It’s New Year’s resolution season, so you’re likely thinking about making some life changes—Go to the gym more! Eat healthier!—in the coming months. You may even find the courage to finally pursue that career change you’ve been mulling over. And you wouldn’t be alone. In a recent survey, about a third of respondents between ages 25 and 44 said they’ve considered making a career change at some point within the past year, according to online education site EdX.
There are many reasons you may be inspired to pursue a new field, from more money to a better work-life balance to simply wanting to do something different. If you’re ready to make a change, here’s a step-by-step guide to making it happen:
Step 1: Commit to It
It’s one thing to be unhappy in your job and grumble about it to everyone you know. It’s quite another—and much harder—to act. “A lot of people will complain a lot, but that’s not the same as saying, ‘I am going to change,’” says Dana Theus, an executive and career coach with InPower Coaching. “When I’m working with people, I say, ‘Until you can tell me you’re going to do the work that’s necessary, you’re not really ready for a change.’” One thing that might help is writing it down, and putting the note somewhere you’ll see it every day.
Step 2: Identify What You Want to Do
You likely know what you don’t want to do—but, unfortunately, that’s not super helpful. “Running away from something can send you off on a journey that’s not so pleasant,” says Eli Howayeck, a Milwaukee-based career coach and founder of Crafted Career Concepts. “You need to be clear on what you want.” In other words, make sure you’re running to something.
Danielle Bayard Jackson did a self-inventory when she realized she no longer wanted to be a high school English teacher, first thinking about what she liked about her job and where those skills might transfer. “I like to write, read, talk to others, and be on the move,” says Jackson, co-founder of STRIDE Media Group. “I also like to create creative presentations and teach people things. That’s when I landed on public relations.”
In addition to identifying your interests and transferable skills, consider these questions when plotting your next move: Do you want to work from home? What kind of company culture do you want? What type of boss do you want to have? Do you want to master new skills?
Another way to figure out what you want is to visit online job boards. If you have some idea of what you want to do—say, marketing—plug in the keyword and start searching. If you’re not sure at all, just poke around and see what sparks your interest. “The ones that rise to the top, that’s the clue,” Theus says. From there, she says, find a pattern and look for shared features among the jobs you’ve ranked the highest. For example, are they all at nonprofits? Do they all use marketing skills?
Step 3: Find the Gaps
Once you’ve determined what you want to do, you’ll need to understand what it will take to get you there and which of the necessary skills you may be lacking. The job research you did in the previous step is helpful here also—look at the descriptions of your favorite positions and see what they require of candidates.
Or do as Howayeck does with his clients, and list any objections a future employer may have when considering an application from you. “When you do a personal and professional inventory, you may realize that you don’t have one of the important skill sets or experiences typically needed for what you’re trying to do,” Howayeck says. Then come up with ways to overcome these objections, such as taking a course to learn a specific skill or studying for an official certification.
Informational interviews with people in your desired field can also be extremely beneficial in helping you identify strengths and weaknesses. It’s the perfect setting to ask questions about what it takes to get into the industry and which skills are non-negotiable in a candidate.
Step 4: Fill Those Gaps
If you determine that your current skill set isn’t strong enough to land your next dream role, consider looking for a bridge job—an intermediary position that will help you get from Job A to Job B.
For instance, if you want to change both industries and job titles, you might try switching job titles within your industry first, and then transition industries next. Say you work in accounting in the manufacturing field, but your goal is to work in human resources in retail. You might start by pursuing an HR role in manufacturing, then making the leap to retail after you’ve gained experience in HR.
Volunteer opportunities can also help you both get experience and build your confidence that you can do the work. This is something Theus herself did. “I was in marketing, but it was more product marketing and I wanted to get into branding and creative,” she says. “So I sat on a board for a dance company and I did all of their creative marketing, doing the work on evenings and weekends. When I looked for my next job, I said, ‘Yes, I can do this,’ and I showed them my portfolio from the nonprofit.”
Jackson took another approach in achieving her goal of transitioning to public relations. She reached out to friends, family, and everyone in her network who owned a business, and said that in exchange for $100 a month, she’d work to get them coverage in magazines and local news and assist with marketing strategy and social media. She also used her evenings to teach herself everything she needed to know about PR by watching YouTube videos and reading books and articles. “After a few months, I was ready to apply to jobs with confidence,” says Jackson, who landed a PR job at a national nonprofit before launching her own agency.
Step 5: Update Your Resume
Get familiar with the jargon used in the industry or position you’re interested in and incorporate that language in your resume, as well as LinkedIn and any social media accounts you use professionally.
Need inspiration? Check out these examples of how to tailor one resume for five different industries.
Step 6: Network, Network, Network
Networking should be a priority for any job seeker, but even more so for those looking to change careers. After all, you have the added challenge of proving you’re right for an industry or particular role without having a lot of (or any!) concrete experience.
Spread the word to your network—friends, family members, former colleagues—that you’re looking for work in a new industry and ask if they know anyone you can speak to. Look for professional organizations that host events, and attend as many as you can. And don’t be afraid to contact people in the field you’re trying to join, especially if you see they have a similar career path and made a career change like the one you’re working towards. “The worst thing that’s going to happen is that you don’t get a response,” says Howayeck.
While networking, be prepared to explain why you’re leaving your current role. “Almost everyone that you encounter is going to wonder why you’re making the change,” says Howayeck, “and there’s nothing worse than not having a good answer to that question.”
Changing careers may seem daunting, but it isn’t an unclimbable mountain. In fact, 29% of people ages 25 to 44 have completely changed fields since starting their first job out of college, according to the EdX data. Much of the work is in determining where you want to go—and then the right preparation, planning, and networking can get you there. And what is the New Year for if not for setting achievable goals?