How to Change Careers in 2021 (Our 10-Step Process)

By Mike Simpson

Ah, the career change. At some point, nearly every professional pauses for a second and wonders, “Am I really doing what I want to do for the rest of my life? And, if not, what career is right for me?” Those are some big questions, for sure.

Changing careers isn’t usually something a person does on a whim. Instead, there’s typically a trigger. Sometimes, burnout is to blame. If you start to loath your work, lose your passion, or can’t muster up any motivation, leaving gets more enticing, no doubt about it.

For others, it could be a lack of opportunities in their current field. During COVID-19, certain industries were devastated. For example, in the leisure and hospitality industry, a shocking 68.89 percent of people in the field faced hour reductions, layoffs, and business closures. If you worked in that niche, it isn’t surprising if you’re thinking about making a change.

If the idea of making a move seems wise, figuring out how to change careers is likely on your mind. But, luckily, you ended up here. Come with us as we explore the art of the career change.

What Is a Career Change?

Alright, before we dig into how to go about changing careers, let’s talk about what a career change even is. Many people mistakenly believe that it has to be a dramatic shift. That just isn’t true.

Technically, a career change can be anything from a small pivot to a full overhaul. For example, if you’re currently a software developer and you want to transition into IT security, that is a smaller change than deciding to become an English teacher.

Now, 49 percent of people do go for broke, completely revamping their careers. But that doesn’t mean a smaller pivot isn’t a career change.

Essentially, if you’re targeting a role that isn’t part of your career’s standard progression, it’s a career change. You’re deviating from the linear path. Whether it’s a slight shift in direction, a 90-degree turn, or a complete 180 doesn’t really matter.

Now that you have a solid idea of what a career change is, it’s time for the next piece of the puzzle: how to change careers.

Top 10 Crucial Steps for Making a Career Change

Every career change is a multi-step process. While it would be awesome to be able to wake up one morning and go, “You know what? I think I’ll start making widgets professionally,” and then walk out the door, get a widget-maker job, and be on your way; that isn’t how it usually works.

Instead, you’ll need to take a few specific steps. By using a methodical approach, you increase your odds of success. And considering that 88 percent of people successfully switch say they are happier after they changed career, it’s worth doing right.

Here’s a look at the 10- ten crucial steps for achieving career change success.

1. Reflect on Why

Yes, you may know that your current career isn’t working for you. But do you know what about it isn’t working? Is it your duties? The industry? Long hours? Something else? If you don’t understand why you want to leave, you can’t figure out where you should go.

Additionally, by figuring out why you think changing careers is the answer, you can really dig deep into what you feel is missing in your life. You shouldn’t go charging ahead without having a solid idea of what you want to get out of this new path. So, spend some time reflecting. It may take a little while to answer the important questions, but it’s time well spent.

2. Don’t Just Follow Your Passion

Everyone’s heard that they should follow their passion to find their ideal career. The trick is, that doesn’t always work. Not all passions align with career opportunities that can make your other life goals a reality.

Additionally, sometimes turning what you love into a job takes some of the joy out of it. It’s different when you’re during something because you love it than when you’re doing it for a paycheck, and someone else is influencing the direction you take.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should ignore your passions either. If you’ve got a viable career path there, then why not consider it? Just make sure that you look at your other options, too.

For example, are their aspects of your current career or job that you like, if not love? Get a bit granular. Look at every duty you have and consider how you feel about it. Examine each of your skills and determine whether you enjoy using them.

Your goal is to find the four-leaf clovers in the meadow of your current profession. As you do, you’ll start to open yourself up to new possibilities, potentially one that can ultimately be your new career.

3. Make a List

If you’re lucky enough to know exactly what you want out of your second-act career, great! But if you’re batting around a few ideas, that’s okay, too.

Take a moment to create a list of careers that pique your interest. Then, jot down a few notes about why you find that option appealing. Talk about the duties, industry culture, field, or anything else that got your attention. Reflect on your values, and determine how they do or don’t connect to these options.

The goal is to spend some time really thinking about why various jobs seem like a good idea. It can be enlightening, so don’t rush this part of the process.

4. See What You’ll Need to Learn

No matter how dramatic of a career change you want to make, you’ll probably need to acquire some new skills, education, experience, certifications, or licenses to pull off the transition. Whatever it is you need to learn, it’s better to figure it out early.

