Making a career change can be a daunting prospect.
As well as the uncertainty that comes with quitting a secure job, there’s the added pressure of convincing potential employers you’re the right person to work in a field you have little or no experience in.
But changing your career path is completely achievable – most of us are likely to do it at least once in our lives. It may not be easy (unless you’re lucky!) but there are steps you can take to smooth the transition and improve your chances of landing that exciting new job.
If you’ve already decided what direction you want to move in and identified some companies you’d like to work for, the following steps should help you prove to those companies that you’re the very best person for the job.
1. Be clear why you’re changing career
This is one of the questions you’ll undoubtedly get asked by potential employers, so you need to know the answer. Simply saying ‘because I hated my old job’ isn’t going to cut it.
Spend some time thinking about your reasons for changing career, and specifically why you’ve chosen this particular new career path.
Instead of focusing on the negatives of your old job, focus on the positives of both new and old careers.
Come up with a solid set of reasons for making the switch, and be prepared with a succinct answer that sums them up.
For example: ‘I learnt a lot working as a hydrogeologist, but I realised when my company began sending me to teach workshops in schools that I really loved working with children, so I decided to pursue it further and move into the education sector.’
2. Identify some tangible goals
If you want to succeed, you need to have an idea of what that success is going to look like. Launching yourself blindly into a new career without knowing where you’re trying to get to is unlikely to yield results.
Again, potential employers often ask questions along the lines of ‘so where do you see yourself in five years?’ and again, you need to be prepared to answer them.
Research the sector you want to work in thoroughly. Check out the LinkedIn pages of a few companies you’d like to work for, and find a few employees in jobs you’d like to do.
See what previous experience they have, and what led them to their current role.
This will help you work out what sort of career trajectory people generally follow in your desired sector. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, but this should be a good indication of what your new career path might look like.
Based on your research, identify a few tangible career goals, and give them time limits. For example, if you want to move into journalism, one of your goals might be to become a staff writer for a local newspaper within three years.
3. Address gaps in your experience
If you’re moving into an entirely new sector, you’re probably going to have gaps in your skillset.
If you’re making a huge about-turn into a field you have no experience in, you may have to do some significant training.
If you’ve decided to become an electrician or a lawyer, for example, you’ll have to completely retrain.
If you’re making a less drastic change, then a short course or some volunteering in your chosen field may be all you need.
Either way, taking positive steps to address the gaps in your skills will show potential employers that you’re serious about the career change and enthusiastic about the sector.
4. Identify areas where your skills cross over
On the flipside, there are likely to be some areas where your current skills converge with those you’ll need in your new career.
Read over job descriptions for jobs you’d like to do, and identify what skills and experience they require.
Think carefully about previous jobs you’ve done and the responsibilities you had. Find parallels between those responsibilities and the skills listed in the job descriptions.
Knowing where your skills cross over will be vital when it comes to applying and interviewing for jobs.
5. Make contact with the right people
Networking is always helpful – but even more so when you’re changing career. As the old saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know.
If you already have contacts in your desired field, great – get in touch! If not, ask around your friends, family and professional network to see if anyone has any contacts in the field and ask them to introduce you.
If you can’t find anyone in your existing network, use LinkedIn or find contacts from company websites.
Don’t be shy about approaching them – people are often more generous with their time and advice than you think, especially if you show a real interest in their work.
A good way to start is by sending an email paying them a compliment or acknowledging something impressive or interesting they’re doing professionally. Once you’ve built up a bit of a rapport you can then ask them for some advice or a bit of their time.
You’re likely to get some invaluable advice out of it, and you never know – it might lead to a job opportunity further down the line if you’re lucky.
6. Nail the career change CV
One of the most valuable weapons in any career changer’s arsenal is the CV.
Nailing your CV is absolutely essential if you want to make the right impression on potential employers.
When changing career it’s best to start completely afresh. You’re embarking on an entirely new career, so you should have an entirely new CV.
An opening paragraph is crucial on a career change CV. It needs to acknowledge the change of direction and highlight and key crossovers between your experience and the job description.
Include your most relevant experience, and highlight any accomplishments and responsibilities that could be desirable in your new career.
If you’ve done any training or volunteering to prepare for your new career, make this prominent.
Once you’ve got a template for your new CV, make sure you tailor it specifically to each job you apply for, including keywords from the job description throughout.
7. Be persistent
The most important thing you can do is be persistent, and don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer than you thought it would – it will be worth it when you get there!
It may not happen overnight, but just carry on taking one small action each day and you’ll gradually get closer and closer to your career goals.