Career Changers

In this day and age, your first career will seldom be your last. It’s important to understand that it’s completely logical if you have been in the same career for many years and you are ready to make a change.  Studies show, each person will change careers five to seven times in their lives before they retire.  With an increasing number of different career choices to choose from, about 1/3 of the total workforce will now change jobs every 12 months. By the age of 42 you’ve probably already had about ten jobs. Whether you are attending school for the first time in many years or you are a graduate student; once you realize that you want to make a change, we can help you learn how to bridge the gap and make the transition.  However, before you begin your journey, we’ve provided several assessments and research tools to help jumpstart your research.


o begin, think about where you would want to be in five years and work backwards.  Assess the type of work experience, and education you currently have and what you need in order to make a career change.  Use the Career Changers Timeline Checklist as a guide to help keep you on track and understand that this process is all about exploring choices and refining needs. 


In this section, there are four topics to help guide you:

  • Evaluate your present situation and yourself
  • Research and identify possibilities
  • Prepare and develop an action plan
  • Transition – Put your plan into motion

Always keep in mind that the best time to look for a new career is while you are currently working or you are still a student.  You are more marketable and desirable when you are employed or can show that you have been accomplishing something.   



Thoughtful examination and careful planning is crucial if you are at a career crossroads and have considered changing career fields.  Before you begin, you need to prepare intellectually.  By accessing your values, skills, interests, knowledge and goals; along with why you want to make a change and were you see yourself after your transition, you can alter your transition from confusing to exhilarating.  Remember, you need to know who you are and where you want to go for it to be rewarding.

The basic questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. Why do you want to make a change?
  2. What would you rather be doing?
  3. What are you good at?
  4. What did you like and dislike about past jobs?

Make a list of what you liked and didn’t like about past positions.  Consider all factors including salary, possibility for growth, working environment, job duties, etc.  From this beginning evaluation, you can begin to create a list of characteristics you want, or don’t want, in your next career. 

It’s also important to understand how your transferable skills can be applied to a new position.  We each have a set of “transferrable skills” but one of the hardest things about changing careers is understanding what those skills are, and how they will relate to your new career.   By definition, transferable skills and experience are what employers seek. A skill is defined as the ability to use one's knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance, a learned power of doing something competently, a developed aptitude or ability.

Over the years, you have developed many skills from coursework, extracurricular activities, internships, jobs and your total life experiences. If you've researched, written, edited and presented papers for classes, you've used skills that are not limited to any one academic discipline or knowledge area but are transferable to many occupations. These are things you have learned to do well that can be used and taken with you from job to job, competencies that can be used in multiple situations. A prospective employer expects you to apply the skills you have learned through your studies, work, and life experiences to the work environment.  Therefore, transferable skills can be especially important to college students and career changers.

Most skills and competencies will fall into these categories:

  • Human Relations/Public Relations/Communication
  • Management/Supervisory
  • Organizing/Prioritizing
  • Research
  • Planning/Developing/Programming
  • Customer Service/Assessing Problems/Resolving Issues
  • Budget/Financial Concerns
  • Training/Teaching
  • Writing
  • Computer Software

Determine what you can offer potential employers in your new field, what you may need to accomplish before entering the field, and what actions you can take to best prepare yourself for the job search. In researching your field, you hopefully identified the skills, training, and education needed in order to be a well-qualified candidate.

Examples of transferable skills include:

Analyzing Creating Leading
Listening Organizing Planning
Researching Training Writing

Take a look at these links that offer resources for additional transferable skills and/or transferable skills assessments and examples:


Research and identify possibilities

The next step in your career change is to research and identify the industries, or fields, you wish to pursue and read through career profiles to learn what types of positions interest you.  There are multiple resources in which to research career options including career development sites, professional organizations, industry-specific sites, and company websites. You can find information at Career Changers Research Resources. For industry related information, please review the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.  It’s also helpful to make a list of companies, or professions, you might want to work with and begin to develop a list of networking contacts that can answer questions and provide guidance.  Your networking contacts can be valuable in that they may be able to offer information or allow you to job shadow or conduct informational interviews with them or other contacts they could connect you with.

Other questions that are important to ponder are salary requirements, what types of skills or education would be required if you made a change and any other prerequisites that might be involved with another career field.  If you do find that you need to attend school, how long will it take? Can you attend part-time or full-time, online or must you attend on-campus?  Finally, would your career change require you to relocate and how would you finance your change during the transition?  These questions are pertinent in identifying feasible possibilities in regards to how long your change can be expected. 



Preparation and developing an action plan is the final step before beginning your formal job search.  At this point you should have a basic timeframe in mind and understand what steps you need to take in order to accomplish your goal.   Take a look at the Career Changers Timeline Checklist to keep track of your progress. 
This is where you should also begin building your experience, whether it is completing classes to achieve a new degree, acquire certification or professional experience while participating in an internship or volunteer work.  Experience and exposure, regardless of the venue, should be part of your preparation process. Not only will experience provide insight into your career choice, it will provide you a building block on which to conduct your job search. Here are some ideas on how you can get related experience.

  • Complete an internship in your field; review information on Post University’s Internship Guidelines.
  • Volunteer your time and services to open the door to opportunities
  • Select courses, projects, and research that relate to your field of study
  • Attend conferences, seminars, and career fairs
  • Join, participate and network in professional organizations - take on leadership roles within those organizations
  • Conduct informational interviews, job visits, and industry tours
  • Receive training and certifications
  • Find a mentor within the industry

At this stage, you should begin to prepare your résumé, cover letters, elevator pitch, sections of your portfolio (if they apply), and names and numbers of references you know who would put in a good word for you professionally. Make sure you always speak with your reference before you use them.  You wouldn’t want a potential employer to contact one of your references and have them say something negative about you. 




After you have spent considerable time evaluating, researching and preparing yourself, it’s time to make that transition and put your plan into motion.  This can be a scary time but it doesn’t need to be if you’ve taken the time to understand your skills and your plan of action for a change.  

At this time, you should feel confidant applying to new positions.  Working towards creating a robust online persona while utilizing social media avenues like Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Facebook can help you showcase your professionalism and knowledge in your field.   These avenues will help you develop contacts within the industry, conduct research, and search for opportunities. 

Networking with like-minded professionals in your desired industry can also come in handy.   Opportunities can be found in most any situation, but you should focus on peers, professors, family/friends, industry representatives, members of professional organizations, and anyone that may be able to provide you solid information about the industry for which you want to work.  The Job Search Strategy Planning Worksheets can help you keep track of the people and places you have researched and networked with.  Finally, Linkedin can be a valuable resource to help keep you updated on the latest industry trends and it also allows you to connect with people who are already working in companies that you may be interested in learning more about. 

In the end, personal growth, and change, comes from constantly re-evaluating yourself and the progress you have made, along with avenues to consider while you embark on a new journey.  Making a change isn’t easy but with some understanding, patience and persistence, it can happen and lead you to a more fulfilling career and lifestyle.  Good luck and never give up!!!