Generally, this is a two-part process. First, you’ll need to assess your current skill set. Consider what you bring to the table both when it comes to technical capability and soft skills. You can review your past job descriptions and resumes for reminders.

After that, you need to take a look at what the careers on your list require. Usually, the easiest way to do that is to track down some job ads. Those will include the must-have skills and traits, as well as overviews of any education, certification, or license requirements.

MIKE'S TIP: Don’t rely on a single job ad to learn about typical requirements for your target role. Different companies have different needs, so it’s best to check out a handful of job ads. That’ll give you a broader picture of what hiring managers for those jobs typically want to find, ensuring you aren’t led astray by one job ad that wasn’t an accurate reflection of the norm.

5. Narrow Down Your List

As you research what you’ll need to learn to pull off your career change, you may figure out that certain options aren’t right for you. Qualifying for those roles may take more time and energy (or money, if you need to head back to college) than you have to give, and that’s okay. Use what you’ve discovered and narrow down your list.

6. Do a Deep Dive

With your shorter list in hand, it’s time for a deep dive. Learn as much as you possibly can about those careers to help you figure out which one is really right for you.

Start by tapping a couple of resources. Your professional network can be a great place to start if you know people in those fields. If not, tap your alumni network and head to LinkedIn to find people working in that niche.

As you do, reach out and request informational interviews. If those go well, see if you can job shadow for even more information.

Additionally, explore online resources. A little bit of Googling can be surprisingly effective, as a slew of people spend time talking about their careers. Plus, you can find out critical details, like typical salary ranges, the state of the industry, and whether opportunities are relatively plentiful.

7. Make an Action Plan

By this point, you should know what your top choice is, which is amazing. Now, you need to plan for your transition.

Review your research about what you need to learn and use it to create an actionable roadmap. You may need to do a little more investigating, such as figuring out where you can pick up a certain class, so that you can add a ton of detail to your plan.

The idea is to outline precisely what you need to do to get from where you are to where you want to be. No step is too small, so write down everything.

As you do, start adding a timeline in. Give yourself deadlines for completing the various steps, increasing the odds you’ll stay on target.

8. Track Your Progress

Once your action plan is ready, it’s time to, well, take action. Start with step one, and work your way toward your next career.

As you do, track your progress. Celebrate your accomplishments to stay motivated and to keep momentum. It does take time and energy to get it all handled. But remember, it will be worth it in the end.

9. Update Your Professional Brand

Once you’ve finished the bulk of your action plan, it’s rebranding time. You need to update your brand to align with your new career. That way, when it comes time to apply for jobs, everything is already in order.

Start by revamping your master resume. Add in details from your career transition journey, including new skills, education, certifications, licenses, and more. Then, make sure you adjust the content to target your new role. While you’ll still need to tweak your resume based on the exact position, a general update now will make that easier.

After that, give the same treatment to other aspects of your professional brand. Update your LinkedIn or other social media profiles. Write new blog posts on your personal website that showcase you’re recently acquired expertise.

Your goal should be to reposition your branding to align with your new career. That way, you’ll look like a better candidate for the next step.

10. Launch Your Job Search

Once everything else above is handled, it’s job search time. Start seeking out new opportunities using every avenue at your disposal.

Tap your network, including new connections you made during the research process. Set up job search notifications on major job boards. Download job search apps to look for new opportunities while on the go. Check out the career pages of leading employers in your new niche. Connect with a recruiter.

As you begin applying, treat every opportunity as a chance to learn and hone your approach. If possible, request feedback on your resume and interview skills if you don’t land a position. Many hiring managers are happy to provide their insights, giving you valuable information that can help you improve your job search capabilities.

Yes, this stage can take time, particularly if you are changing careers. But don’t get discouraged. Keep your goals in mind and continue refining your approach. You can also grow your skills during this period, too, allowing you to bring more to the table as your search moves along.

In the end, you’ll likely get the chance you’re looking for, maybe even faster than you’d expect.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, changing careers is a big undertaking, but it’s a journey that’s often worth taking. Use the tips above so that you can navigate your career change like a boss. You’ll be happy you took the time to get it right.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.