Creating a Successful Career Change Action Plan
Taking your career in a new direction takes a certain amount of gumption. Even when you know exactly what your next move is, the biggest hurdle to change can be working up the nerve to leave everything you’ve built for the unknowns of a new career path.
Whether you’ve been in your current career for one year or are considering a midlife career change, it’s normal to be nervous about changing career lanes. What are you giving up, and what are you gaining? And where do you even start?
Addressing Career Change Fears
It’s normal to experience anxiety and even doubt when pivoting careers. So, before you rewrite your resume and apply for new jobs, take some time to address your fears and concerns.
Face your fear of change.
Have the “audacity” to carve out your own path. Often, being in the same career or job setting for years can narrow your ambitions and limit your career goals. But, you’ve examined your current career path and know that changing careers is the right choice for you. Change is hard—scary, even—but worth it. And if you can face change, you can have a successful career change.
Quiet the naysayers.
This can even be your inner voice. And, it could be friends or family saying it. But, with a solid job searching plan in place, you can silence the doubters and forge ahead with your new career path with a clear set of tasks and goals to keep you on track.
While you need to be proactive, you also need to be patient. You’ll plan, research, and build your network. But, that doesn’t mean the stars will align perfectly at the exact moment you want. Give yourself plenty of time to make this transition. It won’t happen overnight, but it won’t take the rest of your life, either.
Create a Career Change Plan and Execute It
Once you’ve addressed any lingering doubts or fears, the next step is building your action plan. These are the concrete steps you’re going to take to change careers.
Keep in mind you don’t necessarily have to take all of these steps. However, you’ll probably find that most of them are relevant to your career change plan.
Build a budget—for time and money.
One important fact to consider is that when you switch careers, there’s a good chance you’re starting over at the bottom of the career ladder. That means you probably won’t have as many vacation days or “banked” benefits as you’d like. And, more likely than not, it means you’re probably taking a cut in pay.
Your career change plan might include setting a financial budget for a career change. That could include paying down debt and building up a nest egg before you leave your current job. It could also mean researching salaries in your new career field and setting a new budget based on those figures. You might even want to practice living off of your “new salary” for a few months.
Also, consider budgeting for time. Don’t expect your career change plan to unfold overnight; planning for a longer-term effort will help you stay focused if things don’t work out as quickly as you might hope. This might include factoring in the time it might take to finish a class or certification program. Or, the time you spend volunteering or even interning in your new field.
Find a career “sponsor.”
While a mentor can help you navigate your current career, finding a career sponsor can help boost your future career.
A mentor acts as a sounding board and helps you navigate challenges in your current career. But, a career sponsor has the political or social capital to help you gain a foothold in your future career.
Think of it like this: a mentor helps you improve your skills in your present career and talk with you to give you perspective about your current challenges. A sponsor, on the other hand, will help move you forward in your new career. They don’t just talk with you, they advocate for you, and are your ally. Having a partner could help ensure that you have a successful career change.
Consider an “internal” job search.
Maybe you love the company you work for; you’re just not a fan of your job. If your company has a career field you want to switch to, consider an internal job search before you look externally.
However, make sure you conduct your internal search professionally and with tact. Tell your current boss as soon as you apply (or maybe even before you apply). Explain that you want to change careers but enjoy working for the company, and that’s why you’ve applied for the opening.
Make sure you emphasize that it has nothing to with the job conditions or your boss. You may find that while your boss is sad to lose you, they might end up being your biggest career advocate, and will give you a glowing recommendation!
Get some experience.
Lots of job descriptions say you need “this” degree to apply. Or you need “this many” years of experience in lieu of a degree. And, you may not have either.
While you could go back to school to pursue a degree, that may not always be necessary. A certification program or boot camp may do the trick. Check around for retraining programs for your career change. There are plenty of options, including online programs, federal training programs, adult internships, and apprenticeships offering on-the-job learning.
Still not finding anything? Consider volunteering. Yes, it may mean giving up extra time in your day while you continue working at your current job. But, in the long run, it could help you gain much-needed experience.
Be open about what you’ve got.
Whether or not you’re able to gain related work experience, don’t forget that you’ve been employed for a while. And, that means you’ve got plenty of transferable skills to offer an employer.
You may not know how to write code. But maybe you’ve mastered the fine art of communicating with multiple teams.
These are soft skills, and they are highly desired qualities that employers want from all their employees. You might be the greatest salesperson in the world. But, if you have no idea how to work well with the rest of your team, an employer may have second thoughts about hiring you.
Fix up your resume.
Who knows more about your accomplishments than you? A successful career change presents the perfect time to polish your resume, update your work skills, and sell your best asset: you.
However, writing a career change resume isn’t like writing a “traditional” resume. For starters, you’ll probably want to use a functional resume instead of a chronological one. This will give you the chance to highlight all your transferable skills first, without drawing as much attention to your lack of related experience.
Also, consider using the language of your new career field. Find out what some of the key terms are and figure out how to emphasize your soft skills using those words. But don’t overdo it. You don’t want to throw a bunch of buzzwords on your resume without knowing what they really mean. Make sure you understand the terms and use them appropriately.
Write the perfect cover letter.
OK. “Perfect” is probably an overstatement. But, like your resume, you probably can’t use a “traditional” cover letter. For a career change cover letter, you’ll need to highlight your soft and transferable skills, using specific, concrete examples that you can relate to your new career.
Also, since you’ll likely be applying for entry-level jobs, you’ll need to acknowledge that reality honestly and truthfully in your cover letter. Make sure you convey your excitement and that you understand what you’re doing means starting over near or at the bottom.
Explaining a Career Change
Eventually, you will reach the point where you’re called in for interviews. Of course, you’ll prepare like you would for any other interview. And part of that preparation will involve explaining why you’re changing careers.
But the best time to prepare is long before you even have a job interview. Brie Reynolds, career development manager and career coach at FlexJobs, explains. “It’s important to create and practice a succinct way of explaining your career change. Your explanation shouldn’t be any more than about 30 seconds long.”
Practice your elevator pitch with friends and family. Or even better, your career advocate. The more you practice, the better you’ll be able to explain it without sounding like you don’t have a clue why you’re doing what you’re doing.
But choose your words carefully. Reynolds continues, “Don’t dwell on things like what you didn’t enjoy about your previous career. Instead, focus on why you became interested in your newly chosen career and decided to make the switch. Explain why this new career is a chance for you to grow professionally.”
Successfully Changing Careers
Even with the best-laid plans, even a successful career change may have unexpected twists and turns, which can lead to unexpected opportunities. When changing careers, the more you can remain open to job possibilities that let you try on something new for size, the greater your prospects might be for transforming your work life and discovering a satisfying new career.
With a solid action plan, you’ll have a series of concrete steps you can follow while you’re changing your career. It will give you milestones and guidance along the way. A career change plan will also give you something to cheer you on when you feel like you’ve made a mistake. You’ll be able to look back at everything you’ve accomplished that’s helped get you that much closer to your new career.
Be patient and allow yourself plenty of time to change careers. Not to be cheesy, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither is a successful career change.
Looking for more career change advice or guidance?
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
This is a version of a post that was originally published on April 7, 2014.
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Brie Weiler Reynolds, Senior Career Specialist
Brie Weiler Reynolds is the Career Development Manager and a career coach and resume writer at FlexJobs, the award-winning site for remote, flexible schedule, and freelance job listings. She provides practical information and resources to help people overcome their roadblocks…Read More >
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