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People are working later in life, and as a result, many are making a career change. While changing careers doesn’t come without its challenges, the good news is a recent national study shows 82% of people over 45 who decided to make a career change were successful in doing so. If you thought changing career at 30 was impossible, this statistic should put your mind at ease.

There are a variety of reasons you may be looking for a career change. Are you currently working in construction? If so, perhaps you’d like to consider going back to school for an engineering degree. Have you been making ends meet without a college degree, but you feel like you’ve outgrown your job? Are you a mom, who has dedicated her career to her kids, but is beginning to research what it will take to get back into the work force? All of these are common reasons for people to begin looking into how to make a career change. It is challenging, but we’re hoping these tips for changing careers will help you as you decide if a new career path is for you.

Tips for a Successful Career Change


How to Transition Careers

Here are 25 tips to get you started on your path to making a career change:

1. Start with a list of pros and cons.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust us, it’s essential to know what you’re looking for. That often starts with evaluating yourself and your current career. Try making a list of the things in your current position you enjoy doing and another list of things you don’t enjoy. While there are pros and cons with every job, this can help you get a better feel for what you want more of — and what you hope to do without.

2. Make a list of your passions.

Passions? Yes, passions. You see, you aren’t completely defined by your career. While it’s important to know what you like and don’t like about your current position, it’s equally as important to know what kinds of things you enjoy doing outside of work. There just might be a way to incorporate these passions into a new career. So, write them all down — whether it’s something you enjoy doing at home with kids, in a volunteer position, or for fun in your own spare time.

82% of people over 45 who decided to make a career change were successful.

3. Examine the lists.

If you find that dealing with certain people is on your job list of cons, a career change may not be what you need — you may just need a job change. It’s important to make the distinction between needing a complete career change and needing a new job opportunity. There are many companies that offer room for advancement — and not all positions are exactly the same at all companies — so make sure your list of pros and cons reflects a true need for a career change. If you think a new job might do the trick, start there.

4. Brainstorm your dream career.

Dream careers aren’t always realistic careers, but they are still worth considering, as there are probably aspects of your dream career you will be able to find. Use your list of pros and cons to start. For example, if you’re doing a lot of hands-on work and are looking for something with a little more project management, would there be a career within your industry that would offer you that management? If so, write it down. What’s your ideal work environment? If you know you need a change but are struggling to know where you want to go from here, check out our blog posts on choosing a career path or recommended careers based on your learning style.

5. Be realistic about your finances.

While it’s OK to dream about your ideal career, you need to stay grounded when it comes to your finances. It’s easy to jump in and say changing your career should begin with going back to school, but the reality is your finances may not allow it. You also may be thinking freelance would be your best option, but that may not give you a consistent income. In many cases, changing careers comes with a temporary pay cut. Make sure you’ve thought about your living expenses and are prepared to balance your ideal career with one that will be sure to provide for you and your family.

6. Do your career research.

Once you’ve decided on a few career options you’re interested in, do some research. Yes, there is always information available online, and that’s a valuable place to start. However, try finding someone in that career who can give you some insight into the pros and cons of the job. Your research should include things like the day-to-day function of the job as well as the industry demand — are there a lot of jobs available? Is the field growing?

Research until you think you've found the career best fit.

7. Choose one career to pursue.

If you can’t decide on one career, you haven’t done enough research. Research until you think you’ve found the best fit. Trying to pursue a few career options can get time-consuming and exhausting. Chances are you’re already juggling a job and a family, so it’s best to put the time you have into pursuing one career.

8. Evaluate your skills.

There are countless skillsets. While some of these skills are learned in a classroom or on the job and may be specific to your current career, chances are some of them may not be unique to your current career. For example, if you’ve been involved in something like project management or you have solid communication skills, those are things that are valuable across a variety of career fields. From what you know about the skills you have and the research you’ve done on the careers you’re interested in, is there any common ground? We bet there is.

9. Consider a second degree or diploma.

If there is a specific degree or certification required for the new careers you are considering, look into it, but don’t jump to any conclusions. As we mentioned before, additional degrees or diplomas cost money, and you don’t want to put yourself in financial hardship for a career change.

If you think furthering education may be a part of changing your career, read our post on a few of the reasons getting a second degree or diploma just might make sense. Don’t forget to consider how going back to school can impact your schedule, too. We offer tips for managing a full-time schedule and school in another one of our blog posts for you to check out.

10. Don’t forget professional exams.

Many careers require passing exams in addition to a certain degree or diploma. For example, with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, there are several career options, but you need to pass your EIT exam, and then the PE exam before you can really move up the ladder. Have you done the research for your field? These exams can be time consuming and also may cost you money if your employer doesn’t cover them. Make sure you know exactly what’s required, not just for entry-level positions, but also for taking on more responsibility once you transition to a new career.

11. Shadow before you make a final decision.

There’s a reason high school and college students are encouraged to job shadow and/or get an internship. Academic advisors want to make sure these students know what they’re getting into and really do enjoy the career they are considering.

While you may be looking for a career change at 30 or 40, this step remains the same. You can read all about new careers, but until you’re in the field with someone in a similar position, observing (and talking to them about) their day-to-day functions, you don’t have a true feeling for the career. Don’t like what you see? It’s much better to discover that now than when you’ve made a significant investment of time (and money). Re-evaluate and pick another career to shadow.

