How to Make a Successful Career Change

10 Steps to Changing Your Career

Making a career change usually means investing both your time and money. As with any investment, it's important to be informed before making a decision. Before you make a career change, here are steps you can take to increase your chances of success.

Decide If You Need a Career Change

Businessman Walking Past Elevator in Modern Office Building, Motion Blur
B&M Noskowski / Getty Images

Before you begin thinking about making a career change, you need to decide whether you actually need one. You may just need to find a new job; which isn't an easy task, but certainly simpler than an entire career makeover.

Assess Yourself

If you decide a career change is in order, you will need to evaluate your values, skills, personality, and interests using self-assessment tools, often called career tests. Self-assessment tools are used to generate a list of occupations that are deemed appropriate based on your answers to a series of questions. Some people choose to have career counselors or other career development professionals administer them, but many opt to use free career tests that are available online.

Make a List of Occupations to Explore

Look over the lists of occupations generated through your use of the self-assessment tools. They are probably lengthy, so you'll want to come up with a much shorter list, consisting of between 5–10 occupations. Circle or highlight occupations that appear on multiple lists, as well as those you may have considered previously and find appealing. Write these occupations down on a separate list titled "Occupations to Explore."

Explore the Occupations on Your List

For each occupation on your list, you will want to look at the job description, educational and other requirements, job outlook, advancement opportunities, and earnings. You can find most of that information directly on job listings, or from websites such as Indeed, CareerBuilder, and Glassdoor. Those websites will often aggregate that information for you from multiple sources, which saves you time from looking at individual listings.

Continue Narrowing Down Your List

Trim down your list of possible occupations based on what you learned from your research. For example, you may not be willing to put the time and energy into preparing for an occupation that requires an advanced degree, or you may consider the earnings for a particular occupation inadequate.

Conduct Informational Interviews

At this point, you should only have a few occupations left on your list. You now need to gather more in-depth information. Your best source of this information are people who have firsthand knowledge of the occupations you're interested in. Identify who they are and conduct informational interviews with them if possible. If you don't know anyone personally, LinkedIn can be a great resource. You can find people with your desired job title and connect and reach out to them in regards to your interest in their field.

Set Your Goals

By now, you should have decided on one occupation you want to pursue. Before putting a plan in place to eventually find a job in that field, you'll first need to set some goals. These goals should be divided into short-term goals that can be accomplished in under a year and long-term goals that can take anywhere from 1–5 years to accomplish. For example, applying to a community college to receive an associate's degree can be done in less than a year and would be a short-term goal. Getting a certification that requires two years would be a long-term goal. It's important to make sure these are actionable goals that allow you to measure your progress.

Write a Career Action Plan

Now that you have set your goals, you will need to decide how to reach them. A career action plan will help guide you as you pursue your short and long-term goals. The first step to making your action plan is listing out all your goals. Once you have your goals listed, you should write the concrete steps it's going to take to achieve each one. You will also want to write down any potential barriers that would stop you from accomplishing your goals. Having this information in front of you can help you prioritize the actions needed to achieve your primary objective—which should be finding a job.

Train for Your New Career

Changing your career may mean you have to undergo some training, but you may also have transferable skills that you can use in your new career. Before you embark on any training, find out what skills you already have and which ones you need to acquire. Learning new skills could take the form of earning a degree or certification, doing an internship, or taking online courses.

Say Goodbye to Your Current Career

If your decision to change careers was inspired by a job loss, you don't have to worry about leaving your job. However, if you are currently employed, you will have to quit your job and deal with some issues related to that, such as potential feelings of guilt or uneasiness about the life changes you're about to make.