How to Change Careers at Any Age
Thinking about changing careers can be an exciting, but anxiety-provoking, idea. While you might be ready for something new, it’s easy to find yourself worrying about your ability to successfully transition to a new field. Many people end up writing off the prospect of a career change as unfeasible, telling themselves that they’re too old to make a change, or that they don’t have enough experience to enter a new and competitive field, or that they’ve invested too much time into their current career to transition to something different.
However, there are many valid reasons for wanting to start a new phase in your career, whether they be personal or financial, and many people have successfully transitioned to a new career – or even several careers – over the course of their lives. Finding a new career is a realistic and attainable goal – here’s how you can make a transition happen for yourself.
How to Make a Career Change
Choose the Right Field
While you might know that you want to make a career change, you may not be clear on what it is you’d like to do instead. While some of people have long-held dreams of becoming writers or entrepreneurs, others might not have a specific career path in mind. You might be thinking, “I know I want a new career, but I don’t know how to find a career that fits with my goals and interests.”
If you’re not sure what your dream job would look like, start by compiling a list of your interests – anything from sports to computers to humanitarianism to animals. If it’s something you’re passionate about, write it down!
Next, make a list of jobs or careers that interest you, or have interested you at any point in your life. Don’t worry if it’s far-fetched or if you know little about it. Whether you’ve always dreamed of being an astronaut or are wondering what being a software developer entails, include any and all ideas on your list.
The goal of these lists is to help you identify what it is that excites you, and to find the common thread between them. Once you’ve completed these lists, look through them to identify any themes. Ideally, these lists will spark some new career ideas: you might realize that your interest in computers could translate into a successful career in information technology, or that your knack for numbers might make you a good accountant.
It’s also important to spend some time reflecting on what you really want to do with your life, as not all hobbies or interests translate into professional careers. You may love animals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be a veterinarian or own a pet store!
Once you’ve identified something on your list that you could see yourself pursuing as a career, it’s time to figure out what needs to be done to help you accomplish your goal and make it a reality.
Audit Your Existing Skills
The next key step in achieving your career change is to do an audit of your existing skills. This is where you’ll list out the things you are good at and enjoy doing – things like writing, public speaking, web design, or finances. This will give you a good baseline to work from when determining where your skill level sits, and what additional skills you might need to learn in pursuing your new career.
Next, do some research into the career you’ve picked. What are the key skills needed to be successful? Which of those skills do you already have, and which are you missing? Once you have a sense of the gaps in your skillset that will need to be filled, it’s time to consider your options for rounding out your knowledge to make this field viable for you.
Online degree and certificate programs can be instrumental in helping people change careers by providing them with the new skills and knowledge required to get into a new field and excel in it, while fitting well into the lives of busy working professionals. You should consider enrolling in a degree or credential program at a nationally accredited online college to help you gain the skills needed for your new career and to set you up for success.
Network with Experts
Now that you’ve made some decisions on the direction you’re heading and the skills you’ll need to get there, it’s time to start exploring your new career more fully. One of the best ways to do this is to network and talk to people who are actually in the field you’re looking to enter. The natural place to start is by reaching out to friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances, both those in your chosen field or those who might have ties to people who do.
If you don’t have anyone in your immediate circle with experience in your chosen field, you can also use social networking tools such as LinkedIn to connect with individuals in your area doing work similar to the work you want to do, or explore your alumni network.
Connecting with a few people who have direct experience working in a similar profession and getting a sense of what their day-to-day work looks like, what the challenges and opportunities are, and what they like and dislike most about their jobs will give you a very clear sense of what that career looks like, and will help you determine whether or not it’s right for you. Make sure to ask specific questions such as, “Does this career provide me flexibility?” and “Do I need to go back to school to obtain the skills necessary for this job?” to really get a sense of what working in this field is like.
Test the Waters
Just as important as talking to people in your new field is actually testing it out for yourself. When changing careers, it’s a good idea to transition out of your current career path slowly: you can spend some time experimenting with your idea in your spare time, before making a permanent move. For example, if you were going to make a career switch and become a culinary chef, give yourself a 30-day challenge to cook meals for your friends and families every day, then collect feedback. Would they actually pay for the meals? How good was the food?
Moving more slowly gives you an opportunity to find out if your new career idea is worth pursuing, without fully committing time, energy, and money into it. If you realize that you still need to gain some skills to be successful in this new field or that it simply isn’t for you, you haven’t committed fully to it and can change course again. But if the experiment goes well, feels fulfilling, and generates positive results, then you should feel comfortable moving forward and make your idea a real career!
Even if you have the right set of skills, have done your research, and have spent some time testing out your career idea, you still might feel nervous about taking the leap and making the change to a new field. That’s why it’s important to take some time to really think about whether or not you truly want to change careers before making the final decision to do so.
One way to do this is to use the Regret Minimization Framework created by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who made his own major career shift from banking to entrepreneurship–which led to him founding Amazon.com. Leaving a secure, well-paying job to pursue a wild idea was a big decision, and to make it, he decided to focus on the idea of “regret minimization.” As he said, “I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, ‘Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have. I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this…I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.”
Use this framework to consider your own situation. It’s important to ask yourself (and answer honestly): “Will I regret not taking this step or making this decision in 40 years?” What choice can you make to minimize regret when you’re looking back years from now?
Make the Change
Now that you’ve done your research, tested out your new career idea, and spent some time thinking about how making the switch to a new field will impact your life in the long term, you’re finally ready to make your career change a reality. It’s time to take the next steps that will get you where you want to go.