How to Change Careers: 6 Practical Tips

Career changes can be daunting. After all, it can feel a lot like starting your professional journey from scratch. But if you do find yourself in this position, know that you’re not alone— and making the switch to a new, more fulfilling career is possible. 

Six tips for changing careers

According to a study we conducted in 2022, nearly 2 in 5 professionals were considering a career change. Each and every year, thousands of Americans will pivot into a new career that better suits their wants and needs. And luckily, many will find the journey to be a rewarding experience. 

To help us learn more, we asked Justin Horton, recruiter and founder of Outland Recruiting, for some helpful tips about how to change careers.

1. Reflect on what you truly want out of a job.

Before diving into the job market or updating your resume, take a moment to truly reflect on what you want out of your career. This introspection is an important part of the journey, as it helps ensure that your next move is not just a change, but a meaningful step toward a more fulfilling professional life.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What motivates me? Are you seeking things like more creativity, autonomy, or the opportunity to make a broader impact? 
  • What are my core values? Perhaps you’re looking for a role that aligns with your passions, offers a better work-life balance, or will allow you to grow within the company. What aspects do you value most?
  • What do I envision for my future? Consider also the lifestyle you aspire to lead. How does your ideal career fit into the larger picture of your life? Reflect on your desired work environment, the balance between work and personal time, and how your career choice affects your relationships and personal well-being.

Understanding these intrinsic motivators is crucial, as they will guide your decisions and keep you anchored throughout the journey. Keep these things in mind as you figure out what it is that you want to do.

2. Research industries, careers, and jobs that will fulfill your wants and needs.

Now that you know what you want, it’s time to look into the jobs and industries that match your goals. It’s like detective work: you need to dig deep to find out what these jobs are really about, not just what they seem to be on the surface. For instance, working on movies might sound fun and creative, but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that isn’t as glamorous.

Start by reading up on the jobs you’re interested in. What do these jobs involve on a daily basis? What kind of environment do people work in?

It’s important to get the full picture so you’re not surprised later. 

3. Do what you can to build up your experience.

When shifting to a new career, one of the biggest hurdles is getting that initial experience. But think of it as laying the foundation for your future career— without it, you can’t build upwards.

How to Change Careers: It's about changing that "no" to a "yes" when someone asks if you have any experience in your new field.

“This is the most important thing when it comes to landing a job in a new career,” Horton says. Getting your foot in the door will likely be the hardest part of the transition, but it’s a crucial step when embarking on a career journey.

“You need to start somewhere, and often, the quality of experience isn’t as important as the quantity. Many times, employers see it as a binary— ‘Do you have the required years of experience?’ It’s a yes or no,” Horton explains.

In other words, one of the key aspects of changing careers is just building up your experience— even if it’s on the side while you work your current job. 

Ways to do this include:

  • Internships: Internships offer a hands-on opportunity to gain relevant experience in your new field, even if it’s for a short period, providing a sneak peek into the industry’s workings and helping you build valuable connections.
  • Volunteer or pro-bono work: Engaging in volunteer or pro-bono work allows you to apply your skills in real-world scenarios.
  • Part-time or contract work: Part-time or contract roles can serve as a bridge to full-time employment in your new field, offering practical experience and the chance to prove your capabilities while you transition.

Remember, the goal at this stage is to accumulate experience— any experience. It’s about changing that “no” to a “yes” when someone asks if you have any experience in your new field.

4. Fill experience gaps with additional education or certifications.

Filling in experience gaps with additional education and certifications is the second most important thing you can do to bolster your resume when switching careers.

“If you’re transferring into a technical career, certifications can take you to the next level and sometimes will be more valuable than a formal degree,” Horton notes.

Not sure where to start? Begin by looking at dream jobs in your new field.

“Look at the job descriptions for the jobs you want to be in,” Horton says. “They are telling you exactly what you need.”

Then, find ways to learn these things. 

Depending on the career, you may find a variety of options, from online courses to community college classes to skill boot camps. In addition to helping you get the skills you need, classes and continuing education can help you make connections in the industry and show employers you’re serious about your new career.

5. Identify your transferable skills.

We’ve got some good news: you probably already have a bunch of skills you can apply to your new job. 

Skills that are applicable to different jobs and industries are known as transferable skills. These abilities, like communication skills, leadership, and critical thinking, are crucial to just about any career. Plus, coming from a different career, you’ll bring fresh perspectives to the table.

“Don’t shy away from your previous careers or downplay your experience,” Horton says. “You will bring something that other candidates don’t. Use that to your advantage.”

Take a good look at what you’ve done and what you can do. Maybe you’re great at talking to people, solving problems, or organizing things. These are all soft skills that many jobs need. Write down your experiences and abilities and compare them to the requirements for your new career. You will want to be sure to include any overlap on your resume.

How to Change Careers: Don't shy away from your previous careers or downplay your experience.

6. Find connections.

Getting to know people in the industry you want to join is like finding guides in a new city. They can show you the best paths, warn you about the tough spots, and introduce you to other helpful folks. This network of people can be a big help as you move into your new career.

“Look at the people in the job you want, connect with them, and look at their experience,” Horton says. “They’re a blueprint for how to succeed.”

Getting started with networking can feel intimidating, but don’t be afraid to take the first small steps. Start by reaching out to people you already know, like friends, family, or former coworkers, to see if they have contacts in the industry you’re interested in. You can also use social media platforms like LinkedIn to connect with professionals in your desired field. Don’t be shy to introduce yourself and ask for advice or insights.

Take the first steps

When exploring new careers, keep your priorities and values at the forefront of your mind while remaining realistic about what career paths actually entail. Once you have a solid idea of your new direction, the key to landing a job will lie in how you build your resume with relevant and worthwhile experience, education, and certifications. 

As parting words of wisdom, Horton reminds job seekers, “The beginning will often be rough no matter what you decide on, but don’t be afraid to take the leap and first steps to get started.”

About the Contributor

Justin Horton

Justin Horton is the Owner and Principal Recruiter of Outland Recruiting, where he specializes in matching exceptional candidates to fulfilling roles. Before founding Outland Recruiting, Justin honed his skills recruiting for prominent Fortune 500 companies. Passionate about opening opportunities, he takes special interest in guiding individuals without previous tech backgrounds into successful tech careers.