If you’ve been thinking about a career change, first know this: It’s perfectly normal to get an itch to try something new. As your goals, priorities, and ambitions shift, so can what you’re looking for in a job.
Maybe you’ve been thinking about a change for a while now or perhaps you’ve only recently reconsidered your career path in light of pandemic-related challenges. No matter the reason, it’s never too late to make a move.
Here are tips from ten career changers on how they successfully navigated their pivot—so you can, too!
1. Find the Common Threads in Your Career
If you’re ready for a change, but not quite sure which direction to take your career, start by thinking about what similarities your previous roles share. That worked wonders for Devon Westerholm.
Before joining cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks, where she is now the VP of IT Customer Experience, Westerholm worked as a staff member at a homeless shelter, a video editor, and a customer service agent.
“When I look back across this very unusual journey I’ve taken, there are definitely consistent themes that weave all of it together. I consider myself a champion for those who don’t have a voice, whether it’s homeless people or customers who are not at the table as we’re making decisions on their behalf,” she says.
From there, she was able to determine what other industries or types of roles would be a good fit for her skills and allow her to do meaningful work. “Living my personal values and ethics is super important to me, so I’m drawn to mission-led companies,” Westerholm says.
2. Fill Any Gaps in Your Skill Set
When Sang’ona Oriedo decided it was time for a career change from engineering to marketing at iRhythm Technologies, she knew that she’d have to do the heavy lifting.
“In order to make the switch, pursuing an MBA was an unspoken requirement,” Oriedo says. “The two fields are pretty far apart and it’s hard to switch organically—at least within a Fortune 500 company—without the appropriate degree, education, or credentials under your belt.”
For Oriedo, her MBA not only allowed her to fill any glaring skill gaps, but also granted her access to pro-bono consulting, job placement services, and valuable networking opportunities.
3. Explore Opportunities Within Your Company
A career change doesn’t always mean switching industries—it could mean a new path within the company you already work for. In Joe Farrar’s case, his part-time job at CVS Pharmacy in high school turned into a lifelong career at the company, where he’s worked in various positions from pharmacy clerk to a director of talent acquisition at CVS Health.
The secret to his success? He wasn’t afraid to try new things—even when he didn’t have the formal training.
“By raising my hand and being brave it showed people in decision-making positions that I was serious about my dedication and my desire to do more,” he says. “Therefore, they knew they could count on me when it was time to fill the new role, assign the project, or direct the new assignment.”
4. Seek Out Companies With Strong Development Programs
Certain companies are ideal for career changers because they’re committed to investing in their employees’ professional training and development. That’s how Sherronda Hurd, who had previously worked as a pharmaceutical representative, was able to switch jobs—and industries.
Hurd accepted an entry-level analyst position at Northrop Grumman, which allowed her to take advantage of the company’s numerous development opportunities, including mentorships, tuition reimbursement, and job rotation programs. She was also given guidance and support to help determine where she could thrive long term—and that led to her current role as a contract administrator.
“I learned that it wasn’t uncommon to be unsure of your career path, and by seizing those opportunities, I was able to gain an abundance of knowledge and understanding, which aided me in setting and achieving my career goals,” she says.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over—at the Bottom
Perhaps the scariest thing about changing careers, especially when you’re further along on your current path, is starting from scratch. This type of uncertainty is something Stephanie Santiago faced when she moved into the private sector after serving 22 years in the U.S. Air Force. “In the military, I knew my job, how to succeed, and where to find answers. Having to relearn these things was stressful.”
If you’re able to make it work financially—or are able to save up in advance of making a career change—an internship or an entry-level role can help you gain experience to grow in a new field or industry. For Santiago, taking part in a veteran career program allowed her to intern with a company and test-drive a civilian role. After her internship, Santiago landed a job as a customer support supervisor at Biogen, where she leads her own team. The takeaway, she says, is that you can build yourself up again from any starting point.
6. Learn to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a common side effect when you’re giving up one career identity for another and sometimes, it can be hard to shake. Like many career changers, Garner Soltes experienced this feeling when he transitioned from microbiology to consulting at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). How did he get over it? By reaching out to his new teammates.
“I worried so much about whether or not I ‘deserved’ to be at BCG,” Soltes says. “I eventually realized how supportive and non-judgmental my teams and the broader BCG community are, and so I began to ask the questions I previously thought were too silly. I have never learned more, and more quickly, than in that time.”
7. Identify Transferable Skills
Changing careers doesn’t always mean leaving your learned skills behind—many of them may be transferable. In fact Winnie Chou, a software engineer at Carta, leaned on the hard and soft skills she’d gained in banking when she decided to make a move over to tech.
“Software engineering is also an analytical field,” Chou says. “The scientific process, problem solving skills, and results-oriented approach that I had cultivated facilitated my transition.”
8. Focus on Incremental Progress
Changing careers was a gradual process for Artsiom Biba, who started out as a professional soccer player in Europe before eventually making the transition to software engineering at Kinaxis.
“For me, the key was to focus on incremental progress,” says Biba, who knew that approaching such a monumental change with this perspective would help him stay positive throughout the process. “Each application and interview was another opportunity to learn and find out what knowledge I lacked so that I could improve in those areas.”
9. Network With as Many People as Possible
Networking is crucial when it comes to getting a new job—but especially when making a career change. Rebecca Risley, a senior internal auditor at Thomson Reuters, knew as much when it was time for her to make a pivot.
“I became intentional about networking and started setting up meetings with people,” Risley says. “Each person along the way encouraged me and connected me with additional people to meet.”
10. Target Companies You Love
Mahangu Weerasinghe’s career change was jump started by a desire to work at a company whose products he used and loved. “I made my career switch into tech solely because of Automattic,” says Weerasinghe, a former teacher.
Automattic is the company behind WordPress.com, and Weerasinghe has been a fan of WordPress since its inception. By considering services and products that he used personally, Weerasinghe was able to find the right place to begin his new career.
“Access to the open web changed my life,” he says. “I always dreamed of applying for a job [at Automattic]—though it took me almost a decade to make it happen!”