Making a career change is no small decision, especially if you’ve worked with an organization for several years, earning promotions and investing in your team. But there are plenty are reasons that someone might need to switch up their employment status quo. For example, the COVID pandemic inspired millions of Americans to reconsider their work aspirations, with many leaving their current jobs for a different employment sector altogether.
It’s important to consider what is meant by a career change; it is more than simply pursuing a new promotion or applying for a different role in your current occupational field. A career change could be a total 180 — a lawyer becoming a kindergarten teacher or a dog trainer becoming a software developer.
Older generations once stigmatized these dramatic professional shifts. But studies show that younger Americans are much more willing to shift their career paths. More than half of the people who quit their jobs during the pandemic decided to reenter the workforce in a different career altogether.
Whether you’re seeking better pay, more flexibility, or hope to fulfill a creative ambition, here are 10 tips to prepare for a career change.
1. Do Your Research
Before you enroll in a coding bootcamp or pay for a night class, you need to do some research. Gather data on the main skills and expertise that employers seek for in your new job goals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics houses an Occupational Outlook Handbook, which outlines the basic steps for entering a specific occupation.
Then look online for actual job descriptions for the position you seek and comb through the required qualifications. Make note of any mandatory certifications, examinations, degrees, or other professional credentials. You may be surprised to find that you already possess some of the necessary skills and qualifications for your new role.
2. Look at Trends
Be sure to consider the earning potential and demand of your future career. Some industries are expected to grow dramatically over the next few years (especially healthcare, IT, and green energy). The Occupational Outlook Handbook features the projected growth rate of specific professions, so consider your prospects of landing a role in your desired field.
For example, if you want to pursue a work-from-home position in IT, maybe pivot toward data science, UX design, or cybersecurity, as these subfields will be in high demand over the next 10 years.
3. Inventory Your Transferable Expertise
As mentioned in step number one, you may already possess certain skills for a career change. Employers across occupations tend to look for job candidates who are excellent problem solvers, can communicate well across multiple platforms, can provide top-notch customer service, and can master new technology quickly. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that your former occupation afforded you significant transferable skills.
4. Gather Your Transcripts
If you don’t already have a copy of your academic transcripts, order them now. It will often cost just a few dollars to request your transcripts, but they can take several weeks (even for an online copy) to arrive. Once you receive your records, make sure you scan or download a copy for your files. This will be very helpful to have on hand when applying for a degree or training program.
5. Acquire New Skills
It can be challenging to go back to school, especially if you have children and a mortgage to consider. However, for certain career changes, it’s necessary to enroll in a training course or degree program. Don’t feel intimidated. You’re never too old to learn something new. What’s important is finding the program that meets your career goals and your personal responsibilities.
Maybe you want to earn your MBA. You have plenty of ways to customize your degree, whether accelerated, online, or part-time. Consider what resources your degree program or training course provides (like career counseling, advising, or networking opportunities) and take advantage of them.
6. Update Your Resume
You’ve done your research and completed the training you need. Now it’s time to update that resume. Be sure to integrate the keywords and specific expertise that are listed in the job descriptions for which you hope to apply. Employers might have dozens of resumes to review, and you want to align your background and expertise as closely as possible with the preferred qualifications.
7. Practice for the Interview
There’s a good chance that your interviewer is going to ask about the motivations for your career change. So, practice! Have a family member or friend ask you some example interview questions and fine-tune your answer. Be transparent and explain your long-term goals.
You’ll also want to think of concrete examples to demonstrate your transferable skills. Think of specific experiences that show off your abilities as a master communicator. Explain ways in which you’ve been a team player. Talk about that time you deftly handled a difficult customer.
8. Plan Your Budget
A career change will take time and may cost money. Be sure you discuss your budget and plan with your family. Before you step out of your current role, consider if you can continue working there while taking night classes.
Could you perhaps work part-time while tackling your degree program? How will you pay for health insurance if you leave behind your current benefits? Changing careers can be costly in the short term. Make sure you have the savings or feel comfortable with a loan. Most schools and bootcamps have resources to discuss financial aid or payment plans.
9. Be Confident
A career change can be difficult for so many reasons, but self-doubt and imposter syndrome will get you nowhere. No matter your age or financial situation, you can find strategies and resources to support you in your goals. Being unhappy at work can lead to long-term physical and mental health consequences, so if you’re feeling the need for a change, trust your gut.
10. Build Your Network
Talk to people in the industry. Maybe you’re an Accountant, and you want to become a Nurse. See if there is anyone in your social network who has attended nursing school and can give you a first-hand account (plus any tips). Your personal and professional relationships might be one of the most valuable assets you have.
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