Straight Talk About Changing Careers

The career path you choose is one of the most important decisions you make in life. After all, most of your waking hours each year are spent at work! For most of us, that equates to 1/3 of all our time working, averaging out to about 90,000 hours over the course of our lives.

If you struggle to find happiness in your current line of work you may be experiencing a temporary lack of motivation that will quickly disappear. Or it may be a signal that it’s time for a change.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, younger baby boomers changed jobs an average of 12.3 times between the ages of 18 and 52.

A career choice is more than just paying the bills and putting food on the table. You deserve to spend your days doing work you enjoy and your career should align with your values and goals.

It’s never too late to try a new career on for size. You owe it to yourself to find within you the courage to change your career direction!

Finding Your Courage to Change Careers

But that word…Change! It is a scary word for many of us.

If the thought of changing your career makes you anxious, here are some tips to find your courage and ease into the idea.

Take Your time

A career change is an opportunity to think carefully about your values and determine what matters most to you. This takes time. Be patient and give yourself permission to take the time you need to determine what’s most important to you in your career.

Ask Questions

Ask yourself some questions to explore your values and find out what’s important to you.

  • Why did you choose your career in the first place?
  • What did you like about this line of work?
  • Have those elements of your job disappeared through changes that have taken place, or have you simply forgotten what drew you to this line of work in the first place?
  • What do you wish you were doing instead?
  • Is there a job within your current company that can better utilize your talents in a more interesting position?

Seek advice from your employer on opportunities that exist within your company to learn new skills or transfer to a more interesting position.

Take Small Steps

A career change doesn’t need to be sudden and dramatic.

Often, change seems so overwhelming because we are looking at the entirety of the change. However, a great method for making change easier to cope with is breaking the change down into smaller and more manageable segments and taking baby steps toward the life you want. Breaking down challenges into smaller bits and subsequently tackling one portion of a challenge at a time makes coping more feasible.

While it may seem right to run away from your current career as fast as you can, a hurried approach may backfire. If you take the time to think through your decisions and make the best decision possible, you’ll experience greater joy and fulfillment in the long run.

Chase your big dreams by breaking them down into small, manageable action steps. Set up informational interviews and seek the advice of others who are already successful in the line of work you’re seeking to enter into. Structure your goals in a way that allows you to attain regular feedback on your progress, so you know when you’re on track and when you’re off course.

Believe in Yourself

Trust your instincts and your ability to succeed. You can achieve any goal that you set out to accomplish. With proper planning and a hunger to succeed, you’ll experience the career success you crave. Keep your dreams in front of you, believe you can achieve them, and begin today to take the first steps toward the career you are destined to enjoy.

Work on building your self-respect. When you make promises to yourself, learn how to deliver on them. If it’s financial insecurity, then create a budget, balance it, and stick to what you’ve set for yourself. If you’re actively pursuing a career change, commit to making five new contacts every week.

The more frequently you make promises and keep them, the more you realize how strong you are and how you can handle any challenge. It’s all about building self-respect and learning how to trust yourself.

Understand the Certainty of Uncertainty

Every journey is laced with risk, pain, laughter, celebration, and loss. Unfortunately, we can’t cherry-pick life and experience only the parts we want to. The ride is all-inclusive and part of embracing uncertainty means understanding that it will always be there. You can let it hold you back or you can work through it to find joy and purpose.

Seek Adventure

Life-changing moments often occur when we are simply going with the flow. Sometimes by letting go of comfort, adventure comes naturally because we’re stopped trying to control every situation that we find ourselves in. There is strength in letting things unfold without intention.

We are all guilty of allowing fear to keep us stagnant in many areas of our lives, not just career changes. We don’t chase opportunities because we’re afraid of giving up stability. We won’t break up with the person who makes us miserable because we’re worried no one else will love us. We keep doing the same things over and over and wondering why it doesn’t make us happy today, even though it didn’t bring happiness yesterday. But with change comes excitement, adventure, and progress. Change isn’t something you should fear.

Tips for a More Successful Change of Careers

You’ve found your courage and are ready to embrace and commit to your career change goals.

Yes, changing careers can be a challenge. However, if you’re committed, there’s no reason you can’t find a new line of work that fulfills you and pays the bills.

Try these activities to change careers more successfully.

