tempting to cut corners, but making the mistake of misrepresenting yourself to employers will only backfire on you. If you don’t have the skills necessary for a job, it will eventually come to light. As a result, you can lose a new job far faster than you found it and make a terrible first impression in your new industry.

Above all, don’t jump into a different job just because you want to escape your current position. More likely than not, you’ll take a pay cut to end up with a job you’re just as unhappy with. Preparing for a new career takes more than a week or two, it’s something you have to dedicate yourself to. You have to put in the time to develop clear goals if you want to safely guide your career from planning to fruition.