Switch Careers

Making a big career change is never easy, especially if you've got kids to support, a mortgage to pay, and a car to worry about. People will tell you you've got it great where you are and that the grass is always greener on the other side. What they don't know is what's best for you. Switching careers doesn't have to be the daunting process everyone makes it out to be if you are organized, practical, and thorough with your research.


What Would You Rather Be Doing?

  1. Tackle the golden question: If you had all the money in the world, what would you be doing with yourself? Don't hold back. This is brainstorming time. Make a list of all the things you'd rather be doing with your time. Your first few answers will probably be something like: Take a tropical vacation, spend more time with the kids, etc. But push your thinking beyond that. Ask yourself if you are content with stringent working hours, accounting to higher authorities, etc. If this is what you don't like, then strive for a self-actualizing job that gives you exactly what you desire or hope to achieve.
  2. Consider careers that interest you. You might have studied accounting at college for the sake of job security and financial certainty. But all the time, perhaps you really wanted to be a park ranger or a freelance troubleshooter. Think back to what once motivated you when you were younger––you will often find the kernel of the things that still motivate and thrill you there.
    • Write a list of the things you loved to do once and the career ideas you had.
    • Add down the ideas for preferred careers that you actually have now. Don't hold back for such reasons as "lack training" or "no resources to risk it". At this stage, write down the career paths you'd really rather be following.

Working Out What Else You Can Do

  1. Evaluate your skills and talents. Ask yourself: What am I good at? What do I most enjoy doing? Write down every skill you're capable of. Don't be shy. Does your current job give you satisfaction and utilize all your potential?
  2. Identify transferable skills. After having listed all known skills and talents, identify what skills will best transfer over into the new line of work you're hoping to change to. The longer the list, the easier the transition.
    • If you have only a few or no transferable skills, do not be discouraged. New skills can be easily learned, while old skills can act as the foundation blocks.
    • Other life experiences can also make this transition easy––remain conscious of the basic life skills that have already been acquired and avoid discounting them. Give yourself a boost and some credit.
    • Pursue your passion to find happiness. Is there a passion outside of your work that has brought you a range of skills that you might be able to use to bolster your transition case?
  3. Think of jobs that allow you to do what you really want to do, at least in some form. In what ways will you be able to apply your skills and talents every day? Be creative and open-minded. Focus on what your inner feelings guide you to do.
  4. Make a list of everything you want in your new job. It's also a good idea to make one of everything you don't want, such as revisiting tedious aspects of your current job. Having this dual list of preferences to guide you will make it easier to check off the jobs that fit and delete the ones that don't; the list helps you to be more discerning and less ready to jump into the same situation.
    • Be prepared to work gradually towards your needs and wants; steady accomplishments will make the career transition less risky and more likely to work out for you.
    • The list helps you to listen to your gut reactions and not ignore warnings that something isn't a good match for you. You are changing careers precisely because you want to remove yourself from the warnings, so heed that feeling if it arises.

Searching for Confirming Information

  1. Conduct informational interviews. Informational interviews are a gem twofold: you get straight talk about your considered profession from actual professionals, and you achieve face time with individuals that possibly have the power to hire you later down the line.
    • Ask people you know or to whom you can be introduced to lunch or a coffee shop to share their experiences and knowledge with you. Remember that you are taking up their time, so be generous by offering to pay for their drink and food on this occasion. Many people are happy to share their career experiences and will be grateful for your considerate approach to it.
  2. Consider your financial situation. Are you willing to lower your standard so that you can take a job that pays less? You might be surprised how you can whittle down current expenses in return for greater freedom and fulfillment to pursue what you really care about. For quite a number of people, financial rewards are all that keep them at the treadmill, so it can be a bit of a catch-22. If you feel you need the higher income to survive, it may just be that the higher income helps you survive an otherwise tedious or unfulfilling career; avoid confusing the two motivators!
    • How much does it cost, on a monthly and annual basis, to support your current standard of living?
    • Try to supplement your income in other ways. Small investments or a part time business can financially make up for the deficit, should your new career pay less.
    It takes a great deal of courage to do something your heart desires at the cost of some financial loss. However, this courage can pay off in the long term; if you find a career in which you feel satisfied, you'll likely adjust your spending and expectations, gain greater experience over the years that will justify increased financial reward and if you've chosen well, you may be able to work beyond retirement years in an enjoyable, self-paced and fulfilling fashion as an "expert" or simply as someone who really loves what he or she is doing.

