Are you thinking about making a big career change? You’re not alone. While no official tally exists of how often workers change careers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that Americans hold an average of 12 jobs during their lifetimes. For the typical worker, at least some of those job changes will be enough of a transition to count as an entirely new career.
Career changers make a pivot for all kinds of reasons, from changing interests, to shifting occupational outlook, to retiring from their first career. If you’re contemplating a new path, you need a map. Here’s how to evaluate your options, the best second career jobs to consider, and how to get started.
Whether you’re exploring a second career by choice or necessity, keep in mind that a new occupation can be an entirely new horizon. Now’s your chance to explore possibilities your first career didn’t provide.
How to Get Started
When creating a roadmap to your second career, plan to travel toward something, instead of just escape your current situation. Use these steps to ensure that you're headed in the right direction.
1. Assess Your Interests
Even if you’re changing careers because you’re no longer passionate about what you do, chances are that there’s something about your last role that you liked. Maybe you enjoyed working as part of a team (or alone), or found the hours convenient, or felt a connection to the product or services your employer provided. Keep these positive aspects in mind when considering your next career.
Next, it’s time to figure out what you’re not doing right now that appeals to you.
Career aptitude tests can help, and there are plenty of free career tests online to help you get started.
2. Identify Transferable Skills
Transferable skills are the hard and soft skills that you’ve acquired in your current career and can take to the next. For example, let’s say that you’re working in retail sales, but you want to move into computer support. The customer service skills you learned in retail are directly applicable to your new career providing information technology (IT) assistance.
3. Prepare to Upskill
You may not have every skill you need to succeed in your new position yet, but don’t be daunted. Use the research phase of your career transition to identify which skills you should add and start filling in the gaps. One way to do this is to look at the LinkedIn profiles of people who have the job title you want and compare their qualifications with your own. Again, you may be surprised to find that the difference is less than you expected. Don’t assume that you’ll need to go back to school to change jobs—a few classes or some on-the-job training might do it.
4. Make a Budget
Most of us work at least in part because we have to, so it’s a good idea to crunch the numbers and figure out how much you need to earn before you make a big career change. You may need to work your way up—or you may find that your new direction pays as much or more than your current role. Either way, it will be helpful to know exactly how much money you need to earn.
5. Get Expert Advice
There’s only so much you can do on your own. Don’t hesitate to call in the experts when you reach a sticking point in your search. If you’re a college graduate, consider reaching out to your college career center. Many offer job search and career help for alumni long after graduation. Or, you can consider hiring a career coach, going on informational interviews with contacts in your dream field, or joining professional organizations to expand your network.
10 Second Career Options to Consider
If you love what you do, but are ready to take your skills in a new direction, a career as a consultant might be the right fit for you. Consultants advise companies on how to improve business processes and outcomes, provide training on new technologies, or provide specialized services or advisory capabilities. Depending on your area of focus, you may be able to become a consultant by capitalizing on your existing skill set, or adding certifications to impress employers and clients.
Salary: According to Glassdoor, consultants earn an average annual salary of $77,368.
2. Web Developer
Web developers are responsible for the look and feel of websites, as well as for their technical underpinnings. You don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to become a web developer, but you do need a mixture of graphic design knowledge and technical know-how. If you currently lack those skills, a coding bootcamp might provide a shortcut. (Or, get started with one of these free online coding resources.)
Salary: The BLS reports that web developers earn a median annual salary of $73,760.
According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, teaching is a common second career for many older workers. There is a shortage of qualified teachers, and jobs are available. There is also an opportunity to make a difference during your next career. The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) reports that 64% of teachers agree or strongly agree that they’re making a difference during these challenging times, and 46% said the public health crisis made their job feel more meaningful.
Technology has expanded the scope of teaching careers beyond the classroom. The SLGE survey also reports that 89% of teachers worked remotely at least some of the time. If you love teaching but want to work from home, there are plenty of options out there for you.
Salary: According to the BLS, high school teachers earn an average annual salary of $61,660.
4. Computer Support Specialist
Are you always the go-to person in your household for computer questions? You might be able to parlay your technical knowledge and people skills into a second career as a computer support specialist. Some tech support staff get started with just a few postsecondary classes.
Salary: Per the BLS, computer support specialists earn a median annual salary of $54,760.
5. Private Detective
Private detectives work for individuals and companies, performing investigations and background checks. They perform research, conduct interviews, and run surveillance. Private detectives must be licensed in most states and typically have a background in the military or law enforcement.
Salary: The BLS reports that private detectives earn a median annual salary of $50,510.
6. Tax Preparer
If you have a head for numbers and an interest in flexible work, tax preparation might be a good choice for you. You don’t need certified public accountant (CPA) designation or even years of experience in accounting to get started in this job in some states. Some tax preparation companies even offer classes to train interested candidates. Tax preparer jobs can also lead to other, more regular accounting work.
Salary: Per Glassdoor, tax preparers earn an average annual salary of $50,264.
7. Real Estate Agent
Convert your sales skills and love of real estate into a brand new career as a real estate agent. You can get started with just a high school diploma (though some employers now prefer a college degree), some real estate courses, and licensure. (Licensing requirements vary by state.) Agents must work with a real estate broker, who is licensed to manage their own business.
Salary: According to the BLS, real estate agents earn a median annual wage of $48,930.
Are you an expert in your field—or a highly skilled amateur with lots of experience? Think about coaching for your next act. The required skills and education vary considerably depending on the specific coaching job, but there are options for a wide variety of interests, from athletics to self-improvement, to career coaching, or executive leadership.
Salary: Per PayScale, athletic coaches earn an average annual salary of $44,031, and life coaches earn an average annual salary of $48,501. Glassdoor, meanwhile, reports that executive coaches earn an average annual salary of $47,567.
9. Virtual Assistant
Do you have administrative experience, organizational skills, and a high degree of comfort with technology? If so, you might consider a career as a virtual assistant. These administrative professionals work from home arranging schedules, booking appointments, managing email, and taking phone calls—in short, all the things that a secretary or administrative assistant would do in an office.
Salary: PayScale reports that virtual assistants earn an average annual salary of $40,765.
10. Veterinary Technician
If you love animals, and you’re willing to go back to school for an associate degree, you can become a vet tech. Help veterinarians conduct exams, conduct laboratory tests, and—best of all —talk to owners about their pets.
Salary: According to the BLS, vet techs earn a median annual salary of $35,320.
How to Make Your Second Career a Virtual One
You might have noticed that many of the second careers on our list are virtual, or at least compatible with telecommuting. That’s not an accident. Work-from-home jobs were on the rise even before many employers were forced to embrace remote work.
“The landscape of remote work has shifted dramatically,” said Toni Frana, team lead and career coach at remote and flexible jobs site FlexJobs, in an email interview with The Balance. “Since March, remote job listings have increased every month.”
Frana advised would-be remote workers to start by considering which scheduling options work for them. Virtual careers can be full-time, part-time, or project-based.
Once you’ve made the decision to work remotely, it’s time to create an action plan.
Retool Your Brand
In addition to doing the things that all career changers should do—listing your skills, seeking support from your network, and adding new skills where needed—focus on rebranding yourself.
“As you transition careers, you will want to refocus your LinkedIn profile to be more relevant to the work you are seeking,” Frana said. “Be sure to include your key transferable skills and technology proficiencies on your profile; updating your profile picture to a current, professional-looking photo will help you position yourself as a qualified candidate for the job you’d like to secure.”