3 Steps for a Career Change: Change Career Path to Your Dream Job

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Last updated on September 2, 2021 Comments: 1

If you’ve been thinking about a new job, you’re not alone. Almost half of all Americans were considering a job change in 2019, with almost one in four looking to change careers. And women are even more likely to want to change careers–a full 73%. But where do you start? How do you know if you can afford a career change?

Since change can be scary, let’s break down the three steps you’ll need to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Step 1. Assess Your Finances and Your Ambitions

Be Honest About Your Current Job

Think about why you’re leaving your job in the first place. Your job should be more energizing than draining–though not every task will leave you smiling. If you leave the office every day feeling drained and wake up every morning dreading going back in, you’re either in burn out or you need a new career.

Be honest with yourself–maybe it’s not the job that is the problem. Maybe what you are looking for is a fulfilling hobby outside of work. Or maybe the problem is your manager isn’t giving you the type of work you need to be fulfilled. Those are problems that can often be solved by talking to your boss, explaining your situation, and working collaboratively to make work a better fit. Once you rule out any problems that could be solved with your current job, it’s time to look at your options.

Assess Your Finances

Before making any big decisions, assess your finances. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you hopefully have a well-designed budget, but if not, get started by tracking your expenses and seeing where your money goes. You can start by reading 5 Budget Categories to Create the Best Budget and The Best Budget Tools for Tracking Your Money. This is important because many job transitions might require you to take a pay cut–at least for a while. Knowing where you can trim your budget will help with that transition.

And if you have debt, you’ll want to do whatever you can now to pay that down now. Nothing will get you back to your old job faster than realizing your new one can’t pay for bills you’ve already racked up. We explain how to tackle debt in The Correct Way to Pay Off Personal Debt: The Debt Avalanche and Debt Reduction Methods and Philosophies: Snowball, Avalanche and More.

Related: 8 Budgeting Apps to Help You Manage Your Money

Get Honest About Your Ambitions

But beyond understanding where your money goes, you’ll want to get honest about your ambitions. Are you interested in a new career because you want to make more money? Research published in Nature Human Behaviour journal shows that we get happier as we make more money–but only up to $105,000. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change jobs to make more money or that there’s anything wrong with that. Just be up front with yourself about your motivations–it will help you narrow down your options and find the best match.

Craft Your Personal Mission

You know why you want to leave, you’re honest about what you want to achieve and how you’ll handle your finances, but you still need to assess what you want to do.

  • Are you leaving because you find your current job doesn’t match up with your personal mission? If so, spend some time crafting your own personal mission statement. You can use this later when researching companies to see if they match up.
  • What are your top values? Is it spending more time with family? Is it making more money so you can buy a boat and spend your weekend sailing? Is it making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than you? None of these answers are the “right” one–but be honest with what you want.
  • What are the obstacles in my way? What is stopping me from making this change today? Is it money? Is it connections? Is it education? Or maybe just fear? Once you have a good understanding of what’s stopping you, it’s time to put a plan together to overcome your particular obstacle.

Take a Career Quiz

It doesn’t all have to be tough questions, you can have fun with this too. There are plenty of online career change quizzes that can help clarify things.

  • If you want to find what job best fits your life, try this one from Glassdoor.
  • Or for a more in-depth quiz, try the MAPP (Motivational Appraisal Personal Potential) quiz that takes 22 minutes to complete.
  • Or this one from the Princeton Review.

Related: Go to College for Free

Research Salaries

Now that you have a better idea of your goals, research starting salaries in your new career. Maybe you won’t have to start at the very bottom, but it’s best to be prepared. Test out that salary for a few months–put the difference from your current salary and your new one in an emergency fund and try to forget it’s even there. How does it feel? Were you so stressed about money that you couldn’t enjoy things? Or did you find the transition easier than you imagined?

Check out websites like Glassdoor to understand general salaries in your chosen field or for a particular company.

Think through the long-term financial implications of a career change. Our guide on The Simple Math Behind Social Security can help you understand what a cut in income could mean for your retirement days.

But if you’ve gone through all these exercises and still want to leave, that’s perfectly fine! Just make sure you are setting yourself up for success by having your finances planned out and taking the advice in our second step.

Related: Unplanned Expenses and Your Budget

Step 2. Put Out Feelers

Before making the jump, you’ll want to understand what opportunities are out there and what will be most rewarding to you (whether that is giving you personal fulfillment or making more money).

