Choosing a career is a tough thing—and a lifelong process. You might pick a job early, just out of school or based on your interests as a 20-something. It would be great if that were a direct path to your retirement decades later, after years of building a fulfilling career from that initial decision. But not every career path is quite that straightforward. You might wake up after 10 years and think, “I really don’t want to be a widget coordinator anymore.” Or maybe you’ve been laid off, and realize that hmm, you weren’t all that happy in your career even before the fact. Whatever leads to that revelation, you should embrace it as an opportunity when it comes. If you are thinking about making a career change, here are the 4 steps you can take to make it a reality:
Step 1. Figure out what do you really want to be doing.
Step 2. What does the roadmap look like?
Step 3. Updating Your Resume
Step 4. Build (and then work) your network
If you’re thinking about changing your career, you’re in in good company. There are very few hard stats on how many people do change careers midstream—the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep data on career changers, mostly because the data is so unclear and not really tracked anywhere—but we do know that some very famous people only achieved those heights only after they pulled the trigger on a career change.
Did you know that:
- Walt Disney was originally a newspaper editor?
- Actor Harrison Ford was a carpenter before his first big movie role?
- Uber-chef Julia Child was a bureaucrat and spy for the U.S. government during World War II, before she mastered French cuisine?
- Actor Steve Buscemi was a New York City firefighter?
- Pope Francis was a chemical technician before joining the priesthood?
One thing these people all have in common (aside from amazing success) is that they each made a career decision based on the difference between what they were doing, and what they wanted to do with their lives. This isn’t to say that everyone should drop a stable, bill-paying job in order to pursue that dream of opening a puppet theater. However, if you think that changing careers is the best next step for you and your goals, then there are ways to make the jump in a smart and practical way.
Step 1: What do you want to be doing?
The best thing you can do up front is to start thinking about what it is you really want to do. According to a Deloitte Shift Index survey in 2010 (which tracked workplace trends), a staggering 80% of respondents lacked passion at their jobs. That’s a lot of disengaged people, or people at risk of checking out. Still, it’s not enough to feel vaguely unhappy at your current job, or on your current path. You need a plan for finding what it is you would be passionate about doing as a career.
In the following Tedx Talk, career coach Scott Dinsmore offers some advice on how to transition that dissatisfaction or malaise into real and lasting personal change. He recommends doing some soul searching on the following questions:
- What are your strengths? What are you good at doing? What would you do even if no one paid you?
- What are your values? Are you driven by people (family, friends)? Are you most concerned with success and achievement? How do those factor into your decision, and what is your “soul” made of?
- What are your experiences? What do you like, or dislike? What are you good at or bad at doing? What have your experiences told you about what you want, and what experiences inspire you? You have years of experiences, as well as successes and mistakes, which form a baseline of expectations.
Together, these factors can be pulled together to help you figure out what you want those successes to look like in the future, and what kinds of jobs would help you get there.
Step 2: What does the roadmap look like?
Changing careers is a process. At an early point in said process, you can’t really predict the outcome. But you can definitely map out your expectations, and the likely steps it will take to get there.
For example, take a look at this career change roadmap:
Step 3: Update your resume.
This means updating your resume and your cover letter to align with your revised career goals. Many job hunters make the easy mistake of assuming that their same old resume will do, and that hiring managers will connect the dots on skills and experience. Don’t let that be you! Take the initiative to rebuild your resume for your soon-to-be new career. On your resume, you have a bit of an added challenge, compared to another candidate who has more industry experience, so you need to craft your resume 2.0 to reflect that reality.
If you have a lot of skills that will be transferable from your old career to the new job(s) for which you’re applying:
Your best bet is likely a combination resume, where you craft the standard linear list of your jobs, but kick off the resume with a bulleted list of qualifications/skills. The bullet points in the work history section should, of course, emphasize the skills you want to play up in the qualifications summary. You might want to get your resume evaluated by a professional resume expert as well. (For more on how to write a great qualifications summary, visit Resume Genius.)
Here’s an example:
- Leading marketing teams of 5+ people.
- Designing and implementing ROI strategies aimed at streamlining marketing campaigns.
- Presenting marketing proposals to clients.
Combination resumes can be great for covering up gaps in experiences or long lags between jobs, but keep in mind that the lack of specific dates and other details might raise a red flag with hiring managers or interviewers. Be prepared to speak to those in the interview, as well as emphasize the transferrable skills you have.
If you are basically starting over, and want to downplay your work history:
Work on drafting a functional resume, where you group your skills into headers and bullets.
Here’s an example:
- Created brand-awareness social media campaigns for a national car rental company.
- Improved engagement and conversion rates for 3 straight years.
If you’re concerned that your career change narrative won’t overcome the relative lack of experience:
Write a resume that covers the standard skills and work history, but write a detailed cover letter that explains a) your passion for the industry you’re trying to break into; b) why your experience travels well into this new arena; and c) your strong motivation to start over, or find a foothold at this particular company. Your resume will still need to stand on its own, but you want to make sure the hiring manager is clear that you know your experience may not be extensive, but you have the skills and passion necessary for this job.
Step 4: Build (and then work) your network.
The best new resume in the world may not mean much if you can’t get it in front of the right people. Online application engines and emailed resumes have their place (and will likely do so for a long time to come), but one of the most effective ways to get noticed is also one of the oldest and lowest-tech: word of mouth. If you know someone in a company who can recommend you for an open position, it’s like getting a gold star on your resume. It may not get you an automatic job offer, but having an insider vouch for you could very well increase the odds of getting your application a closer look. Plus, seeking out people in your target industry can help you get a better handle on the industry itself, letting you ask questions and get information that might not be as readily available from internet searches.
And don’t discount your existing network: you never know who knows someone else, especially in this age of LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to put it out there that you’re looking to make connections in a new area. Use your social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) to find new connections or experts to follow. However, make sure you’re discreet about it if you’re not ready to announce your career change plans to your current employer. (Maybe don’t post a status update that says, “Hate my job, want to know more about alpaca farming. Anyone know any local animal farmers I can talk to?”)
If you truly don’t have any overlap between your current network and your new industry, start with some basic research. Look for groups online related to your target job, and “listen” in on message boards or email lists for a while. This can also let you know about industry events, job openings, or networking opportunities that you might not know about otherwise.
Whether your new career is on par with the carpenter-to-Han Solo transition, well, that remains to be seen. But if you know that you’re ready to commit to a jump (or at least commit to the idea of jumping), there’s no point in waiting until the time is right. Because you know what? That time may never come if you don’t make it happen yourself. But you can set yourself up so that there’s a time that feels comfortable for making the transition.