Career Path

How to Change Careers

Learn how to make a career change by highlighting your existing skills and experience.

Only several years ago, such a situation would be something of a pipe dream: the journalist who decided to become a prosecutor, or the architect who morphed into a college counselor.

But in today’s red-hot labor market, people have a better shot now more than ever to make a career switch. During the height of the recession, for every job opening there were 6.6 unemployed persons, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now that ratio is 0.9, meaning there isn’t even one person for every job opening.

Career experts say most people wait far too long to consider leaving their jobs.

What’s more, extra certifications and niche skills have become much more accessible thanks to technology, and companies, sensing an urgent need for new breeds of workers, are spending about $90 billion on training expenditures annually.

Of course, transitioning from one career to another is never easy, particularly if you’re unsure what the next step may be. But with the proper research, you could find it’s the right time for you to consider a different career. 

Consider the timing.

While the labor market may be the hottest it’s been in years, you also need to consider whether the timing works best for you. If you’re in the middle of earning an extra degree or have aging parents and need to stay put, for example, it’s important to know your limits and how much you can actually handle, says Val Olson, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach.

It’s also key not to underestimate how much time it can take to switch careers—not the typical three to six months it takes to change jobs. And higher-level or specialized roles can take even longer.

Don’t hang on if you’re truly unhappy.

Many times, we’re told to just let go of an unhappy feeling at work and chalk it up to a bad day. And while we shouldn’t jump the gun on giving a job a chance, career experts say most people wait far too long to consider a move. “Many people live with an unhappy job for five, 10 years before actually trying to make a jump,” Olson says.

If you’ve found yourself getting the Sunday-night blues and feel you’ve been underappreciated at work for a while, it may be time to consider a switch.

Understand which skills are transferrable.

The litany of opportunities when changing careers can seem quite daunting. One of the best ways to hone in on what may be possible is to understand your preferred skills and interests, including what you like and dislike about your current job. “Most people aren’t able to make a switch that doesn’t build on something they’ve already done,” Olson says.

To that end, research the fields that depend on your skills and also are doing well. Tech, healthcare, and service sectors, for example, continue to expand, while manufacturing and industrials are losing steam. 

Be aware but not afraid of fear.

Any type of big change in life is overwhelming and drums up questions of whether we’re making the right decision. “We have a dinosaur brain that doesn’t want anything to change,” Olson says. “While that keeps us safe, it also keeps us stuck.” When the doubt creeps in, realize it’s part of the process. The more you prep and plot out your move, the more that doubt will quiet.

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