Most people will reach a point in their life (probably more than once) where they sit back and say, “I should do something different for a living.” This is completely normal. Most people will change careers about two to five times during their lifetime.
If you have arrived at a point where you want to change careers, then congratulations! You are embarking on an exciting new phase of your life. In this article, we hope to give you solid advice and guidance on how to proceed down the path of a career change.
We will cover:
Deciding on a New Career
Investigating Career Choices
Next Steps and Other Factors to Consider
We’ll start by taking a step back and talking about why you want to change careers.
Take a hard look at yourself
The most important thing to do when you are considering making a career change is to carefully look at yourself, where you are at, and where you want to go with your career. Consider your skills (soft and hard), values, interests, personality, and life in general. If you are unhappy in your current job, then changing your career may not be the answer. Do a sincere evaluation of these things and make notes for your potential career search.
There are many self-assessment tools and career tests out there you can use to help you with this exercise. They will assist you in gathering data about your traits and interests, which will aid with creating a list of occupations that may be a good fit for you. This could also be a logical point to engage with a career counselor or career development professional.
There are many free career assessment tools available. Just about any of them will be helpful in narrowing your career search down.
- 123 Career Test
- Career Explorer
- Career Fitter
- Career Hunter
- Jobscan Career Change
- Keirsey Temperament
- LinkedIn Career Explorer
- My Plan Career Assessment
- mySkills myFuture
- Princeton Review
Check out one or more of these to guide your career search.
Analyze your motivations
Why do you want to change your career? You need to understand this to allow you to figure out what will work for you.Here are some questions to aid in gaining a better understanding:
Are you having issues in your current job? If so, what are they?
Example: My job is dull … I want a more exciting and interesting job.
Example: My career is inflexible. …I need a position where I can work wherever I want and whatever hours I want.
What are you good at? Do others say the same?
Does your current job or career match up with your strengths?
What career would?
Do you need a new career or just a new job?
Have you reached a plateau in your career?
Will a move up the ladder or laterally help?
What are you interested in doing?
Does your current career have any avenues that excite you?
Are there any personal interests that you could leverage for a new career?
Going through the above questions will help you determine if a new job or new career is what you really need.
Next, contemplate the things you want or need out of your next job or career. This set of questions will assist you:
What do you want from your next career?
What do you want work to feel like?
Where do you want to work? (office, home, both?)
What do you want to do? What makes you feel good?
Who do you like to work with?
What type of boss do you want?
If you don’t know what you want, then write down what you don’t want or what to avoid. Seeking the corollary to these things may help you narrow down what you are looking for.
Finding your new career path
Careers to examine
Now that you have a good understanding of why you are looking for a new career and what you are looking for, you can focus on what careers will work for you. Make a list of all the careers you feel will make you happier.
Note: If your self-assessments indicated a career that is a good fit for you based on several of your answers, then you should explore it.
This is the fun part. Imagine all the possibilities and things you could do. Don’t rule out anything, even if it comes from a unique or unconventional interest, hobby, or skill you have. Put everything on your list and start researching them.
You now have a list of career choices. Your list may be very long. That’s OK. Your next task is to rank these career options.
Which careers do you find most interesting or think would be the most beneficial (fun, enjoyable, low-stress, positively challenging, more flexible, more growth-oriented)?
Ask colleagues, family, and friends what they think you should do?
What jobs do you think will meet your life goals, salary, work-life balance, flexibility, etc.?
Once you have narrowed your list down to five or six or fewer picks, you can get down to more detailed research on each option.
Find out as much information as you can about the careers you are most interested in.
Online searches will yield unlimited amounts of information, not all of it reliable, but this is definitely a good place to start.
Educational resources such as colleges and universities can provide a lot of general information about industries and occupations. There are also professional organizations’ websites for most occupations that can give you more insight into those careers.
Note: Government statistics can help identify stable and growing professions. Check out the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics "Career Outlook" analysis. There is also an "Occupational Outlook Handbook" that has statistics on pay, growth trends, and other things.
Some other research options to use:
Check out job listings and articles on major career websites to get a feel for what jobs are available and what they require in terms of experience, skills, and education:
Google for Jobs
LinkedIn Job Search
YouTube - Search for videos about careers and people in those occupations to find out what the work is like.
Reading LinkedIn profiles of people who have these jobs to see what they do, what they like, and where they come from.
At this point, you should be able to cut your list down to just a few options. There is no substitute for a one-on-one discussion with someone in the role you are seeking. If you know someone in the business, then reach out to them. Other places to go for introductions are industry organizations, alumni associations, and your professional connections (LinkedIn). Otherwise, contact some companies and try to get in touch with a person who works in the industry you’re interested in. Most people are more than happy to talk about their job.
The discussions do not need to be lengthy (15 to 30 minutes). Respect the person’s time. When you meet with someone over the phone, on a video chat, or in person, be prepared and take notes. Have questions ready:
What is a typical day like?
Who do you normally interact with?
What do you like/dislike about the job?
What is the work-life balance?
And any other pertinent questions you can come up with.
Interviewing more than one person (preferably in more than one company) is recommended. Collect all of your information and study it. Conduct more interviews if you still feel you have questions or need further info.
The deciding factors
Time to make a choice
You have completed all your assessments and research. It is now time to pick your new career. Choose wisely and select the occupation you believe will bring you the most happiness in both your professional and personal life. Don’t panic because nothing in life is really for sure except death and taxes. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, most people change careers multiple times. It is possible that after some time you may realize you made the wrong choice. You can always start this process again. Life moves in cycles.
Education and training
Let’s circle back to your personal assessment. Now that you have a target occupation you are looking to pursue, do you have the skills, training, and education to move forward? If you have over 60 to 70% of the qualifications, then you are probably good to go for your new target job/career. Get started locating and applying for those jobs.
Otherwise, you need to consider how to gain what you need to succeed. How can you go about filling the gaps?
Short-term work experience?
Online classes for certifications?
Back to school for a new or additional degree?
Determine which options you need to pursue, create a plan, and then execute it.
What age is too old to change careers?
Does age affect your ability to find a new career? Age does impact a person’s tendency to seek a new career, but, generally, you can change careers at any age. It does not matter whether you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond. This is subject to a lot of personal factors, but never let your age stop you from pursuing a new career.
The average number of times a person (in the US) changes careers has increased over the decades. Currently, people between 18 and 24 will (on average) change careers 5.7 times. People between 25 and 34 will change about 2.4 times, those between 35 and 44 years will change occupations around 2.9 times, and people between 45 and 52 years old will do this approximately 1.9 times.
Knowing yourself and your goals in both your professional and personal life is critical in deciding what new career you should pursue.
Picking a new career can be daunting, but if you approach it in a logical and methodical way, it does not have to be complicated or overwhelming.
Once you make a choice on a new career, commit to it. Make a plan, prepare yourself to succeed, and begin your new career with vigor and enthusiasm.
Never let your age or circumstances deter your optimism to pursue a career that will make you happier in your job and your life.