12. Talk to a mentor.

While you’re job shadowing, take time to talk about the requirements for the job and room for advancement, but don’t forget to ask what part of their job they absolutely hate. Why? Because you need to make sure you’re going into this knowing exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

Even if your new career doesn’t require an investment of your money, it is sure to be an investment of time. Make sure you have a clear view of what this new career path looks like — having it sugar-coated now will only lead you to disappointment later.

13. Take on a volunteer opportunity.

While it can be challenging to make any sort of career change quickly (you’re going to need to be patient), you may be able to find a volunteer position related to your new career fairly quickly. If you can squeeze the time into your schedule, we recommend diving into a volunteer position that is related to your new career or with an organization that may have connections in your new career.

While job shadowing is valuable, this can give you an even better feel for your new career, and it can start giving you some related experience you can list on your resume. Plus, it can help satisfy your craving to dive into your new adventure.

You may be able to find a volunteer position related your new career fairly quickly.

14. Map out your new career path.

This step is so important. Map out an action plan with all of the steps you need to take and the time period you want to achieve each of the steps in. If there’s a cost associated with the step (for example beginning to take classes to pursue a new degree), include the financial impact as well.

15. Review your career plan with a mentor or advisor.

You can map out your new career path in great detail, but if it doesn’t include all the necessary education and experience to get you to your new career, then it’s worthless. Make sure once you have a plan, you review it with someone in the field who you trust (it just might be the person you shadowed on the job).

If going back to school is part of the plan, a career advisor at the college or university can help validate your plan. It’s also a good idea to make sure the financial impact you have is correct. Once you start a career change, you want to be certain you know exactly what it’s going to take to get there — minimizing surprises along the way.

16. Stay accountable.

This career change isn’t going to happen overnight. Chances are you’ll need to stick with your current job, at least part-time until you’ve gotten all of the qualifications you need to actually make a career move. It’s easy to get off path and to get frustrated with things taking time. Keep yourself accountable to the timeline in your career plan, however, and be patient.

17. Discover your connections.

While it is very important to have the right skillset and education for the career you’re trying to pursue, we’d be doing you a disservice if we ended there. The reality is, connections can get you far. So, as you’re making your way through that career plan, start thinking of who you, your friends and your family know. Are there any connections in the field you’re looking to pursue? If so, this is no time to be shy — find out who they are, reach out to them, and start asking what opportunities they are aware of.

18. Research professional organizations.

Another great way to make connections in a new career path is through professional organizations. Are there any organizations in your new career field that would be worth exploring, and possibly joining? Do some of your own research, but also ask around. There may be some national organizations that can help with professional development, as well as local organizations that can help you get connected.

19. Make a list of job requirements.

When you’re nearing the end of your career plan and are getting ready to begin job searching and officially making the change, make a list of things you need in a new job in addition to a list of things you want. These things could be a salary requirement range, benefits you want to have, paid time off, flexible schedule, or further education opportunities. They could also be more specific to your new career, perhaps ideally a certain percentage of time in the field versus in the office. The ultimate goal is to know what you need in a new career and what you want. This will help you evaluate job listings and job offers, so it’s an essential step.

20. Develop your pitch.

Once you have a solid idea of what your job requirements are, it’s time to develop your pitch. Regardless of what industry you’re pursuing a career in, this is important. Your pitch will be useful as part of your applications, interviews, and networking events. Outside of all of that formal job search stuff, you never know when you may find yourself talking to someone who has a job opening. You’ll need to briefly articulate why you’re the person for the job. Include strengths in the skills you have that would be beneficial to this new career.

Your pitch will be useful as part of your applications, interviews, and networking events.

21. Find and attend networking events.

If you’re having trouble finding preexisting connections, it’s time to start networking. Do you belong to any organizations, or do you know of any networking events in your area? Find them and start attending. It may be uncomfortable at first, but the reality is it really helps to put yourself out there and get to know people in the industry. It’s an opportunity to use your pitch, and — who knows — if you pitch to the right person, you just may have yourself an interview.

22. Revamp your resume.

You may have a lot of previous experience in another field, but if it’s unrelated, how is it going to help? The reality is that signs of longevity and loyalty to any employer, as well as some of your skillsets, transcend career paths. If you can demonstrate your success and tie skills and experience from your old career to your new career, that’s ideal. Try to think of what you did well in your old career and how that could translate to success in your new career. If you need a template and a brief review, visit our blog post on resume templates.

23. Search for jobs.

While job searching online has become the norm, it’s important not to neglect those connections you made through job shadowing and networking. Once you’re searching for jobs in your new career, send notes to any connections you have who may know of openings in your new field. Don’t forget that pitch — it can come in handy as you are sending notes to these connections.

24. Dress the part.

A new career may mean a new standard for dress. Make sure you’re aware of the expectations before you find yourself at your first interview. You want to be sure to dress the part. First impressions are made quickly, so take the time to learn the wardrobe expectations and make sure you are dressed for success.

25. Learn how to talk about your career change.

When you’re considering how to switch careers, remember it isn’t over once you’re searching for jobs in the new field. Rather, you need to have a plan for how you’re going to talk about your career change to potential employers. After all, your career change will be apparent to the people you’re interviewing with. Make sure you have spent time reviewing how you can relate success in your previous career to success in your new career. Also, be prepared to discuss how the skills you have will translate to this new career path.

We hope our career change advice will help you as you determine whether or not a new career is for you. Figuring out how to change careers can be overwhelming, but you need to be thorough. The investment of time, energy, and money it takes to change careers can be significant, and you want to be sure your new career is one that will make you happy. Have you recently changed careers? Share your keys to success in the comments.

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