How to make a career change: A step-by-step guide

by admin

The world of work is changing. It’s becoming less common to choose a career at 21 and stick with it for the rest of your working life. Yes, career changes are becoming the new normal, but exactly how to make a career change is something many people still struggle to understand.

“How do I know I’m doing the right thing?” “What if I choose the wrong career?” “Am I too old for a career change?” “Do I need to go back to university?”

These are just some of the questions that usually race through the mind of anyone seriously thinking about launching a new career. That’s why we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to answer all the questions you may have about how to make a career change and how to do so successfully.

When is the best time to make a career change?

The truth is that there is no best time to make a career change. There will usually always be an element of fear and uncertainty – no matter how long you plan and ponder. However, there are a few telltale signs that suggest that now is a good time to make a career change. These include:

  • you know for sure that your current career is the real reason you are unhappy at the moment
  • you are in a place in life that you can deal with emotional and financial upheaval
  • you have some money saved or an alternative source of income to support you if you need to take a pay cut while changing careers

How can I know for sure if I should change careers?

Very often, the surest sign that a career change is something you should do lies in your gut. You just know deep down that this is something you have to do: if you don’t, you’ll definitely regret it.

Other clues that suggest that changing careers is a good idea include:

  • you have researched and tried out the new career you would like to pursue and you feel confident that you understand what it truly involves
  • your new career is a good fit for your lifestyle, personality, values and goals
  • you feel drawn to a new career rather than desperate to get away from your current job
  • you like, admire and aspire to be like people you know who are in the career field you would like to change to

What is the first thing I should do to begin my career change?

Your homework! Avoid the temptation to jump head first into a new career that sounds great in theory. All industries have their downsides and you need to make sure you are completely aware of the good, bad and ugly aspects of the career field you are thinking about moving into. You can do this by:

  • speaking to people who are already working in that industry and finding out what they love and hate about it
  • exposing yourself to as many different aspects of your new industry as possible. Attend events, open days, conferences, online webinars etc.
  • doing some type of work experience on the ground. Whether it’s just a few days of volunteering, a few weeks of formal work experience or an ongoing part-time internship, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you have had a chance to try the exact job you will be doing before you commit to it

How can I change career without going back to the bottom?

Having to start again from scratch is one of the commonest reasons why people who want to make a career change decide against it. After years of climbing the career ladder and finally making it to a position of respect, responsibility and good pay, going back to being an intern or entry level employee can be a bitter pill to swallow. The good news is that you may not have to go back to the bottom of the ladder.

Making a career change at a similar seniority level is more likely if:

Do I need to go back to university to change careers?

It’s an inescapable fact: some careers require a professional qualification. this means that it doesn’t matter how intelligent or capable you are, you will need to go to university, college or some other institution of higher education to gain a qualification if you want to work in that industry. However, they are many careers for which a specific qualification is not needed. If you are unsure of if a degree is essential to break into your new career field, check the requirements listed in job adverts for your dream role and the LinkedIn profiles of people with your dream job title.

Imposter syndrome (feelings of inadequacy) can make you believe you need to get a degree to make a career change, but this isn’t true. If you have time and money, getting a qualification is no bad thing. In fact, it can open many doors for you (it’s often a great way to secure an internship and expand your professional network). However, do not turn your back on your career dreams if you are not in a position to return to education. On-the-job experience is invaluable and you can make more progress by spending the year(s) you would have spent in a classroom actually working in your new career.

Should I work for free to start a new career or get into a new industry?

It’s commonly believe that working for free is the only way to break into a new industry if you have no experience. This is untrue. Working for free does make it easier to get experience, but that experience isn’t always of a high quality and often won’t lead to a job.

Many companies now offer paid internships as standard, and companies that invest in interns tend to expect more from them and consider them as potential employees who are worth hiring after the internship ends.

In contrast, companies looking for free labour often have little desire to turn interns into employees. If you’re changing careers and are considering an unpaid placement because you want to get a job in that company, you’re likely to have more success with a company that pays you from day one.

On the other hand, unpaid work is worthwhile if:

  • you are simply looking to get experience and pick up skills you currently lack
  • the company offering unpaid work is one that will really boost your CV/resume
  • the unpaid work will put you in contact with influential people in your new industry that can help your career

Am I too old for a career change at 30?

No! Unless you are considering a career in which being under 30 is a vital for success e.g. professional gymnast, being 30 is a limitation that exists only in your mind.

Do not get too hung up on being older than new graduates who are just starting out in their new careers. At 30, you have a lot to offer that a 20 something does not, such as life experience, skills from a different industry, professional contacts, networking skills, and strong problem solving, communication and team working skills.

Don’t believe us? Here are six reasons why making a career change in your 30s is a great idea.

Am I too old for a career change at 40?

Just as making a career change in your 30s is full of advantages, so is changing careers in your 40s. Everything we said in the above answer applies to starting a new career at 40.

What is the best career change test?

Many books and websites will lead you to believe that there is a specific test that will reveal if you need to make a career change and what your ideal career is.However, the problem with career change tests is that they provide logical, well-reasoned solutions and fail to take into account the one thing that is the biggest determiner of if a career change is a good idea: your gut.

Deciding what to do with your life is more about emotion and intuition than it is about logic and intellect. The best career change test you will ever take involves asking yourself, “What do I really want?”.

What should I include in a career change resume or CV?

If you want to apply for jobs in a new industry, it is likely that you may lack experience in your new career field. To overcome this,when writing a career change resume or CV, focus on highlighting your relevant skills and experience, instead of listing all of your past roles.

If you are making a career change later in your career, it is worth avoiding including information that can be used to work out your age and discriminate against you. This includes your date of birth and the  year you graduated from university.

Read this article for a step-by-step guide to writing a career change resume or CV.

How to write a career change cover letter

Approach writing a career change cover letter in the same way as writing a career change resume or CV: focus on the transferable skills and experiences you have.

Start by summarising who you are and then move on to explain why you are applying for the role.

Avoid drawing too much attention to the fact that you are changing careers and do not apologise for your lack of experience in the field. Instead mention that you have extensive experience in your current industry and then move on to explain how the skills and experience you have gained in that industry will be of benefit in the role you are applying for.

Always make sure that the skills and experiences you highlight match those outlined in the job description.


So, do you feel ready to make a career change or do you still have questions? Drop them in the comments below and why not visit our resources page for more guides and worksheets for figuring out your best next career move.