How to make a career change that keeps you moving forward
Few people maintain the same career trajectory for their entire lives. In fact, many change course multiple times. Perhaps you’re starting to think about shaking things up in your own professional life.
While the prospect of applying your skills to a new challenge can be liberating and exciting, it can also be intimidating. Even if you’d like to move on from your current position, there’s a certain amount of comfort that comes with staying in a familiar role.
Katy Curameng, director of career planning and development at University of Massachusetts Global, has seen many professionals grapple with how to make a career change that won’t set them back. But to her, there’s little reason to be afraid. Most people aren’t even halfway done with their careers by the time they hit 40, she points out, saying:
You’re not starting over but merely turning a page.
Curameng has tips on how to leverage your existing skills to find the right role. You may find that her advice could leave you better off than before you decided to transition.
Career change advice: 4 Tips for professional success
Switching roles means you’ll be competing with candidates who likely have more experience. But there are ways you can measure up in your new career. By following these four tips, you may even find some of the personal fulfillment you’ve been lacking in your professional life.
1. Make sure a career change is what you need
There are a lot of good reasons to change careers. Often, people are motivated by meaning. They aren’t passionate about the work they’re doing and want to find a way to make a difference.
“Values change over time and the reasons that drove you into your current career may have shifted,” Curameng offers.
Career changes are also frequently motivated by practical reasons. If you’ve gone as far as you can in your current path and feel uninspired by your work, you may need more than just a pivot or promotion. In this case, pursuing an entirely new field could be a needed challenge. Or maybe the industry itself still appeals to you, but you aren’t where you thought you’d be or feel undercompensated.
No matter your exact situation, Curameng identifies some clear signs that you should consider making a change:
- You feel that money is no longer compensating for the dissatisfaction or boredom in your current career.
- You don’t know what you want, but you know it’s not what you’re doing.
- You are consistently worn down and exhausted, or you’re living for the weekend.
- You desire to do something more meaningful.
As you self-assess, think about whether the issues are related to your employer, location or coworkers. If any of those ring true, a full-blown career switch may not be the right move. As Curameng notes:
Being sick of your job and being sick of your career are two different things.
She urges all potential career changers to make sure they understand the source of their current dissatisfaction. If you can solve your issues by simply finding a new employer, transitioning your responsibilities or transferring departments, consider taking that approach first.
2. Explore careers that align with your values
You might already have a career in mind, but make sure you’re not setting yourself up to face the same frustrations in a different setting. Curameng says the most important thing to consider when changing careers is what matters most to you.
Even if what you truly care about is something that doesn’t seem relevant to a career, consider all the ways your passions can play into your work. If family is what you care about, have you thought about becoming a marriage and family counselor? If supporting military members is valuable to you, have you considered military social work? You may be surprised how many careers coincide with your values.
One way to learn more about your options is to conduct informational interviews. Curameng attests that this can help you understand the specifics of the job and produce connections that may come in handy later. Use your social network or invite professionals to get coffee or talk on the phone. Don’t be afraid to explore a variety of options.
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3. Take the necessary steps for shifting to a new career
Once you’ve decided on the direction you want to go, it’s time to dive into the logistics. One of the first steps is to ask yourself, “What skills do I have?” and, “What skills do I need?” You may feel like you’re starting from scratch, but your time spent in the professional world has provided you with some valuable experience. Don’t overlook that.
“When you work in one place for a while, you can become ‘institutionalized,’ believing that you only have real value in your current organization,” Curameng says. “Stepping outside of that can be an opportunity to see your true worth.”
Take an honest assessment of where you are and what you’ll need to move forward. You may be able to pursue additional certifications or courses to help you qualify for the types of positions you’re hoping for. It’s also possible that you’ll need to head back to school to earn a degree.
After determining your educational goals, you can begin to make a plan for how you’re going to accomplish them. For many career changers, working while going back to school is necessary. Thankfully, there are online, hybrid, and self-paced programs designed for busy working adults like you.
It’s also important to consider other factors that will impact your life. First, look into how much financial aid you may need and investigate scholarship opportunities. You may also want to discuss these details with your family. Keep in mind that a career transition might also affect how much time you can spend with them. Making sure everyone is on the same page moving forward can help ensure there are no misunderstandings.
4. Use your current career to launch a new one
You may be moving into a new career, but it’s clear that doesn’t mean you’re leaving your experience behind. When preparing to apply for jobs in your future field, don’t take your employment history for granted.
“It’s all about skills,” Curameng says. “Showcase those that transfer over. You know how to work with different types of personalities, you have business wisdom and have learned to multi-task.” She calls it your ‘employment credit history’ — experience that proves you are a capable professional.
Another way to utilize your current career is to take advantage of your network. Even if you don’t know anyone directly tied to your intended profession, someone you know might be connected to someone who can help you get your foot in the door. Curameng points out that being introduced by a mutual colleague can greatly improve your legitimacy as a candidate.
Pursue your professional passion
You may not be new to the job market anymore, but that’s far from detrimental. “You have more confidence and wisdom now than when you were entering the work force at 20,” Curameng points out. “Embrace it!”
Whether you’re motivated to earn more, have realized new values or simply want a fresh challenge, shifting to a new role could be a great choice. The exact way you determine how to make a career change will depend on where you are and where you see yourself in the future.
Maybe you recognize that you’d like to advance your education. For some help deciding when you should go back to school, read our article, “6 Signs that now is the right time to finish your degree.”
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