Gone are the days of punching a clock with one company for your entire career. Changing 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 for you. Read on to discover actionable tips for changing careers and determine whether a professional shakeup is the right move for you.
Tips on Switching Career Paths
Ask yourself why you want to switch
The first step if you’re considering changing careers is to take a closer 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’re working yourself into the ground.
Studies have shown again and again that workers need breaks—both 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 in place to avoid burnout, it’s inevitably going to happen again, even in a different job. If burnout is your primary motivating factor for wanting to change careers, consider first 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 that’s 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 the career path you’ve chosen 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 the work you’re doing? If the answer to any of 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 you 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 do some networking 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 what field you’re transitioning to, you may be starting from zero when it comes to building experience.
First, seek out opportunities within your desired industry that are 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 you 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 so that it frames your accomplishments in a way that’s 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 the way 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 a way that’s honest and forthcoming. 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 turned out to be only a minor part of my current role. This role seems like a great opportunity for me 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 is a role where I can put those skills to use.
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 one, the greater your chance of success.