Maybe you haven’t found the opportunities in your industry you thought you would. Or your industry has just changed. Or maybe you feel like you’ve hit a wall in your current role. Or you’re bored with it. Or maybe you really don’t like your job function. Or your industry as a whole. Or maybe you really, really love a different industry, and you want in.
No matter the reason, it’s time for a career change. They’re tricky to navigate, but by no means impossible. (Just ask Sallie.) Here are ten steps to help you make the transition.
1. Dream big dreams
Whether you actually know what you want to do next, or you only know that you want something different, start with some soul searching. Or vision boarding. Or journaling. Or whatever works for you to help you get in touch with your hopes, dreams, and values. When you put in the work to figure out what’s important to you, then you’re more likely to build a new career that also feels important to you.
2. Set some direction
Next, start exploring industries and jobs that could fit with those hopes, dreams, and values. Don’t feel like there has to be one “right answer”; there are lots of people who found their dream jobs in places they’d never expected.
You might also talk with people who are already working in roles or industries that interest you and ask them why they love their careers. That can help you get a feel for what it’s really like to do that job.
Finally, make a career wishlist. Which industry makes your eyes light up when you talk about working in it? What companies would you drop everything to work for? What kind of work do you want to do every day? Follow those feelings and narrow it down to a target list of jobs and companies you plan to apply to. And then go after it.
3. Start networking ASAP
It’s never “too late,” but the right time to start networking is long before you’re ready to leave your job. Networking takes time to work its magic. It won’t be nearly as effective if you wait until you need something to start making connections. This is especially true if you’re trying to make a career change, because you’ll probably need to cast a wider net to find new people in the right circles.
Think about how you can leverage the built-in networking at the job you already have: Do you work somewhere big enough that you can change jobs within the company? If you like your current company, that might be an easier way to transition, since they already know how awesome you are. If you want to leave, might you change careers without changing industries? For example, from corporate finance to fintech? If so, your existing skills and experiences could really set you apart.
And remember: It might take longer than you think (or want) to find your next dream job. Networking helps. Start early, stay patient, and keep going.
4. Do the actual thing
How can you get out there and do the actual work you want to do? If you want to work in social media, can you volunteer to run accounts for a non-profit? If you want to do website design, can you build yourself a kick-ass personal website? Can you pick up freelance work? Take online classes? Get certifications?
Do you have an online portfolio, or a blog? Now could be a great time to start one. You can show off the relevant work you’ve done in the past, write about the things that interest you, and give prospective employers a one-stop shop to get to know you.
When you apply for jobs, just claiming that your experiences will transfer to whatever you want to do next probably isn’t going to cut it. Find ways to practice, close the gaps in your skill set, and prove that you are capable of doing the work you want to do.
5. Refresh your resume
OK, time to dive into the job-search weeds. The key to a successful career change is taking the experiences, skills, and insights you already have and then using your resume and cover letter to connect the dots on how they translate to your new role.
Start by making a giant list of everything you did in your previous life. No task is too small. Then think hard about each one to see if there’s a way it can translate — stay open-minded, because what was important to your old job might not be relevant to your new job, and vice versa. Think about both hard skills — like Excel or Photoshop — and “soft” skills — like time management and communication.
While you’re at it, take a look at the actual design of your physical resume (and cover letter), too. They might have told you in college that a resume should always be one page, black and white, with Times New Roman font. That might be true for the industry you’re trying to move into. But it also might not. If you want to work somewhere less formal or more creative, don’t be afraid to let your personality and brand come through.
6. Focus in on LinkedIn
Take a look at your LinkedIn profile, too. Is it showcasing the skills you want to emphasize? You could ask some friends and former coworkers to endorse you for the ones on your target list. While you’re at it, you could ask people you worked closely with to write you a recommendation (and of course, offer to write them one in return).
Does your bio and resume showcase common and specific keywords for the job(s) you’re targeting? Are all your relevant certifications, volunteer experiences, and interests showing?
And finally, is your “personal brand” updated? That’s the impression people get when they think about you. Reinventing your career is a good time to make sure that the vibes you’re giving off match the ones you want people to pick up on. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not, but if you’re interested in a new industry or job function, let that come through.
For example, if you’re trying to move from a buttoned-up, traditional corporate role to a job at a start-up where they wear jeans and T-shirts, maybe swap the formal headshot for a more lifestyle-focused profile picture. It’s all about what the norm is in your target industry.
7. Take care with your cover letters
Hiring managers read cover letters. And they’re looking for candidates whose skills and passion match the job they’re hiring for. Prove that you’re not just casting a wider net because you couldn’t find a job in your existing industry, and that you’re as intentional about and well-prepared for this career change as you will be for the job itself.
Take time to point out the skills you’ve got that match the description of each specific job you’re applying for. Acknowledge what you’ve done to develop new skills. Call out any mentors you’ve worked with. And let the heart in your job search show through. Show them that you have a real passion for your next step, for their company, and for the new work you’ll be doing.
And map each cover letter to the specific job you’re looking for. Each job description is slightly different, and each hiring manager wants to know that you see details.
8. Get a first-person perspective
If you know someone who works in your new industry — especially if they manage other people or conduct interviews as part of their role — consider asking for their feedback. Show them your revamped resume and cover letter, make sure it vibes with the new industry, and ask if there are any obvious gaps you could work to fill.
9. Prepare for interviews
Practicing for interviews is good advice for any job hunter, but particularly important for the career changer. How will you prove to the hiring manager that you are capable of doing this job? Don’t just say “I did this, and therefore, I’m sure I can do that.” Make a plan to show them what that looks like. Map possible questions about your history back to how they could apply to the job you want.
Where there are gaps in your skills or experience, be ready to talk about them. Your interviewer isn’t going to forget to ask (in fact, they’ll probably start there), so knowing how you’ll address them and respond to questions is key.
Offer to do a sample assignment, take a test, complete a certification. Show them that you believe in your own capabilities and that you’re also willing to learn. And be prepared to speak to your why — why you want to work there, why you want to switch careers.
10. Crush it
Enough said. Proud of you.
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