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How to change careers

Published June 21, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    If you've been unhappy in your career or simply want to try something new, you may be contemplating a career change. Sometimes, a shift into a new job may allow you to use skills you already have that you may not be putting to use. Other times, you may feel like you need to learn new skills or further your education to make the change. Either way, navigating a change in your job may seem daunting, depending on your circumstances.

    But just because it may feel overwhelming doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue it. Utkarsh Amitabh, the CEO of the career intelligence community Network Capital, wrote in Harvard Business Review that someone might want to consider a career change for various reasons that go beyond just wanting a different job. "Transitions aren't just about doing something different," he writes. "A career transition is a lifestyle redesign that often entails rethinking how you want to feel at the end of the day, how you want to spend your time, and how this relates to your longer-term goals. When you feel this need for change, it isn't necessarily related to a fancier title or more money, but your inner voice whispering that you could do more, be more, experience, and achieve more."

    Keep reading for some of the ins and outs of making a career shift, including signs that it may be time for you to pursue a change.

    What's considered a career change?

    A career change involves transitioning from one professional field or job role to another that typically differs in required skills and responsibilities. The new career may also be in a new industry.

    Sometimes, a career change can be dramatic, for instance, a financial analyst deciding they want to pursue a career as an opera singer. In other cases, the shift may feel less seismic, for example, when an ER doctor shifts to lead a medical-focused nonprofit organization.

    Various motivations can drive someone to make a career change, such as seeking personal fulfillment, better work-life balance, or higher earning potential.

    While considering a career change, it's important to keep in mind that you may need additional degrees, training, or certifications to gain the necessary qualifications for the new role you're seeking.  

    What are some signs you might want to make a career change?

    While there isn't one set-in-stone symptom that you'll be able to point to in order to say that it's time to change careers, there are some signs to look for that it may be time for you to make a shift.

    Some of those signs include:

    • If you want to expand your skills
    • If you're feeling burnout
    • If you don't feel challenged in your current role
    • That you lack interest in your current role
    • That you lack upward mobility in your current role
    • If you see job market demand and stability in a different field
    • If you want to pursue lifelong learning and new experiences
    • If you wish to seek personal fulfillment and satisfaction in a different role
    • If you have a desire for better work-life balance
    • If you believe you have higher earning potential
    • If you have a passion for a different field or industry
    • If you're seeking career advancement opportunities
    • If changes in personal values or interests are leading you to want a change
    • If you wish to seek a job with better alignment with skills and strengths
    • If relocation or changes in family circumstances are leading you toward making a shift

    How to make a transition between careers: seven steps to consider taking

    Switching careers often involves more than snapping your fingers and deciding to make a career move and instantly landing a new job. To strategically make a career change, you may have to research options, potentially learn new skills or advance your education, and expand your network to land a new role.

    While there's no set-in-stone set of steps to take if you're looking to make a career transition, here are some steps you may want to consider taking to have a successful transition into something new.  

    Understand why you want to make a career change

    If you think you want to make a career change, you may want to start by identifying what aspects of your current job are unsatisfying or unfulfilling, such as a lack of growth opportunities, misalignment with your values, or issues with work-life balance.

    You'll also want to examine what motivates and excites you and how these elements are lacking in your current role.

    Beyond examining your current role, it may also be helpful to review past roles and identify recurring themes in your satisfaction and dissatisfaction, such as the work environment, company culture, or specific job functions.

    Understanding what you don't like about your current role and reflecting on past roles can be helpful when you start to assess what you want in your next role.

    Assess what you want to do next, including what your strengths and goals are

    Introspection can be an important part of making a successful career shift. As you do this, it can be helpful to conduct a self-assessment to identify your core competencies, talents, and areas where you excel. You may also want to utilize tools such as personality tests, skill assessments, and feedback from peers and mentors to gain a well-rounded understanding of your abilities.

    You also may want to start clearly defining your short-term and long-term goals when it comes to making a career change, considering what you want to achieve professionally and personally in your new career.

    Do a deep dive into career opportunities

    Armed with some introspection on your past roles and having examined your goals and strengths, you may want to dive into specific career opportunities you're considering.

    You may have a clear idea of the career you want to pursue and will just need to research the potential requirements to secure the role you're after. On the other hand, you may be less certain of the role you want to pursue and will need to research opportunities more broadly.

    One helpful resource to consider leaning on is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This government agency allows you to research wages, typical education requirements, and the job outlook for a range of occupations, which may be helpful as you explore your career options.

    Consider any skill-building you need to do

    You may need to build skills or advance your education to be competitive in the job market for the career you want to pursue.

    This may look like taking an online course to beef up a specific skill, getting certified in a specialized skill, or enrolling in a degree program to pursue an advanced degree.

    Pursuing informational interviews in your chosen career path may help you figure out what kind of skill-building you'll need to pursue to be competitive when you start applying for new roles.

    Update your resume and profiles on professional social media sites to line up with your career shift

    When making a career change, it's important to strategically update your resume and professional social media profiles to reflect your new goals and highlight relevant skills and experiences.

    You may want to start by tailoring your resume to emphasize transferable skills, accomplishments, and experiences that align with your desired career path.

    It may also be helpful to do the same regarding your professional social media site profiles.

    Network, network, network

    Networking may be helpful when making a career shift. It opens doors to new opportunities, provides valuable insights, and connects you with industry professionals who can offer guidance and support.

    Expanding your network as you explore making a career shift may help you learn about different roles, company cultures, and potential career paths within your desired field.

    Through networking, you can gain access to job leads, referrals, and mentorship. Attending industry events, joining professional organizations, and leveraging social media platforms may be helpful when it comes to expanding your network.

    Consider the range of ways to break into a new role or field

    You may want to explore freelancing, shadowing, and working on one-off projects that align with your future career goals if you want to make a career change. These experiences may enhance your resume and build your confidence and competencies as you set out on a new career path.

    Freelancing may help you gain hands-on experience in your new field and help you demonstrate your capabilities to potential employers. Shadowing professionals may provide valuable insights into the day-to-day responsibilities and skills required in the new role you want to pursue, helping you better define your career goals. And working on special projects, whether through volunteer opportunities or side gigs, may help you develop relevant expertise and network with industry professionals.

    Final thoughts

    Patience is crucial when making a career shift, as the process often involves significant time and effort. Transitioning to a new field may require additional education, training, or certifications, which can take time to complete. Additionally, expanding your network and gaining experience in a new industry might be slow and challenging.

    Understanding that career changes don't happen overnight may help you stay motivated, resilient, and adaptable throughout the journey.