Changing Careers | 10 Steps for a Successful Career Change

Jul 29, 2020

Written by Caitlin Proctor

Written by Caitlin Proctor

Career Expert, ZipJob

An average of 250 resumes are sent for a single opening. See how Zipjob uses professional writers and technology to get your resume noticed.

Changing careers? Try these 10 steps for a tactical transition.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that there was once a time when most people remained in the same careers throughout much of their lives. Those days (like the resume objective) are now gone.

Today, people change jobs several times. Many of them also shift from one career to another. If you find yourself starting to make a plan for changing careers, you’re not alone!

The next question is how to go about making a change for a successful career transition. This article outlines 10 steps that will get you started.

Ready for a move to another career? These ten career changing tips can make the process easier than you might imagine.

What is a career transition?

A career transition is a deliberate change in your job function or professional industry. Changing careers is rarely a mistake: it takes effort to make this kind of switch.

Here are some examples:

Notice that all of these career transition examples involve changing job titles, industries, essential skills, and career trajectories. These aren’t promotions or similar jobs at different companies: a career transition is a new path entirely.

How do you transition into a new career?

There are the three stages to a successful career transition: plan, learn, and leap.

Your specific roadmap to transition into a new career is going to be different from everyone else’s roadmap. You have to figure out where you’re starting from, where you want to go, and how long you can take to get there.

1. Identify why you want to make a change

The first thing you need to do is make certain that you’re certain about changing careers. This is a big decision.

Are you unhappy with your current coworkers or supervisor? You may be able to work things out. Even if you do need to leave your current job, landing a similar job is almost always easier than starting a new career.

Have you been feeling unsatisfied, discontented, unmotivated, or burnt out for months or years? This is a fairly strong sign that you’re not in the right career.

Try to figure out why you’re looking into other career options, and how long you’ve been wanting a change. Make sure the problem lies in your chosen career path. This important first step will keep you motivated as you follow the next 9 steps of a successful transition.

2. Set your professional goals

Now that you’ve decided to make a career change, you need to figure out what that change should be. Don’t simply run away from one situation: find a better opportunity to run toward.

Consider these questions:

  • What interests you?
  • What motivates you?
  • What are you skilled at?
  • Who do you admire, and what jobs do those people have?
  • What are your priorities in life?
  • Where did you think you’d be 5 years ago, or 10, or 20?
  • Do you have any skills you wish you could put to better use?

Write these answers out and look for patterns. If you’re stuck and uninspired–common signs of job-related depression or burnout–try these expert-approved career assessments.

At this point, it’s important not to rule anything out. The next step is all about analysis.

3. Evaluate your possible career transition options

Now that you have a list, it’s time to figure out if your interests and skills match up to actual jobs. There are countless excellent sources of information such as: researching career possibilities online; talking to friends or family members; sending a cold email to someone with a job title that interests you; or working with a career coach.

You can remove the more far-fetched ideas from your list, but you should also add additional job titles to look into. For instance, if you identified “better work-life balance” as a priority, you can look up remote work options.

This is the time to research what sort of certifications or training are required for particular jobs. If you know that 4 to 7 years of medical school will not be an option for you, seek related careers: Certified Nurse Aides, for example, only need a few months to train as a medical helper. Or, if you’re motivated by helping sick people, look into nonprofits that support that population.

This step may take a couple of hours or several weeks. The sheer numbers of possibilities is both overwhelming and exciting. Keep adding and removing possible career paths until you have 10 or fewer items.

Note from the author: the job titles in this article link to resume examples written by Zipjob’s professional resume writers. We have over 200 examples posted so far, each including the skills, experience, and work history for someone with that title.

You can view our full list here: 200+ Resume Examples for Every Job & Industry (2020)

Now that you have a solid plan, it’s time to start learning.

4. Research the demand for your short-listed career options

Learn if there are opportunities for the jobs remaining on your list. It’s time to scour the job market and see if there are openings. Fortunately, you can do much of this research from the comfort of your own living room. Use a search engine or job search sites to identify job opportunities, paying close attention to any additional requirements.

At this time, you can also start identifying any transferable skills you can leverage on your resume. Transferable skills are going to be the framework of your career transition resume down the line.

5. Update your skills

Now that you have your goals and know which jobs are possible, it’s time to look at your qualifications. If you’re like most people, you will probably meet some criteria and fail to meet others.

Some job skills that you already possess might be transferrable. Others may need to be acquired or improved. By taking the necessary time to enhance your skills, you can simplify the job search effort.

6. Learn from professionals in your desired careers

There are a lot of ways to do this. Once you’ve exhausted the limits of online research, here are more ways you can learn about new careers:

  • Conduct informational interviews
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Shadow someone for a day (or an hour)
  • Sign up for industry newsletters
  • Volunteer
  • Freelance
  • Read books by prominent figures

While you’re at it, don’t forget to spend some time researching the companies that you plan to target for resume submissions.

7. Refresh your job search skills

Obviously, changing careers will require a job search – so it’s time to brush up on those skills.

💡ZipTip: read our experts’ advice on the US job market and COVID-19, including the industries still hiring and the jobs hit the hardest.

Lots of people are surprised at how much resumes have changed over the past 5 years. Virtually all big companies use an ATS scan to sort through resume submissions. You need to learn how to pass an ATS resume test.

With your resume updated and ready, you should take time to renew your interview skills. You can do this by reviewing common interviewer questions online, roleplaying with a friend, or practicing your salary negotiation techniques.

Now, you’re ready to leap!

8. Work your network

Tell everyone you can that you’re looking to make a career transition. Explain where you’ve been and where you want to go. You never know who might know someone in your target field or at your dream company!

If you already have a network of professional colleagues, you may need to expand it. Work to make new contacts in your chosen field. By now, you should already be in the habit of networking constantly. But if that’s not the case, then there’s no better time to start. You should also mobilize the network that you do have, to enlist their help in your job search efforts. Sometimes, that network can be the most efficient tool you have when changing careers.

9. Get your foot in the door

Whether it’s through your network or your own efforts, you need to get your resume in the right hands. When you submit your resume, be diligent about following up. Make every effort to get in contact with hiring personnel, to maximize your odds of getting that all-important interview. Be persistent!

10. Remain flexible

Finally, be flexible with everything. If you’re changing careers and entering a new industry or line of work, you need to control your expectations. You may not get the salary that you think you’re owed. Your job role may not be as expansive as you might like. And you will almost certainly need to start over at any new company.

Try to remain future-oriented, however, and remember that this is all part of a necessary process.


A successful career transition is based on many small actions and one big leap. 

While it can be tough to switch careers, the effort can pay off with greater job satisfaction and a new sense of challenge. When you follow these ten steps for changing careers, you can enjoy a more seamless transition from one career to the next.

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An average of 250 resumes are sent for a single opening. See how Zipjob uses professional writers and technology to get your resume noticed.

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