Make a Financial Plan for Your Career Transition

Build a nest egg. Choosing to save gives you more control over your career path. With the right motivation and methods, you can save a remarkable amount of money, even on a modest income.

Diversify your income. If you can, keep some freelance work going on the side even if you work full-time. Your extra income may turn into a full-time job or provide a buffer in times of unemployment or transition.

Put money in perspective. People often have difficulty giving up a well-paying job even if their enthusiasm for it has run out. While high unemployment creates challenges, it may also provide opportunities to move on to something you’ll love more.

Conduct a Self-Assessment

Browse for free or affordable tests online. There are many free online tests that are effective in giving you a general idea of your talents and abilities. Some are based on the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The DISC Career Management report is another good option. Try taking several tests to see if the findings are consistent.

For expert guidance and support, you may want to hire a career coach. A career and job search coach can help you in many ways, including identifying your passions, defining career goals, and developing career plans. Another great option is to work your way through a self-directed career change program such as our Reinvent Yourself program.

Additionally, ask friends, family, and colleagues for their views on what they think you’d be good at. They may confirm your own observations or offer you new ideas to consider.

Finally, as part of your self-assessment, review your career history. Wherever you work, you bring yourself along. Be honest about recurring patterns like conflicts with authority so you can resolve them and move ahead.

Research Your Chosen Field

Thorough research is an important part of changing careers successfully. Evaluate future job prospects. Browse online or visit your local library. The Labor Department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook and industry publications can help you identify fields with high growth.

Learn more about specific positions you are considering for your career change. Narrow down the kind of position you want. Job advertisements can give you a sense of the type of positions available and the qualifications employers are seeking. Pay attention to common keywords that suggest skills that would make you a strong candidate.

Network. Now is the time to go out on informational interviews. See if you can join the local chapter of the business association you’re interested in, or at least visit some functions as an observer.

Strengthen Your Qualifications

Go back to school. Your employment prospects may improve if you get some additional education and training. Many graduate schools have evening programs to accommodate working adults. Leading universities now offer online programs you can take anywhere.

Become a volunteer. Take a trial look at your new line of work by doing volunteer work. Even if you want to work in a corporate setting, you can start your portfolio of experience in the new field by volunteering.

Update and rewrite your resume and cover letters. Ideally, hire a professional resume writer to help you with this step (RECOMMENDATION: Book a free Discovery Consultation with us to learn more about how we can help you).

Resumes written to change careers can be tricky and experienced professional resume writers know how to structure and focus your resume to help you achieve your career change goals.

If you are set on rewriting your resume yourself, focus on transferable skills that are applicable to any work setting, such as being organized or working as part of a team. You need to reconsider your life’s work and what it has prepared you for. People too often see their futures as a horizontal roll-out. They “plan” as if they had been granted tenure and have no obligation to change things. For most careers, this is a naive position to work from. Successful people understand that life requires some reinvention on your part.

Your resume should reflect who you are; it should not be limited to where you have been. You need to revalue your experience in terms of your ability:

  • to influence
  • to lead
  • to problem solve
  • to innovate
  • to take initiative
  • to research, analyze, plan, and prioritize
  • to work in team environments
  • to mine, analyze, and quantify data
  • to process and communicate information
  • to create, write, edit, and communicate reports

With such abilities, you can reconstruct yourself and employers’ perceptions of you. Employers are less interested in matching jobs past with jobs present. They are interested in recruiting those who will deliver a return on their investment.

In your cover letter, briefly explain why you are changing careers and how you can contribute. Use stories to make your documents and interview materials more interesting.

Changing careers will have a big impact on your future, so approach the decision carefully. Strive for financial independence, get to know yourself better, and seek out the kind of work that will make you excited to show up on Monday morning.

A career is what it is – unless and until you take control. Mid-career professionals are likely to change careers more than once – voluntarily or otherwise. The trick to successful survival requires you to stay ahead of the curve and make the career change on your own terms.

About the Author: Michelle Dumas

Michelle Dumas is the founder and CEO of Distinctive Career Services, one of the internet's longest-standing and most respected professional resume writing firms. Michelle is a 6X certified and 7X award-winning resume writer and career consultant. To learn more about the services offered by Distinctive Career Services visit

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