In the past, it was typical for school leavers or graduates to select the industry or profession they were best suited to in terms of qualifications, personal preference and even location.
The goal was to find a position then stay in the job for life. The most likely move was vertical, progressing upwards through the ranks of the same company via internal promotion. The one who would think of career change used to be considered a job hopper.
However, in today’s rapidly changing world, serving the same employer for the entire life is no longer seen as possible, or even desirable. As technology transforms the way we work, certain jobs become obsolete, while new ones emerge.
We need to keep abreast of trends that may impact our employment prospects in the future, and flexible enough to respond to new opportunities.
Through this guide, we’re going to look at some of the factors which might lead you to make a career change, and, once you’ve made the decision, offer some career advice and ideas to support you in finding a job and making the transition into a rewarding new position.
Related Reading: Top 10 Online Courses in Career Development
Why change careers?
On the face of it, changing careers may not always seem rational. After all, you may have spent years studying to obtain the qualifications needed, and then more time to gain experience in your chosen profession.
Before you embark on any major upheaval in your professional life, it’s worth spending some time to analyze the reasons for making a career move.
First, ask yourself:
‘Am I drawn to a specific new career? Or, do I just want to leave my current one?
There’s a big difference. If you already know which career you want to break into, and are highly motivated to do everything it takes to get there, the chances of success are high.
However, many people find themselves feeling that it would be a good idea to for a career change, without having a fixed idea of what else they could do.
These are some of the most typical reasons for considering a career move:
· You realize you made the wrong career choice
When leaving school or university, the pressure is on to start your working life. However, what seemed like an exciting career in your early twenties can sometimes fail to meet your needs as you mature.
It may be too pressured or perhaps not demanding enough. There may be nothing new to learn, so you’re simply bored. When you start to feel that getting to work every day is a chore, you could be in the wrong career.
· You’re in a career that may disappear
For example, the need for highly-skilled technician drafters, who were required to produce detailed technical drawings, has now been virtually eliminated due to the development of CAD technology. Customer helplines and online support is now often handled by AI rather than specialists.
If you can see that these kind of changes are likely in the foreseeable future in your profession, it’s prudent to start thinking about a career change before they happen.
· There’s a lack of potential for progression in your area.
It may be that you enjoy your chosen career, but there are limited opportunities for further meaningful career development. Perhaps your employer isn’t able to help you achieve your career goals, and there are no other suitable employers in your location. As an alternative to moving away from your area, you prefer to consider a career change.
· It doesn’t meet your needs for work/life balance.
Sometimes we love our job, but if it takes over too much of our life, other aspects which are important to us will suffer. This can happen in industries such as hospitality, where long hours and shift work are the norm.
No matter how much you enjoy the work, when family responsibilities increase, there may be a need to find a career with a more predictable working pattern, to restore your work / life balance.
· It doesn’t meet your financial requirements
No matter how much you love your chosen career, if you are left struggling to pay the bills each month, it’s natural to wonder if there is an equally satisfying alternative, which pays better.
Identify what’s important to you
Once you’ve decided to make a career change, increase your chances of success by taking a systematic approach.
Step 1 is to look at where you are now. What does your current career give you that’s important to you?
There could be many things:
- Friendship with great colleagues
- The feeling of being an expert
- Opportunity to solve-problems, creativity
- Opportunity to carry out practical work
- Freedom to plan the day
- Opportunity to coach juniors
- Great working conditions
- Close to home, no commuting
- Flexible hours so you can pick up the kids
Make a list, then decide which are critical, and which you could live without. Try listing them in order of importance
Step 2: What is important to you that your current career doesn’t provide? Where are you lacking at the moment? Make a second list.
- Financial rewards?
- Stable working pattern?
- Variety and stimulation?
- Opportunity to work independently?
- And there is much more to count down
Again, think about which of these are critical in the choice of your new career, and which are optional. There are also many online tools to help you analyze what’s important to you.
Step 3: what are your long term career goals? Ask yourself, at the end of my working life, what do I want to have achieved? What would a satisfying career have been like?
For example, would it have:
- Let you develop the younger generation?
- Given you all the financial rewards you wanted?
- Honored you with awards and recognition?
This is another useful way to think about what will really satisfy you in terms of your career. Let your imagination run a little wild here, then pick one or two things you hope your career will achieve for you.
