How to Change Careers: Your Step-By-Step Guide

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Category: Careers

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The workplace has gone through multiple changes in recent years, and that’s why we updated this article, originally published in 2017, with new information for 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many Americans to reconsider what’s most important in their lives, including their relationships to their jobs. There are many reasons why millions are planning to switch careers altogether, including:

  • Career advancement.
  • Company culture.
  • Remote work opportunities.
  • Support for work-life balance.

If you’re considering a career change, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you find the kind of job that’s best for you.

Step 1: Know the Education Requirements

Whether it’s earning your degree, signing up for a continuing education course or getting a certificate, every job opportunity requires some form of training or expertise. Your previous degree may not help you enter the field you’re interested in now.

Narrow down the education requirements for the kind of job you’re pursuing now. Working full time while going to school can be difficult, but in the end, the education will be worth it.

Step 2: Learn All You Can About the New Industry

Keeping up with trends and best practices is essential to professional growth, so find out what successful professionals in your industry do to stay on top of their game.

For example, students wanting to enter a career in business may want to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. Fire science professionals and EMS administrators might enroll in an online continuing education course or attend a national conference. Following publications that appeal to those in your new career field will also help you fit in and speak the way they do.

Step 3: Tap Into Your Network and Make New Connections

Even if you’ve stayed in one industry for your entire career, you may be surprised to realize how many current and former colleagues may be connected to someone in the career field you’re looking to enter now.

Reach out to former coworkers and talk to your network to learn about job openings and organizations. Using LinkedIn can be an especially effective way to find mutual connections.

Training events, workshops and conferences are also great opportunities to build relationships and meet potential employers. Spending a little time with a new connection may benefit you if that person can help you compete for an open position.

Step 4: Update Your Resume

Before you apply for a new position, make sure your resume is in tiptop shape. Your resume doesn’t have to include all your previous experience – especially if it’s not relevant experience – but it should show how you’ve added value to your previous places of work through specific examples, data and facts.

Certain details from your former industry may not be easily understood by potential new employers – especially if you’re transitioning out of the military – so use plain language and explain how you contributed in your previous positions as clearly as possible.

Step 5: Draft Your Cover Letter

A cover letter is not a one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, each one should be tailored to the position to which you are applying. Your cover letter is your opportunity to show you’ve done your homework and how your experience aligns with the employer’s business goals and objectives.

Your cover letter is also an opportunity to describe why you are changing careers. You will likely be asked that question in the interview, so take the time to write out your answer in the cover letter. Make your case for why someone with your background can succeed in this new industry.

Step 6: Submit the Job Application

Before you finish your application, you’ll want to make sure you’ve completed all the employer’s requirements.

For example, does the application require reference letters or a portfolio? The new industry may have requirements that are different from positions you held previously. Check everything on your list so the application represents you in best possible way.

Step 7: Nail the Interview

Once you’ve gotten the interview, now is your time to shine. The employer has more than likely already seen your resume, so the interview is an opportunity for them to get to know you, and for you to get to know them.

Wear the right clothes. Let your personality shine. Ask questions. Dig deep and see what they’re truly looking for in a candidate. Do your research and practice your answers. Lastly, always follow up with a thank you note within 24 hours of your interview.

Additional Career Change Support

Want more help with your career change? If you’re currently enrolled in a university or have attended one in the past, you likely already have access to your school’s career services team. Career services professionals can assist students and alumni in areas such as:

  • Career counseling.
  • Career explorations by major.
  • Interview preparation.
  • Job search strategies.
  • Labor market research.
  • Military and veteran resources.
  • Networking advice.
  • Professional correspondence review.

Here at Columbia Southern University, our students and alumni can contact our career services team to discuss any of these topics any time. They also have access to a comprehensive career services manual and online networking through LinkedIn and Facebook groups.

Education is the first step to change your career. For more information about CSU’s online degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, visit our website.

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