Career Change & Retraining

25 essential tips for the successful career changer

It is becoming increasingly common. You completed your education and training for one career, and further down the track - the career change bug bites. For some people, this desire to change lanes happens much later in their lives; motivated by changes in the workplace dynamics or a desire to follow an old passion.

Other career changers have it forced upon them as their industry or profession has changed to such an extent that their old career is not available to them anymore. 

Regardless of the driving force, a career change is a major life event.  Since you are changing a very core aspect of your life, it calls for adequate research, mental preparation and proper planning. The following tips will improve your chances of a smooth transition:

1. Assess your current job and industry or profession

What is driving you to want to change?  Are there any work responsibilities that you still enjoy, or training that would give you transferable skills to take with you?  Is it factors outside your job role, like the commute, company organization structure, management styles, or stress from the insecurity of your position? 

Is your job role shrinking in the marketplace due to technology or restructuring?  Be very clear about where the unhappiness is.  Ask what you love and hate about your current career.  Can the things you hate be solved by changing careers?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28
2. Consider your financial ability

Finances are important in this new chapter of your life. Are you still paying your mortgage? How much do you need to meet family obligations such as your children’s’ education?  Do you have other income sources for your bills?  

3. What are you famous for?

Think about your specialized interests, aptitudes and skills and what activities fulfill you when you are involved in them.  Not everyone is clear about their career passions and this is quite normal, as passions are developed over time with your investment of time and attention. 

At the beginning of your journey, it may be useful to ask yourself some investigative questions.  What are you famous for?  What do you engage in when you are not working? What is it you could do even for a whole year without pay? Having these passions down on a list may give you an idea of how to incorporate them into a new career that would be more satisfying.

4. Look at your current situation from several angles

Depending on your assessment of your current job and defining your passions, you might discover that what you really need is to change departments at work. Speak to your bosses!  Or change companies / working arrangements (such as work-from-home) / or job roles (but stay in the same industry).  However if you instinctively know you should be doing something quite different, then you need to bring your curiosity to the fore to investigate new options.

5. Research on various viable careers

With a list of your passions, career options and financial ability, it is now time to do a bit of research.  The internet is a wonderful free resource to start with. Find out trends in the careers you are considering as well as job availability. Do not stop fishing for information until you have ample information to compare and contrast.  

6. Zero in on one career

The choice career for you will come naturally if you have done extensive research on the options available to you. Do not entice yourself with the idea that you can pursue several options at the same time.   Develop a profile of what your new career would look like to you – what clothes do you wear to work, what sort of building do you work in, what type of colleagues do you have, what products or services are you involved in?  After imagining yourself completing a happy satisfying workday, what events happened that you particularly enjoyed?

7. Cost of staying relevant in your field

Apart from the course certification exam, some professions require that you regularly upgrade your skills.  What would that look like to you in your new field?

8. Consider the skills you already have

Could you already have the right skillset for the new career? While many jobs require specialized training, there are skills you already have that can be used across multiple fields.  Find the common ground before you move further.  Draw a map of where you are now and the milestones to where you want to be.

9. Plan on advancing your education

It could be to build on credentials you already have, branch from a field of study or start a new course altogether but a new relevant qualification will make the career change easier. Will going back to school affect your home or family schedule? What do you need to get your family involved in supporting you through this process and avoid conflict?

10. Understand the everyday challenges

You are not entirely ready for a new job until you can deal with the everyday challenges it comes with. Reach out to people who are already in your new career and learn how the industry and their job role really works.  Avoid surprises after you make the jump by researching from those who know.

11. Identify a mentor

Find someone who has been in the career you want to join for a while.  Can they walk this journey with you? What are some of the things they didn’t know about or weren’t expecting about their job or industry before they started?  If they would go back in time, would they do anything differently? Your choice of a mentor should be someone who can relate to your present situation.  

12. Can you strategize with a career coach?

Is there someone who can offer you their professional opinion on your career move? It could be your mentor or career coach but it should be someone who will not impose their views on you. People who you have shadowed with or volunteered for can also be great resources at giving unbiased opinions.

13. Volunteer your services

Is there a way you can showcase or develop your skills as a volunteer? Is there a charity or non-profit that needs help you could offer? Could you offer a “trial” or “spec” version of your full service so that potential customers could give you feedback?

14. Draw a career path

This is where you draw up an action plan of what you wish to accomplish in your new career and the timelines.   Expect that there may be extra steps you don’t know about yet, and it may take longer. However, give yourself the benefit of the doubt that you are already emotionally prepared for the new path, especially if you have done all the research you can realistically expect needs to be done.

15. Be accountable to the path

This career change plan is not going to materialize overnight. Ideally, you will be doing all the groundwork while still working at the present job. Have a realistic timeline and review it often to make sure you do not get frustrated when things are not going according to plan.  It can be helpful to spend some time each day daydreaming (visualizing) yourself in your new career as if it were a present reality, enjoying your day, and feeling happy and satisfied with the results you are achieving.

16. Start making new career connections

You have decided that this new career is what you want. Are there people you know who are in this field? Reach out to them. It is important to let your family members and friends know that you have switched lanes. Tell everyone you are comfortable with to let you know of opportunities in your new field.

17. Prepare a pitch

People will ask you why you are joining a new industry now. If your answer will help your chances of getting a job, then it is helpful to have a ready explanation of why you are doing it and what you have done to prepare for it.

18. Join professional groups

Keep abreast of industry news. Professional organizations are great networking forums that can assist in career development.   Also, look for media (magazines/newsletters) that pertain to that industry.

19. Create a personal job profile

Outline some key components that are very important to you, such as the location. Add in extra preferences that would make a new role more attractive, such as the opportunity to innovate or lead a team or learn new skills.

20. Mingle with established professionals

Is there a trade or networking event for professionals in your new career choice coming up soon? Attending them will help you to add more research about your new career and make connections. Learn more about networking here: Finding baby boomer jobs through networking

21. Upgrade your resume

Avoid writing a resume that suggests that you jumped ship. Try to tie in aspects of your old job to this career field you are now pursuing. If there was something that you excelled at the old job and which could help you in your new career, mention it.

22. Look for jobs

Identify where the jobs you want are being listed.  Many jobs are found through network connections.  Tell everyone of your search and keep your ears to the ground. Do not be afraid of starting at a lower level if it provides you with a career path direct to where you want to reach.

23. Dress for the new job

If your new career calls for a different dress code from what you are used to, make the switch early to allow yourself time to adjust. Remember to research on company culture before interviews to avoid dressing inappropriately.

24. Give yourself lots of emotional support

Change, even desired change, can stir up intense feelings.  Help yourself by eating and sleeping well, and by seeking counsel with wise people when you feel confused or overwhelmed.

25. Identify with your new job

It might be a while before everyone in your circles know that you took a different career path from what they have known you for. Grab opportunities to speak about your new job and accustom yourself to being in a different career space.