After carrying out this analysis you should have gained a more detailed picture of what you would be looking for when you make a career change.
Your target career
Now, you’ve established what you want to achieve by a career change, it’s time to identify your target career.
You probably have one or more ideas in mind already, but before you make any decisions, a reality check may be needed.
It’s at this point, if it’s possible, that the best course of action is to seek some objective career advice. There are a number of sources where this assistance will be available.
- If you’re a recent graduate, consult the career advice service in your local educational institution.
- If you have more work experience, a government employment office may be ready to assist, especially if your industry is under threat of future decline.
- Approach local recruitment agencies or consultancies. This is also a good way of introducing yourself as a candidate for the future.
- Online resources. There is a wealth of information and a quick Google search will provide useful background on your chosen career. Look for official industry sites or those run by professional bodies
- Also, search for online blogs written by people already working in the industry. What is it they love or hate about their line of work? What insider information can you glean from them about the pros and cons of your target career?
- If salary is an important consideration, as it is likely to be for most people, the big job boards have a wealth of salary and other data, compiled from job seekers and recruiters.
- Approach a local employer in your chosen sector and ask for their feedback on the prospects of finding employment. Here, you will need to be diplomatic: you are requesting assistance for your research, not seeking a position (at this point, anyway).
- Make an appointment with a professional career counselor who can guide you to the correct decision. This is a great option if you want to talk about your options on a confidential one-to-one basis. The downside is, of course, that you will have to be prepared to pay for this service. However, when you consider the benefits of making the right career move, or the consequences of making the wrong choice, expert career advice may be an investment worth making.
What skills do you have?
At this point, let’s assume you have identified the career you want to pursue. It may also be the case that your goal is simply to exit your current career and you’re still undecided about which path would be the best for you to make a career change.
Without any doubt, no matter how long you have been in your current line of work, you will have amassed skills and knowledge that may be valuable to a potential employer. It is now time to consider what you have to offer.
Recruiters are typically searching for strengths in two areas, and both are valuable:
The technical knowledge needed to perform in a role. This can also include formal qualifications gained through periods of study and professional licenses which permit you to do the job.
Soft skills, aka people skills
These are more intangible and tend to reflect the personality of an employee, although some can be developed and learned. Team work, planning, time management, leadership, creativity and listening are some examples.
Your hard skills may apply specifically to the profession or industry you are currently working in. Certain qualifications, such as in accounting or training will be valued in virtually whatever sector you choose to work in.
However, soft skills can be useful in any number of contexts, and are therefore considered ‘transferable skills’.
As an example, let’s look at the soft skills a barman could typically expect to have or develop: customer service, problem-solving, inventory management, creativity, flexibility, ability to handle pressure, teamwork, conflict resolution, etc.
Or, the soft skills an offshore drilling engineer would need in order to be effective: communication, attention to detail, problem solving, commitment to a team, self-reliance, cross-cultural awareness, commitment to safety, ability to handle tough situations for long periods, resilience, etc.
Take some time to analyze your current role in this way. What hard skills and what soft skills do you have, that you would be taking with you into your new position?
Are your hard skills relevant in the sector you want to move into to?
What soft skills do you demonstrate in your current role?
Make a list of everyone you can think of, together with what you actually do which demonstrates that you have that skill.
Filling the gaps
During your research into your chosen career, you may have realized that certain hard skills are needed, which you don’t possess. It’s not always possible to learn on the job, and if you’re making the case that you can move into a new position without a background in that sector, a degree or other certification may well be necessary.
For example, if you want to follow a career as an aromatherapist, you will need a basic qualification to even be considered. If you’re moving into the teaching profession, a qualification would prove that you have studied and reached a level of knowledge. A CAD designer needs to be qualified to be considered even for an entry-level position.
If you’ll need to fill gaps in your hard skills in order to make the transition to a more meaningful career, and this will involve resuming or continuing your education, consider carefully, as you’ll have to be prepared to invest:
- financial resources
If your chosen career requires soft skills, such as leadership, and you feel that you’re not strong in a particular area, it’s also a good moment to discover ways you could practice and demonstrate your expertise.
For example, if you don’t have the opportunity to use leadership skills at work, what about getting involved in a voluntary or community activity that would allow you to take a leadership role?
Start your job search
Once you’ve made up your mind that a career change is a right thing for you need, and you’ve done the groundwork so you know what you will need to make the move successfully, as well as what you can offer to a potential employer, it’s time to embark on the search for that elusive new position.