Baby Steps

Before quitting your job, try things out for a while. Here are ways to gain valuable experience before getting a new job:

  • Take a class at your local college or university. Nothing shows initiative like taking a class on your own time. Beyond what you learn from your instructor, you are likely to meet other students who are in the same field. Your class may even have networking events with industry professionals–if not, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor to introduce you to her contacts. And if you are looking for a big change, something that takes a new degree (like a nurse, doctor, lawyer, etc.), check out our guide on Deciding to Go Back to School as an Adult.
  • Sign up as a volunteer. There may be non-profit organizations in your desired industry that will teach you in exchange for your labor. A Guardian article shows how one young man volunteered with a local solar non-profit, learning tricks of the trade, and ended up with a job.
  • Do some freelance work. This can be either paid or unpaid, depending on how much of a newbie you are, but either way it will help give you real word experience for your resume. Take note of how you feel when doing the work–is it energizing you? This can be especially important if you are looking for a midlife career change. You probably have some of the skills you already need to make it in your new profession, so set up a website or talk to contacts. If you are willing to do things cheaply or in exchange for a good review, you’ll probably find yourself with some new clients. I’ve heard of newbie photographers who have done a few free photo shoots of their friends and neighbors in order to build up a portfolio. This can be especially helpful if you want to transition to a creative field.
  • Network. Maybe this word makes you feel sleazy, but really it’s all about making new connections and relationships. Those connections can give you insight into your next career (and whether it’s really as good as it seems) and can open doors to job opportunities. This doesn’t have to be through boring networking events, though these can sometimes lead to great connections. Instead, look for events where people in the industry hang out–maybe a conference or a volunteer day.
  • Ask for informal interviews. These aren’t just for students. Asking a contact for an informal interview can give you great insight into the day to day of a new career. If you can shadow someone for a day, even better. Just make sure you talk with someone who is honest about the highs and lows and understand that just because they find something great doesn’t mean you will too.
  • Hire a career change coach. This may sound new-agey, but hiring a career or life coach might be the kick-in-the-butt you need to get moving. They can also help clarify some of your strengths, strengths which you might take for granted but could be great for a new company.

Create Your New Story

As you explore your new career, you’ll want to create a story about who you are, what you’ve done, and how it will help you in your chosen career. This can be difficult for many people who feel like it’s bragging. But it’s important to let people know who you are, how you can help them, and what you are looking for. Spend some time thinking through what you’ve done and how those skills can apply to a new job.

Step 3. Start, but Expect Results to be Slow

Once you’ve got your finances in order and have started volunteering, freelancing, learning, or making new connections, you’ve already started to do the work to transition. But successfully launching a new career could take a lot more time than you anticipate–so don’t expect a quick career change and give yourself some slack. If it’s something you want, be prepared for rejections, over and over and over again.

But don’t give up! Instead, prepare in advance for what you’ll do when you get those rejections. Some writers have rejection letter folders. One college has a “Wall of Rejection” as a way to de-stigmatize the inevitable. Make a plan for those rejections and remind yourself that every rejection is one step closer to your new job.

Just as important is to figure out how you’ll celebrate your successes–and not just the big ones. If you’re taking a pay cut to make this work, you’ll want to get creative about those celebrations, think about a nice bubble bath or a picnic in the park instead of an expensive restaurant.

Resources for Career Changes

If you’re looking to make the switch but want more resources, here’s some of the best career change advice out there:

Power Moves: How Women Can Pivot, Reboot, and Build a Career of Purpose by Lauren McGoodwin – This book by the founder of Career Contessa provides advice for women who feel stuck in their career.

The Dip by Seth Godin – This book is considered the holy grail by many about when to pivot to a new career. It’s a short read, but could be life changing.

Switch Pivot or Quit by Ahyiana Angel – This podcast delves into all things career change and has over 250 episodes.

How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value through the Science of Fascination by Sally Hogshead –  This book dives into the idea of energy quicksand (things that drain you) and wellsprings (tasks that give you energy).

Reshaping the Story of Your Career by Joseph Liu – This TedX talk goes into the difference between following your passion and your energy.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy – This book will help you shed the dreaded Imposter Syndrome.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink – This book crushes the myth that money is what drives us to do well at work and can give you insight into what you’ll need to feel fulfilled from 9-5.

Never Eat Alone: and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi – This book will help you feel good about networking.

The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore – This book traces Moore’s personal path to finding meaning while giving the reader insight into how other notable people switched careers.

Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One by Jenny Blake – This book understands that careers are no longer linear and gives readers the tools to navigate your next big pivot.

What’s Next: Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job by Kerry Hannon – This book gives readers real-world stories about changing careers and will give you the inspiration you need to find your own dream job.

What are the Requirements to become a Flight Attendant? Keep reading and you’ll realize that airlines clearly define their requirements for good reason.

Bottom Line

Be honest with what you want–is it a job that is fulfilling, something that gives you a better work-life balance, or more money–and then do the research to figure out how to make the transition. Make sure to understand the financial implications of a job switch and practice with your new salary (assuming it’s lower) for a few months before making the leap. And do everything you can to make yourself marketable–learn, volunteer, and network.

Article comments

1 comment
Anonymous says:

Good info. A few years back, I realized I really hated my job and it really kind of spoiled my life. I decided to follow my dream of getting into real estate and I haven’t looked back. I pretty much followed those same steps to get to where I am today. If anybody out there is reading and really hates what they’re doing I recommend following this advice and your dreams because life is to short to have your job rott you away!