Changing careers is a common part of the American work experience. The nation’s older workers held an average of 11.7 jobs between the ages of 18 and 48, according to a 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. Nearly half of job changes occurred before age 25.
Workers who started a job when they were older tended to stay with employers longer. Still, among employees age 40 to 48, almost one-third of jobs ended in less than a year and more than two-thirds lasted less than five years, the BLS report found.
Changing professions, especially for people further on in their careers, can be a challenging transition. Start this process by examining why you want to change. Consider what could motivate a career shift:
- Feeling bored or bogged down
- Not progressing in skills or career advancement
- Not getting along with coworkers
- Needing a change in general
It’s important to ask whether it’s actually your career that you want to change. Or is it your boss, work environment, benefits or another company-specific factor? In that case, you may want to:
- Find another job in the same sector
- Change sectors but keep a similar job function
- Modify your existing job
If you've determined that you want to change your overall career, consider taking these steps to help ease the transition.
Make a Plan
Don’t drop your current career without having an action plan to change first. Pick a goal and map out the steps it will take to get there. Be practical by moving in stages. For example, first set up a side business and, if it’s successful, then turn it into a full-time occupation. Or sign up for the educational qualifications you need to make a solid change. Track your efforts with a spreadsheet or some other tool. Keeping tabs on your progress can help you celebrate little accomplishments and identify what you are missing in order to achieve your goals.
Examine Your Interests and Abilities
Consider making a list of the characteristics your ideal job would entail: more money; flexibility; working from home; less paperwork; working with different people; more direction; outdoors; less travel; etc. Think also about your principles and preferences. Do you care about making a difference? Do you like working as a lead on projects or collaborating closely with a group of people? Incorporate your values into your career choice, even the ones you might not like to admit, such as needing recognition or praise.
Evaluating your current knowledge, skills and abilities is also critical to see what can be transferred to another career and environment. Assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, the MAPP test and the O*NET Interest Profiler® may help you match your skills to different career options.
Depending on the change and your level of experience, you might not have to start on the bottom rung of the career ladder. That being said, keep your expectations realistic: If the switch is dramatic, you may need to start at a lower level. The process might take some time, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to make the change.
Do Your Research
Use a combination of personal conversations and objective evidence to collect information about your future occupation. Talk to people in the industry to get a better look at the culture, environment, opportunities and challenges. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook provides timely information on employment growth, potential salaries, educational and experience requirements, job responsibilities, work environment and more. Other useful websites include My Next Move, Career One Stop, and O*NET OnLine.
Discovering the most desired skills, education and certifications for your new career can help you get ahead of the competition. Conducting thorough research can also stop you from making a hasty decision just because the grass seems greener on the other side.
Enhance Your Skills, Education and Experience
Some careers may require an upgrade of your skills and education. Completing your undergraduate degree or advancing to a master’s degree in a new field can help you become a more attractive candidate to employers. Look to gain experience in your desired career path through internships, and volunteer and freelance opportunities.
Tap into the career capital you’ve already built up over the years and figure out how to use that expertise in new and exciting ways. Focus on marketable skills and note how they’ve helped you add value for your current or former employers. Think about your transferable skills, like problem solving, public speaking, negotiation and creativity, and which of those you want to use in a different occupation.
Reach Out to Friends and Contacts
From looking over your résumé to helping you prep for interviews, your family and friends can provide much-needed moral support, help guide your new career path and ease the transition between professions. Your personal contacts may also help you get your foot in the door of another industry. Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can be great sources to start communicating with people inside the industry, including through following like-minded professionals, hashtags and trending topics. A 2014 Jobvite report found that 4 in 10 jobseekers located their “favorite or best” job through their network, while 76% of jobseekers who sought employment via social media found their current job through Facebook.
Shift Your Professional Brand
Think about what’s valuable to the industry you’re entering and consider that when you tweak your professional brand. Use your previous experience to position yourself as an asset to potential employers. Developing an elevator pitch to explain why you’re a good fit for your ideal job can help you craft a solid case for getting hired. Follow influencers in those fields and engage in conversations on social media to show that you are passionate about your future.