In a crowded and competitive job market, you need to be ready to invest time and effort.
As you have a specific target in mind, there are a number of places where you may find details of positions that match your career choice.
- Job boards
- Recruitment agencies and consultancies
- Newspaper adverts are still useful, especially for when employers are recruiting locally
- Trade magazines and websites
- Linkedin is a powerful source of career opportunities
- Employer websites: an excellent starting point if you already have an employer of choice
- Social media, typically local Facebook pages
As you start your search, make it as broad as possible. Use keywords to save time trawling through irrelevant ads.
Keywords are also helpful in other ways. Whenever an advert relates to the new position you’re looking for, note the requirements.
Which hard skills are essential? Which soft skills are mentioned time and time again? This information is going to help you tailor your CV to optimize the chances of being invited for an interview.
Make your case with a tailored CV
When you’ve finally found the role you’re looking for, in the company that you’d love to join, you may think it’s time to dust off your old CV, add a couple of lines to update it, and press ‘send’.
Unfortunately in today’s overcrowded and competitive job market, all that’s likely to get you, if you’re lucky, is an automated rejection letter.
Recruiters receive hundreds of applications every week, and don’t have time to trawl through CVs in the hope that they’ll find some nuggets of information to answer the only question they have: ‘Is this the right person for the role?’
It is essential to create your CV with the intention of answering that question.
- Use an attractive, modern template. There are many resources online to help you create a CV with a clean and professional look.
- Make your personal statement count. This should be located just under your personal details, and will be the first thing a recruiter scans. Use a maximum of 80 words in 3 or 4 sentences to mention who you are, relevant qualifications, your track record and experience. End with what you are looking for, i.e. a career change, and why.
- When listing your employment history, weave in details of your soft skills into every point. Never cut and paste your job description. Instead, describe what you achieved. such:
- ‘Led a team of 7 sales consultants to achieve increase of 23 % in B2B revenue’.
- ‘Planned and delivered social events for up to 200 people’.
- In the education section, only include details of your highest qualification, and any additional certifications which are relevant to the role you’re applying for.
- At the end of your CV, mention any sporting, voluntary or extra-curricular activities you take part in, which can highlight your soft skills.
- Never give in to the temptation to list everything you can think of which might be of interest. Cut your CV down ruthlessly so it only includes what could be relevant to the role you’re applying for.
- Understand that if your recruiter is using an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) the software will be trawling for keywords. Therefore pay special attention to any keywords in the job posting and make sure to integrate these into your text. You can identify keywords as they come after sentences such as:
‘The ideal candidate will have (keyword)…..’
‘The person we’re looking for is (keyword)…’
‘Are you (keyword), (keyword) and (keyword)?
When the software can’t find keywords, your application may be rejected before a human being has even set eyes on it.
Make your cover letter count
Whenever you’re given the option to include a cover letter with your application, don’t waste the opportunity. It’s your chance to introduce yourself and to let the recruiter know why, even though you are coming new to this career, you are a strong candidate, who will bring many strengths.
Writing a cover letter with impact needn’t be a daunting task. Keep it to four short paragraphs.
- Introduce yourself with a short, statement, using their keywords.
- ‘A great leader knows they can learn from their team. In my 7 years…..’
- Don’t waste time by mentioning the job title or where you saw the ad.
- Make it clear how you can add value. Mention some of your hard or soft skills and explain how these can help in your new career.
- How can your unique blend of skills solve a problem for them? For example, if they have an issue with employee turnover, your listening and counselling skills can get to the source of the issue. If they are concerned about declining customer satisfaction, you can bring lessons from your hospitality background.
- Close the letter by emphasizing your commitment to your career change, and to joining their organization. Thank them for their interest. Make yourself available for interview.
While all the standard interview protocols apply, you have the added challenge of presenting yourself as someone with the experience, skills and determination to hit the ground running and learn the details as you go along.
Even if you are not offered the new position you’re looking for, take each job interview as an opportunity to gain more details and in-depth information about your chosen career path.
The decision to make a major career change is not the one to be taken lightly. Approach your career move carefully; consider your reasons for wanting to make the change, and what you hope to gain.
Analyze your own strengths and weaknesses, understand the job market. Then when you’re ready to make your move, you’ll be armed with everything you need to find a rewarding and meaningful new career.