Maybe you’ve found your true passion, maybe you want a bigger paycheck or maybe you just dislike your current industry. Whatever the reason, if you’re looking to make a career change, you’re not alone. Last year, more than one-third of job seekers (34%) switched careers entirely, according to a study by LinkedIn.
“Switching roles, if done professionally and respectfully, can actually be seen as a positive from a potential employer’s perspective, showing that you do not allow yourself to stagnate but rather proactively seek opportunity,” says Martha Schmitz, an adviser with the career services company Mentat. “Given the percentage of your day that you spend at work, it’s important that you feel passionate about what you are doing and feel that you continue to grow and develop in your role,” Schmitz says.
Whether you have skills that will easily transfer to another career or you need to complete an advanced degree to make the switch, making a career change requires planning. Here’s how to make it happen:
Understand Why You Really Want to Switch
Switching careers can be a bold move, so it’s important to know your motives before you dive into anything. Knowing what you want out of your new career will help you shape your goals to get there faster.
“Before moving away from your current role, it is important to get specific about what you want next,” Schmitz says. “Reframe your negative feelings about your current job into positive dreams, envisioning what you’re moving towards.”
If you’re looking to switch because you want a quick fix to a problem at work — for example, you have a boss you’re desperate to escape from — you might want to rethink making an entire career switch, says Angela Copeland, career coach and founder of Copeland Coaching. If, however, your reasons are for personal growth or your industry is changing in a way that negatively affects you, then a career change could be the right move, she says.
First, you should determine which qualities in a role or career really matter to you. Then figure out which of those qualities your current role has, and which it is lacking. If the qualities that your role is lacking are truly important to you, identify new roles or career paths that enable you to get the qualities and experiences you feel you’re lacking.
Identify and Close Gaps in Your Skills
Once you understand where you want to go, it’s time to put your goals into action. You may not be starting over totally from scratch, as many skills are transferable between careers. Start by reviewing job descriptions for positions that interest you to see where you might be lacking, says Wendi Weiner, a lawyer, career transition coach and founder of The Writing Guru. Figure out which skills you need to acquire and put a plan in place to get them. Your plan could include:
- Additional schooling: Some career switches are going to require specific schooling. For example, if you’ve decided to become a lawyer, nurse or elementary-school teacher, it’s likely that you’ll require additional education.
- On-the-job training: While your current role may not be giving you the skills you need to make the switch into your dream career, there may be opportunities to take on a new role with your current employer to get those skills. This may mean proactively asking for additional responsibility or exploring a different piece of the business.
- Volunteer: “Consider taking on small projects for free in order to enhance both your knowledge and experience,” career coach Copeland says. Find companies who need resources to solve specific problems and offer your skills to do so. Often this is a win both for you, and the company: you build the skills they need and they benefit from a sharp thinker who is engaged in the work.
Know Your New Industry or Function
Educate yourself about the new industry or function you are targeting. That means knowing which employers are market leaders in your new field and who is on their executive teams, which you can research on LinkedIn. Use Twitter to track influential people in your desired field and set up Google Alerts to follow industry news.
Janice Woo, a former J.P. Morgan banker who joined the business development team of online lender CommonBond, my employer, used AngelList to research the fintech scene and the roles that industry offers.
“I made a wall of Post-It-notes with every fintech company in New York City on it,” Woo says. She used that wall to define the universe of companies she was considering and to keep track of her job search.
Network Like Crazy
Reach out to everyone you know in your desired field to learn about all the opportunities available to you. “Don’t be afraid to reach out on LinkedIn and to friends who work at companies that interest you,” Woo says.
Networking efforts greatly improve your odds of landing a job. “Many job functions can be learned over time, but you do need to find an open-minded hiring manager,” Copeland says. “Nine hiring managers may tell you they will not accept someone without more experience, but a tenth may be willing to give you a shot. Don’t give up and you will find someone who believes in you.”
Keep the Doors Open in Your Old Field
It’s important to leave your current role on a high note to protect your reputation, Schmitz says. In most cases, you will have gained something from your time with that organization and you want old bosses and colleagues to remain good references and part of your network.
“Leaving your current role in a respectful manner, giving plenty of notice and being willing to train your replacement will go a long way towards ensuring that future employers hear only positive reviews of your work,” Schmitz says. “Burning bridges and leaving people responsible for the work you have left can ruin this possibility, and opens the door for potentially negative reviews that come back to haunt you in later roles.”
Transitioning to a career is never easy, but following these five tips can make your transition feel a bit more seamless.
This article was written by Tom Anderson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.