Secrets to a successful career change
By Steven Starks, Sr. Manager, Career Counseling Programs & Operations, University of Phoenix
Something’s not quite jelling in your career – the pay, the organization, the team or even the nature of the work itself. You know you want to make a change, but the thought of doing something different is so overwhelming that you don’t know where to start.
As senior manager of career counseling programs and operations with University of Phoenix, I’ve worked with hundreds of people in this situation. What I’ve learned is that most people know they want to enhance their job, but they don’t know what that looks like. Throughout my career, I’ve uncovered a few “secrets” that can help.
Here are five tips for you to consider if you’re looking to change careers.
1. Understand why you want to make a change
What you do for a living is a big part of your identity. When your work no longer aligns with your preferences, interests or values, it’s time to reflect on what’s missing from your career that you’d like to get out of your next opportunity. Understanding your motivations can help you create a vision to strive for instead of job to escape from.
I often suggest starting by creating two columns on a sheet of paper: What I liked and What I disliked. Think about your past work experience and, in the appropriate column, write down what you liked about the experience as well as what you disliked. Include details about the work environment, specific work activities you performed or ways in which your work supported other areas of your life (e.g. salary, location, schedule, etc.). The resulting list will give you a general idea of what you’re trying to avoid and what you’re striving for out of your next job.
2. Identify what kind of change you want to make
Identifying the kind of change you want to make can help orient you to the job market and establish a general direction from which to explore new career opportunities. The four basic types of changes include, changing your company, industry, function, or both industry and function. Here are some examples:
- An accountant at a hospital transitioning into the same job at a different hospital. This type of change is usually the least challenging because you’re doing the same job function, it’s just the company that’s different. Ultimately, the skills and experience you already possess can make for a smoother transition into your next role.
- An accountant at a hospital transitioning into the same job at a mortgage company. Going from hospital to mortgage company is a change in industry. Although it’s the same job function, there may be significant differences between the healthcare and mortgage industries that require new or specialized knowledge to perform the job well. Learning all you can about the new industry will be vital to a successful transition.
- An accountant at a hospital transitioning into an entry-level IT role at the same hospital. Changing from accounting to IT is a major switch in job functions. This type of transition can be challenging because it requires knowledge and skills that may not align with your previous role. Learning new skills, gaining experience and leveraging professional relationships for job referrals will be crucial to your career change strategy.
- An accountant at a hospital transitioning into an entry-level IT role at a mortgage company. Changing both job functions and industries can be the most difficult type of transition, because it requires both new skills and industry knowledge. You’ll also need a clear employment goal that you’re passionate about, an optimistic mindset and a high level of motivation to persevere through the transition.
Avoid the common mistake of thinking that a credential alone will be the key to a successful career change.
— Steven Starks
Sr. Manager, Career Counseling Programs & Operations, University of Phoenix
Research opportunities that align with your preferences
If you’re looking to make a major career change (i.e. job function or industry and function), you need to understand employers’ needs, the day-to-day of the targeted role and the culture of the organization before you can effectively market yourself to employers. You can’t learn about these things just by reading online job descriptions and company websites. So, what do you do?
Be proactive and start by looking for companies instead of jobs. Create a list of at least 10 companies in your desired industry/location and talk to people who work there by leveraging your existing network or LinkedIn. These types of informational meetings are not about finding a job, but rather getting information you need to make informed career decisions.
3. Become competitive for the opportunities you want
Once you’ve researched your interests, you can hone in on specific types of industries and roles you want to target. You’ll need to understand the skills, education, industry-specific certifications, and experience valued by employers to be competitive for these roles. Part of this information can come from reliable government websites like O*NET or the Occupational Outlook Handbook, but also from the informational meetings you have.
Avoid the common mistake of thinking that a credential alone will be the key to a successful career change. Focus on gaining relevant experience through internships, volunteering, part-time work or projects at your current place of employment to gain practical experience applying new knowledge and skills.
4. Build relationships with people in your career field
If you’re a career changer, ditch the online application process altogether. It’s unlikely that you will get noticed because your previous experience doesn’t match with what the employer is looking for. Instead, participate in relevant professional associations and start building relationships with people in your desired industry/profession.
Sure, it’s not as easy as sitting behind a computer and applying online, but it can be more effective. Research shows that 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. You may need someone to vouch for you if you want employers to give you a chance at a new type of role you’ve never done before.