7 Steps To A Successful Career Change

Apr 11, 2024

When we’re young, it often seems like we’ll have one career—maybe a lot of different jobs, but all in basically the same field.

After working for a few years, however, a lot of people realize they don’t actually align with their career. Or they’re doing something they’re interested in, but would rather be working in a different industry. Some people may even be forced to pivot as their industry changes.

There are a wide variety of reasons you might choose to make a pivot, but they all boil down to the same thing—you need a career change.

And while it can seem daunting to break into a new field where you don’t have much direct experience, it’s entirely possible.

In this guide, we’ve highlighted questions, along with resources, that you can ask to make sure your career change happens as quickly and painlessly as possible.

So, let’s get started.

1. What is my financial situation?

Everyone’s situation going into a career change is different, and it makes sense to get a handle on your finances before taking the next steps.

If you’re unemployed right now:

  • Make sure you’re getting your unemployment benefits if appropriate for you. Figure out how long you’ll be able to use those benefits in addition to any savings, and plan your runway based on that. A recent layoff can be difficult to handle, but we’ve got a guide for that, too.

  • You may be able to postpone payments for your credit card, mortgage, student loans, rent, utilities, and more. If you’re worried about making payments right now, then call your bank or service provider and ask about any policies they have in place for deferred payments.

If you’re still employed:

  • You have a longer runway for your career change, but you’ll have less time to work on it day-to-day. If you’re considering quitting your current job before landing a new one in a different field, be sure you have at least 3-6 months of expenses saved up. In light of the current economy, it may be prudent to have even more—this article helps break it down for you.

2. How do I know if a career change is right for me?

If you’re just beginning to think about a career change, then you should seriously reflect on what’s pushing you away from your current career and what you hope to get out of this change.

  • If you have an idea of the career you want to break into, then talk to people in that role or industry to learn more about it. You might feel more strongly about making the change, or you might realize you need to think about your next step more carefully. Whatever the case, you’ll be glad you got the information before taking the leap.

  • Also, ask yourself if you’re motivated by a desire to change industries or a need to change how you work in your current field. Plenty of people are in the right industry, but don’t align with the type of work they’re doing at their 9-5. Would you be happier if you were a freelancer with more autonomy over your work?

It could be something else entirely that’s pointing you toward a career change. The important thing is to take time to reflect on your motivations and understand them.

3. How do I choose a new career and industry?

If you already know what you want to do, that’s great. But if all you know is that you need to be doing something different, that’s okay, too.

  • You can start by checking out some of these resources on different industries and career paths.

  • Identify skills that are highest in demand. Check out lists like the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. right now. Just keep in mind that we’re currently in a very turbulent period. For instance, healthcare workers are being laid off in the midst of a pandemic because non-essential surgeries and care are being suspended. Indeed has created an analysis you can use to track job market trends right now, and it’s a good idea to carefully examine any projections for the future before making a decision.

  • Cross-reference those in-demand skills with the type of work you’ll enjoy. Ask yourself, “What projects do I enjoy most? Why?” While a certain income is necessary for stability and safety, money shouldn’t be your only consideration. A big paycheck is nice, but don’t sacrifice your mental health by entering a career or industry that doesn’t align with your working style or lifestyle requirements.

4. How do I break into a new career and industry?

You already have the best tool possible for making a career change: your network. Your existing network is a great place to start looking for help. Simply put, you have to let people know you’re looking for help if you want them to help you.

  • If you’re unemployed at the moment, then you can easily spread the news of your transition far and wide through LinkedIn and by reaching out to friends, family, former colleagues, school alumni, and anyone else in your network. Remember, just because they may work in your current field, that doesn’t mean they won’t have contacts in the field you’re trying to break into.

  • If you’re currently employed, then you may need to be a little more careful if you don’t want your current employer knowing—probably no LinkedIn announcements for you. But you can still reach out to everyone mentioned above.

  • In either case, these two articles have a number of tips for breaking into a new industry without direct experience.

5. How can I stand out as an applicant with no experience in a particular field?

  • The best way to stand out as an applicant is by getting a referral. Not only is this the best way to get hired, but it also sets you apart from the large number of online applications coming in.

  • Referrals come through networking. If you’re a little anxious about reaching out and asking people for help, here are a few tips to get you started.

  • You likely have a number of skills that are transferable from your last career. For example, communication, project management, collaboration, and time management are all applicable to any role. You can highlight those, along with your accomplishments from your last career, and tailor them to your new industry.

6. How can I quickly gain industry-specific skills I need for the career change?

Only a handful of careers require people to go to grad school; most people really don’t need to go back to school to switch careers.

Start looking into job descriptions for roles in the industry you’d like to join and write down any similarities between descriptions. What do you see popping up over and over again in the Skills or Requirements section? Use those commonalities to help you decide where to “upskill”—learning specific skills that will help you get a job.

There are a number of ways to go about doing this:

  • Bootcamps: Short, intensive learning experiences for skills like coding, for example, have grown in popularity over the last decade. You’ll want to do your research on which bootcamps have the best outcomes for students, but they can be worth it for many people who want to learn a new skill quickly.

  • Free Online Courses: Less rigorous than a bootcamp, free online courses—often offered by accredited universities—offer a path to upskilling that works on your own timeline. If you’re working full-time, this could be a good option for getting the skills you need while working around your schedule.

  • Freelancing: The upside of freelancing is that you can actually make money while you upskill. It may take awhile to get your side business up and running, but if you want to learn more, then check out the guide we wrote about it here.

  • Research and Personal Projects: If you’re interested in a skillset but don’t think you’re ready to start selling your services, there’s no reason you can’t make a personal project out of it. There are plenty of opportunities to work on skills like coding, writing, graphic design, or data analysis on your own. If you have the motivation, you’ll soon have something to show potential employers.