If you’ve decided that 2023 is going to be your year to make a big career change, congratulations! That’s big news, and something worth celebrating. Whether you’re looking for a higher salary, a more stable work environment, or just the opportunity to pursue your passions, changing careers can be an excellent way of reaching all of those goals.
But it can, of course, also be scary to make a big change, especially one that impacts not only yourself but your family. One way to take the stress out of your decision is to ensure that you have a solid game plan to get you through to your goal. With enough planning and preparation, you’ll feel much more confident that you can successfully change careers.
With this in mind, below are steps you can and should take before making a career change in order to set yourself up for success.
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How to Make a Career Change
1. Explore your interests.
Where are you in your career change journey? Do you already know the type of work that you want to move into? Do you know that you want to make a change, but aren’t sure exactly what that change should be?
If you’re in the earlier stages of deciding the path that you want to move down, you should spend some time thinking about your interests. What are you passionate about? What type of work brings you the most joy and satisfaction to complete?
While enjoyment can’t (and shouldn’t) be the only factor you consider when choosing a new career, it’s still an important one. After all, you don’t want to jump from one career that you hate into another one that you hate just because the pay might be a little bit better.
2. Identify job titles related to your passions.
Once you have a sense of the kind of work you’re interested in, you will need to research job titles related to your passions so that you can begin conducting more specific research about the roles.
If you are interested in bringing a project all the way from concept to finished product, for example, you might decide that you would like to become a project manager. Alternatively, if you’re interested in data and numbers, you might choose to become a data analyst. The options are truly endless.
At this stage in the process, you should also begin considering other important factors that may influence your choice. For example, what is the average salary of the job title you are considering? Does that match your own personal salary requirements? Is the position in a field or industry that is growing and seeing increased demand, or one that is shrinking? Etc.
3. Consider job shadowing.
If you’re still unsure about the career that you’d like to pursue, or you’re having a hard time narrowing down your list of interests, one effective strategy that can help you make up your mind is to shadow professionals working in the position you are considering. This can help you understand the “day in the life” of that professional, which can help you determine whether it is or isn’t a good fit for you.
Not sure how to go about job shadowing? If you personally know someone who works in a role that you are considering, you can simply ask them if it would be okay to shadow them on a day that works for their schedule. Alternatively, you could meet with them and chat through your questions about the job.
If you have earned a degree (such as a bachelor’s degree) from a university, you can also reach out to your alma mater’s career services department and ask them what resources they might have available. Many universities are more than happy to help set up a job shadowing opportunity for alumni.
Other options include joining a professional network or association, or working with a local career services agency.
4. Determine the educational requirements.
Having determined a career that you would like to pursue, your next step is to determine the educational requirements of that career.
Simply put, different job titles will require different levels of education. If you currently do not have an undergraduate degree, you might find that you will need to earn one in order to pursue the role that you are interested in. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you might find that that is enough to change careers, or you might find that you need a master’s degree or certification. Even if a graduate degree isn’t required for you to work in a certain field, you might decide that you’d like to pursue one in order to gain the experience and expertise that you need to succeed in your new, targeted career.
If the thought of earning a new degree outside your current area of focus worries you, there is good news. Many universities offer specific degrees or fields of study for individuals who are interested in changing careers.
At Northeastern, for example, we offer a number of degrees (known as Align programs) specifically for individuals who are changing careers into a field in which they have no background. Two such programs include Data Science Align and Computer Science Align, which prepare students for careers in data science and computer science, respectively.
5. Consider tuition reimbursement from your current employer.
If you find that the new career you would like to pursue will require you to earn a degree, tuition reimbursement can be an excellent means of offsetting the costs associated with doing so.
Most employers who offer tuition reimbursement have strict requirements as to who will qualify for the benefit. Typically, the degree being pursued will need to align with your current job duties or the job duties of a position you are working toward. Additionally, most companies require an employee who has received tuition reimbursement to stay with the company for a certain period of time after completing the degree (or else pay back the costs).
Questions you should answer include:
- Does your company offer tuition reimbursement?
- Would the degree you are pursuing tie back to your current job title?
- If not, is there another career within the company that your degree will prepare you for?
- And ultimately: Do you want to continue working for the same employer, or are you looking to make a change?
If you decide that tuition reimbursement isn’t for you, the good news is that there are plenty of other options to help you pay for your degree.
6. Make sure you have a support system in place.
Finally, before embarking on your career change, it’s important to ensure that you have a strong support system in place.
Identify the people that matter most in your life—your spouse, your children, your family, your friends, trusted colleagues—and tell them about your plans. Explain to them that you might need their help and understanding, especially in the first few months of your new pursuit, and ask them to help keep you accountable.
Having this strong support system in place before you make a change will dramatically improve your chances of a successful pivot.
Taking the First Step
Making the decision to change careers can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are pursuing a new career because you want to earn more money, need more stability, want to make a difference in the lives of others, or simply have a passion for a particular line of work, you deserve a career that meets all of your needs. The steps above can help you be successful in your move.