Career & Finance

Thinking About Making a Major Career Change? Here’s Exactly How to Prepare

written by MICHELLE LEMA
career change"
career change
Source: @polina-zimmerman | Pexels
Source: @polina-zimmerman | Pexels

Assessing where we’ve been in our careers and how we want to move forward is crucial for career growth. It helps us decide whether we want to work toward promotions, learn new skills, or even make complete career changes altogether. If you’ve found yourself considering the latter, you’re not alone. For generations, society has taught us to decide on a career path and stick to it, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, we want more for ourselves, don’t actually like what we thought we would, or just want to do something we’re more passionate about.

While it can be a terrifying and difficult decision to pivot, it’s possible to change your career—and it doesn’t have to be difficult to do. In fact, many people we admire have done so, sometimes more than once. Take acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, for example. She began her career as a publicist, pivoted to writing and directing in her 30s, started her own production company, and eventually directed the Oscar-nominated film Selma in her 40s. How’s that for an impressive change of pace?

Whether the desire for a career change was prompted by your own goals, a layoff, or the need to find work-life balance, it’s time to embrace it and take steps to achieve it. Although it might seem like you’re completely starting over by switching careers, the work you put into your current career can actually be what helps you succeed in the next. Ahead, we’re breaking down the six steps you can do to prepare for a career change that will help you feel confident and ready to take the leap.

1. Take a class

When contemplating a career change, the best thing you can do is get out of your head and actually learn about it. Taking a class is a great way to do this. When I wanted to shift my career focus to writing from my previous roles (I have been an assistant, a paralegal, and a manager of digital content!), I joined a writers’ group and signed up for a television writing class. Not only did these classes help me sharpen my skills, but over time, they became safe spaces where I could try out new things and ask questions. Best of all, I made new connections to others in my desired field of writing. In classes, you’ll gain experience for your resume, test out your skills in a learning environment, and meet people who could connect you to new opportunities.

While writing classes are fairly easy to find in any major city, some skills aren’t as readily available or require more research. For example, you might need to take a few classes at a local community college, or you might just be able to complete a certification online. It all depends on what you’re interested in! Start by Googling what classes, certifications, or licensing you might need and go from there. If you’re working a full-time job and are already feeling at capacity, a class or certification might be too overwhelming. In that case, try a one-day weekend workshop or an online Masterclass, both of which are a much less time-consuming way to learn something new.

2. Connect with people in your desired career

The best way to learn more about the career you want to pursue is by talking to the people already doing it. While you can learn practical skills in a class, the day-to-day aspects of a job may vary across companies and regions. An informational meeting is a great way to ask questions and get an accurate understanding of how the career you’re interested in might look and feel. Here are some of the various ways you can find someone to talk to:

  • Think about who you already know who might be able to connect you with someone in your desired field
  • Attend company-wide mixers to meet people in adjacent fields
  • Check out local events, exhibitions, or career fairs in your area
  • Explore LinkedIn to see if you or someone you know have mutual connections with someone you’d like to learn more from
  • Send a blind email to someone you admire in your desired role

Sometimes, this can be intimidating, but it’s an important step to connect with professionals and set your own expectations about the job. If you put yourself out there professionally, you never know where it could lead. You might meet with someone once and never again, but you might also find a peer you can dream with or a mentor who is willing to advise you on your career journey. Just make sure that you come armed with a list of questions ahead of meeting someone. This is your moment to ask about the challenges, opportunities, and day-to-day tasks of the work, and you want to get all the details!

3. Research how others got started

Despite the above, sometimes you won’t have a direct connection to people in the new career you’re dreaming about. If this is the case, it’s time to start some research. One of my favorite activities is looking up creative people and seeing where they got their start. If you’re into tech, read an interview featuring your favorite tech entrepreneur. If you’re looking to get into social media strategy, check out your favorite brands and see what they’re doing on all their platforms. Then, look up who’s running them and how they got there. In doing this, you’ll learn about how people navigated to where they wanted to be and how their industry works at the same time. Reading autobiographies, if available in the career path you’ve chosen, is also incredibly inspiring.

When doing the research, you’ll likely start seeing a pattern: No one gets to where they want to be in the same way. And no one achieves their goals in the exact amount of time they thought they would. Most people take twists and turns to get to their dream career. And many people had a dream career and decided to find another one. Reading about people who have done what you’re about to do is a great way to learn that it’s not impossible to change careers. In fact, it’s more than doable if you keep working at it.

4. Say your new career goals out loud

This one seems simple, but it’s key in preparing for a career change. When I left my job in digital marketing, I had a difficult time telling people what I was doing next. After almost a year of this, a stranger in a coffee shop asked me what my job was, and it burst out of me. I waited for them to question me, but they didn’t. Maybe because I had practically screamed my profession at them, but probably because they had no reason to doubt me. I felt a surge of pride when I finally said it out loud. This started a chain reaction that helped me get past the imposter syndrome I felt.

I know firsthand that gaining the courage to admit you want to change careers is one thing, but telling people about it, who could potentially doubt you, is another thing entirely. If you like to journal, putting the words in writing can be a powerful way to combat doubt. You can also start small by updating your resume, website, or email signature to reflect your new goals. Next, tell a stranger or close friend what you’re working toward. After this repetition, it will get easier and easier to picture it as your actual future.

5. Identify which of your current skills will translate

Changing your career does not have to mean completely starting over. In fact, that is rarely the case. If you’ve had any job or career at all, you’re already a step ahead. Chances are, in your current career, you’ve learned the skills that are important in any job: communication, professionalism, problem-solving, managing change, and the ability to learn new skills.

When I was in digital marketing, I used to hire new members for my team. Of course, this required reviewing resumes and qualifications, but my interview questions were more about learning who the person was behind the accolades. Someone who is genuinely passionate about starting a new career (and who is willing to learn!) is worth taking a chance on, especially if that person has clear goals. Not everyone hires this way, but the best way to show a potential new employer that you aren’t just starting is to make sure to list the skills on your resume that apply to your new career, as well as any classes you’ve taken or degrees you’ve earned. Add community groups, mentorship programs, or anything else you’ve been a part of that shows you’re a multi-talented person who can jump into any new project.

6. Take small steps every day

Giving yourself a daily mini-assignment may sound like a lot, especially if you’re working full-time, but it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. If you make a promise to yourself to do something small every day, whether that be reading an article, updating your resume, researching classes, or simply telling someone the career you’re moving toward, you’ll feel the progress. These steps don’t even have to be a physical action all the time. Scheduling a short amount of time in your week to reflect on what you want is also an important part of the journey. This will allow you to check in to ensure the small steps you’re taking are still directed toward your goals.

Added up, each decision you make will eventually lead to bigger milestones and the big day when you make that career change. I like to keep a list of my running accomplishments for this reason so I can look back at them when I feel frustrated or stuck. When I look at what I’ve already done, it reminds me to keep working toward my goals and reset my confidence. We’re all on our own career path—it can be ever-changing, and trust me, if you keep working at it, your next move will be around the corner.