Finding the Work

  1. Browse job descriptions in your desired field. Visit a site like Salary.com to find out a ballpark notion of how much you can expect to earn in your new career. (Salary.com is not the source businesses use to set salaries; they use services that survey other businesses. This site just shows a possible average of salaries and is a decent general place to start for career information.) Also, if you're in the US, refer to the Occupational Outlook Handbook[1] to see how competitive the job market may be. Similar guides may be available in other jurisdictions.
  2. Check local schools for courses and programs that may give you an edge. Start taking night classes while you're still at your current job. Establish rapport with your teacher - he or she will prove to be a valuable reference when you're applying for a new job; many schools and course providers are tapped into the industries in such a way that they know how to help you find the non-advertised positions out there.
  3. Volunteer for organizations related to your desired career. For example, if you want to work in architecture, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for disadvantaged families. You get experience, and they get a helping hand!
    • Volunteering is also a great way to get references from people outside of your current work. If you feel uncomfortable letting people know that you're ready to jump right now, the volunteer referee can be an invaluable source of help. Moreover, it's a lot more relevant and proves that you're already taking the steps in the new field.
  4. Network. Talk to people in your desired field. Explain your situation. Ask them for advice. Give them your contact information. If what they say is true - "It's not what you know, it's who you know" - then cover all your bases in this department.
    • Recognize your very own individual value, contribution and power. If you can’t, or won’t, nobody else will either.
    • Get to know at least three people more senior than you within your profession who will be able to give you advice and professional input. That said, don’t only bother with those senior to you; other people have unique knowledge and their own contacts.
    • Make the effort to meet people in person rather than just talking to them on the phone, or e-mailing them.
    • Show you are interested in your contacts as a person, rather than just an opportunity for you to advance yourself. When networking make sure you ‘bring something to the party’ rather than expecting one-way traffic. Never expect anything other than information and advice, or new contacts to meet.
    • Do your best to develop a good memory for people's names and conversations you have with them. Build a long-list of all your contacts.
    • After meeting each new contact, ask for feedback on their first impression of you.
    • Be generous in your thanks to people who do help you, this is one of the most important networking rules.
    • Make sure you respond with information and advice when others contact you. Stay in contact with people regularly rather than only when you want something. When you hear about a contact's accomplishments write to formally congratulate them.
    • Networking is for life not just for a new job. Keep working on it and it will work for you.

Launching Yourself

  1. Save enough money to support yourself for 3-6 months, or however long you think it'll take to find a job in your new career that will support you adequately. Stay focused on the longer term goal––it won't be easy on some days and you may feel tempted to lapse back into your old line of work at times. Remind yourself why you're doing this and keep taking gradual but firm steps toward the change.
    • For some people, it's best to quit and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the transition. For others, "moonlighting" is the preferred option, namely finding a volunteer role to do outside work and slowly transition. Do whatever works best for you and keeps you feeling that you're on track.
  2. Write a new resume. Make sure you include your objectives (based on step 1), education (step 6) and relevant experience (step 7). See also How to Make a Resume.
    • If you feel stuck, there are professional resume writers. Find one who is experienced in preparing transition resumes; if they're too hung up on your old training and experience, they may not put across the worker you're transitioning into. Question them about this before signing up for their efforts.
  3. Apply for the jobs. Even apply for those that you might not have all the qualifications for. If there is a position that seems too good to be true and above and beyond what you are qualified for, apply anyway. There is little to lose with the exception of time and chances are, you might be exactly what the firm is looking for. There are cases where firms are seeking someone fresh, without pre-acquired thinking in the same business, and this can be a strength for you.
    • Attune your cover letter and your resume to individual jobs. Recruiters can spot the generic version a mile off and dislike the fact that you haven't taken the time to tailor it to their position. It's a little more work but it will be more likely to get you through to the interview.
  4. Start your job search. Good luck!


  • Most people's deepest vocational passions fall within three categories: teaching, healing, and creating. If your focus in your career is on doing one of these three things, you're far more likely to draw satisfaction from your job.
  • Having a spouse or partner with a steady job makes switching careers a lot easier, but is by no means necessary. You should, however, seek the moral support of friends and family.
  • Build a camaraderie with your office mates.
  • Consider donating your time for free if your new chosen profession enables this, to help you gain some experience and meet people in the field.
  • Consider shifting roles within your workplace to give you a more rewarding experience.


  • Consider your present career and the amount of time you need to retire. It may be better to stick with the job you have, retire a bit early, then take up something more rewarding. Bailing out early when you have a good retirement plan may compromise some of your other goals.

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