Gone are the days of punching a clock with one company for your entire career. Switching careers multiple times, in fact, is becoming the norm for Americans. According to a longitudinal study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that focused on young baby boomers (people born from 1957 to 1964), workers held an average of 12 jobs between the ages of 18 and 52.
The digital age has made switching careers more accessible than ever. Job skills that once existed in silos from industry to industry now transition more readily between them, and the ability to connect across time zones and international borders has opened a new realm of employment opportunities.
If your passion is calling and you’re wondering how to switch careers, we have answers. Read on to discover actionable tips for changing careers and determine whether a professional shakeup is the right move for you.
What to consider when switching careers
When deciding to switch career paths, it’s important to take some time and assess your current position. Think about your skillset and what you enjoy doing, and then determine if there’s a way you can find a job that will include more of your strengths. Take a deep look at your financials and plan for some transitional time when your salary might not be as strong. Especially if you support multiple people, you want to make sure you save up some money for emergencies during the transition so you don’t find yourself in a bad financial spot.
Switching career paths is possible at any stage of life, but you want to make sure you can devote the time and energy to learning something new. If you are struggling with work/life balance in your current position, consider how much time you’ll have to spend to get up to speed on something new.
When brainstorming other career paths you might enjoy, it’s essential to learn more about the current job market and environment. Technology is changing the way work is done in many industries and fields. Consider what a job might look like in five or ten years, and decide if that’s still the direction you want to head in.
Next, we will dive into the actual steps to take if you are ready to take the plunge and make a change.
How to switch your career path
Understand your motivations
If you’re considering changing careers, the first step is to look at what’s motivating your itch to switch. You’re obviously dissatisfied with one or more aspects of your current position, but why?
Are you burned out? This is one of the most common reasons professionals start thinking about a career change, but a new line of work isn’t necessarily the answer. It doesn’t matter how much you love your job if you work yourself into the ground.
Studies have repeatedly shown that workers need breaks—short ones, like personal days, and long ones, like vacations—to stay motivated and maintain a positive relationship with work. If you don’t have boundaries to avoid burnout, it will inevitably happen again, even in a different job. If burnout is your primary motivation for wanting to change careers, consider seeking solutions to address its root cause before throwing in the towel with your current job.
Is it a problem with your boss, your pay, the company culture, or some other factor at your current organization driving you to leave? If it’s a toxic work environment or one where you don’t feel valued, could a move to a better employer solve your unhappiness? Remember, there are bad apples in every industry, and switching careers doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll wind up with a company that checks all the boxes on your ‘dream employer’ list.
Are you realizing that you fundamentally dislike your job and its responsibilities? Are you discovering that your chosen career path isn’t what you thought it would be, or that your priorities have shifted significantly from the time you started down this path? Do you have a moral or ethical conflict with your work? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ a career change might be warranted.
Assess where your interests and skills overlap
If you already know what job you want to switch to, you can skip ahead to the next item on this list. If you’re unsure what it is you want to do next, though, keep reading.
We advise candidates who are looking to make a career change to take a detailed assessment of their interests and skills. In most cases, there will be places where these two areas overlap—these are the sweet spots for passion-driven careers.
First, begin by listing out your interests. Don’t hold back. Write down everything you love to do, from planning parties to playing golf. Don’t forget to include the parts of your current job that you like.
Next, make a list of things you’re good at doing. This might include hard skills, like keeping a balanced budget, and soft skills, like being a great listener. It can be helpful to tap friends or trusted colleagues to help pinpoint your biggest talents.
When you’ve completed both lists, compare them side by side. You’re looking for opportunities to pair up items from the two lists. For example, maybe you wrote down ‘home decorating’ on your list of interests and ‘customer service’ on your list of skills. In this case, a client-facing role at an interior design firm might be right up your alley. Looking at this broad list of careers grouped by category may also help you to pinpoint areas where your interests and skills intersect.
Research the market
Once you have an idea of the role you want to land, it’s time to take stock of the industry. The goal of this step is to determine what it will realistically take to break into a new career in your desired field.
Here are some questions to consider before switching careers:
- What kind of jobs in this field are available in your geographic area?
- Would relocating be required, and is that something you’re willing to consider?
- What does the job outlook for this role look like on a national level?
- What’s the average salary for this role, and how does it change as you advance in the field?
- What are the barriers to entry in this industry?
- How long would it take to “catch up” to your current salary and leadership level?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great resource to learn about salaries, job prospects, education, and experience required for specific roles.
It’s also a good idea to network with people in the field you’re looking to enter. Informational interviews will help you gain invaluable input about the day-to-day realities of the job you want.
This can be the toughest step in figuring out how to switch careers: gaining experience. Depending on what field you’re transitioning to, you may be starting from zero regarding building experience.
First, seek out opportunities within your desired industry designed to build experience, like internships or exploratory programs. In certain fields like healthcare and education, volunteering may be a viable option and also comes with the benefit of helping you make valuable connections at an organization you’re interested in.
If you already possess some of the skills needed to get started in your intended field, you might take on freelance work as a side hustle or even consider working for free in exchange for experience to build your resume. You may need to get creative and give up early mornings, nights and/or weekends, but building experience before you start applying can go a long way to landing the job you want.
Polish your resume
Now it’s time to give your resume a makeover. It’s not sufficient to start applying with the same resume you’ve been using for years in your current field. Instead, you’ll want to rework it to frame your accomplishments in a way relevant to the new field you’re entering.
For example, let’s say you’re an office manager, but you’re looking to break into the field of graphic design. You might highlight how you facilitated communication between different parties, oversaw the development of visual marketing materials for the office, or solved problems for customers, all of which would be relevant skills for success in a graphic design role.
The only thing left to do to achieve your goal of changing careers is to start applying. Prospective employers will likely be curious about the shift in your career trajectory, so be prepared to discuss it in interviews.
You don’t need to give your interviewer your life story when explaining why you’re making the shift—in fact, you should avoid oversharing. But you do want to answer the inevitable question in an honest and forthcoming way. Here are some examples of things you might cite when framing your explanation:
- I’ve admired the work [hiring company] does for a long time, and this position seemed like a promising opportunity for me to play a role in that mission.
- I accomplished a lot in my role as [X], but I feel ready for a new challenge. I can see that opportunity here because [Y].
- I was really drawn to [some aspect of your previous work], but it was only a minor part of my current role. This role seems like a great opportunity to expand my work in that area while being an asset to [company].
- When I started my career in [previous field], I was interested in [X]. Since then, I’ve found that my skills are much better suited to [Y], and this role allows me to use those skills.
Remember, humans aren’t one-dimensional, so there’s no reason your multifaceted skills can only be applied to a single career choice. The more you can clearly show your interviewer how your talents gained in previous roles can be applied to your new ones, the greater your chance of success.
How do I know when it’s the right time to switch careers?
Many factors might prompt a career change. It might be time if you are unhappy in your current career path or want to learn some new skills. You might finally be ready to pursue a longtime dream. There is no one right reason for making a change.
What are the steps to take to switch careers?
Do your research first when considering switching career paths. Learn the skills and experience required and put together a drafted plan on how to acquire those things. Once you update your resume, start applying.
How can I connect and network with others to learn more about different careers?
Utilize online resources, like LinkedIn and other social media sites, to find people currently working in the industry you want to transition to. Connect with them, ask questions, and learn more about their daily routine and career path.
Which resources and tools are best when interested in switching career paths?
Knowledge is key when it comes to switching career paths. Learn as much as you can about the new career path and gain experience in any way you can. The more you can show that you understand what you’re switching to, the more confidence you’ll show in an interview.