How to Transition Successfully into a New Career

So many people go through life unsatisfied and unfulfilled, waking up each morning to trudge to a job they hate doing work they don’t find meaningful. This happens for many reasons: because we have bills to pay. Because we don’t know what else to do, we have grown complacent. And the truth is, the idea of starting over is terrifying. But staying at a job you hate is dangerous, so taking the plunge toward a new career can help you avoid becoming seriously unhappy.

But if you’re in that place in your life where you’re dreading each day and just trying to make it through, let me ask you: Is it scarier to start over with something that will bring you joy, or to keep living this way forever?

If you’re ready to dive into a new career, start with an inventory of what you need to be satisfied. Flexible hours? More pay? The ability to work remotely? Creative endeavors? The ability to work with others? The ability to work alone? Understanding what you want from a new career will not only help you hone in on the perfect career switch, it will also help you make good decisions about how you get there.

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Investigate and Network Before Choosing Your New Career

The classic adage, “It’s not what you know but who you know” has never been more appropriate than when looking to change careers. Especially if you have absolutely no experience in the field you want to move into, finding someone to interview about the field is a huge benefit. The investigating stage isn’t about looking for a job, per se: it’s about understanding the landscape. What skills will you need? What’s the day-to-day like? What niches are available? Before you can jump into the practical aspects of building a resume or portfolio, you need a realistic understanding of the requirements for entry.

Reach out to your network. Ask if anyone has experience in the field you are investigating. Ask if they have friends or colleagues in that field. Request personal introductions. Take people out to lunch. Make yourself available. If you’re serious about making a career change, you probably have lots of questions. These are the people to ask. They’re also the people who are likely to help you down the road.

Help Your Network Help You

Often, people perform this step incorrectly. They’ll say something like, “Hey guys, I’m looking to move into the cake baking profession. Any help is appreciated.” But most people won’t know how to help you. Learn to ask better questions and give more guidance. Ask questions like, “Do you know anyone in the baking industry you can introduce me to? Do you know about jobs or internships in your neighborhood? Anybody know of a local chapter of Professional Cake Bakes I can look into?”

Let people know how to help.

If your network turns up bupkis, don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers on LinkedIn. Join LinkedIn and Facebook groups and get to know people there. Ask if it’s okay to connect with group members personally. This can be a great way to build your network, which will be useful in the future.

how to transition into your new career

Build Your Skills

Once you have a solid understanding of what it takes to break into and be successful in an industry, it’s time to start prioritizing your skill needs. I say prioritizing because you may find that you need to do a lot of work–which can be overwhelming. So make a list of what you need to know, and rank these in order of importance. Then, figure out where your current skill is–0 to advanced. You want to focus on areas where your current skill is low, and the importance is high. These are the areas that will prevent you from getting jobs.

The goal here is to eliminate as many job obstacles as possible. Some ideas for closing skill gaps might be taking online or in-person training, interning, attending seminars or conferences, or practicing skills you already have (such as going to Spanish-language meetup groups to improve your speaking or listening abilities).

Now that you don’t have skill gaps that are preventing you from getting jobs, it’s time to build up skills that will make you more attractive to recruiters and hiring managers. These are your icing on the cake, and this is where that list you made about your personal priorities comes in handy.

Let’s say, for example, you realized that the ability to work remotely was important to you, but you don’t necessarily know what collaboration tools are available or how to use them. This is a good place to invest time and energy into taking relevant courses: learning to use tools like Github or Invision or Contently, for example (depending on your destination career). Building skills that are both highly desired by your chosen industry and that highly correlate to your personal goals is the objective here.

how to transition into a new career

Find a Mentor to Help You Navigate Into a New Career

I can’t stress how important it is to find a mentor–someone who is already in the boat you want to leap into. This person will be your cheerleader, your confidante, and your advisor, so it’s important to find someone you trust and who is reliable.

For many people, finding a mentor is difficult. Really difficult. Your circle of colleagues and friends in a great place to start, but you may be able to find local career services groups that can help. Larger cities will usually have Meetups, too, specifically for people looking for a mentor. Also, if your destination career has a local industry chapter, don’t be afraid to contact them and ask for pointers. Usually, they will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Update Your LinkedIn Profile

This one can be tricky. Often, people who are switching careers don’t necessarily want their current network (i.e., current boss or employer) to know they are thinking about a switch. Yet, you also want to start networking with people, so you want there to be some consistency.

The goal here is to update your title and summary to the job you want and are qualified for. For example, one client of mine moved from a long-term career in marketing (which she hated) to a career in urban planning. When she was ready to start applying to jobs, she updated her title to “Junior Urban Design and Planning Enthusiast.” It indicated both her interest and level of experience while still sounding professional. (She now has a flourishing career in New York City at a philanthropic urban design firm!)

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To Create New or Go with the Old: That’s a Great Question

Whether you create a second LinkedIn profile or update your current profile depends on your situation. But if you can update your current profile, you may have an advantage. When you do start applying for jobs, you’ll have to explain your career change. Hiring managers will want to know what you’ve been doing for the past few years. They’ll want to understand why that might not at all correspond to the job you’re applying to. Being able to point them to your LinkedIn profile and say, “Hey, I used to be a supermarket manager, but for the past six months I’ve been transitioning my skills toward an art instructor role,” can be useful. You’ll still be able to demonstrate your career accomplishments and also keep your current network intact.

Don’t be shy about using your current job skills to demonstrate what you’re capable of! Just because you may not have experience in your target industry doesn’t mean you don’t have any relevant skills. For example, the client above had a background as a writer, and she was able to parlay her writing ability into her job as an urban development associate. She helps write proposals to cities and special interest groups to gain their support for new projects–something not just anyone could do. It took a unique blend of her background and her passions to make it happen. So scavenge your current career for useful gems–you’ve earned that knowledge and experience. Use it.

Volunteer to Gain Job Experience to Help Towards Your New Career

While you may not be able to get someone to hire you in your destination field right away, you can almost always give away your work for free. Local charities, schools, libraries, clubs, etc. often have ongoing for all kinds of work–secretarial, design, online marketing, customer service, etc. And because they typically have such small budgets, they’re usually praying for someone to volunteer their skills. This is one of the best ways to get job experience to buff up your resume.

But don’t overlook opportunities at your current job, either! If your career change is narrow enough–say, you want to move from being a technical writer to being a marketing events coordinator (both are often under the Marketing organization) you can often volunteer to do assignments within your current company. Or you can help a colleague, sit in on a meeting, or sign up for training. Always seek out opportunities for training at your current job–getting paid to learn is the best!

More than anything, give yourself time. Changing careers won’t happen overnight. You probably won’t get a great job right out the gate. You’ll have to pay your dues and work your way up like everyone else. That’s okay. You decided because you needed the change to find happiness. So don’t doubt, and don’t give up. Keep hustling and fake it till you make it.