Times have changed. It has become totally normal to switch careers multiple times in your lifetime. Not too many people go to college at 18, graduate at 22, have a 30 year career, and retire. Not anymore.
In fact, by age 32 most people will have changed their jobs 4 times! And by the time the average American turns 55, they will have had 11.5 different jobs. And yet we still don’t how to properly plan a career change.
They should teach this in college. I’d take that course.
I have successfully switched careers many times. Most recently, I was a retail manager and decided to become a scientist. To some people, the move seemed kind of spontaneous. It wasn’t.
Each time I moved to a new job or went back to school, I followed the same plan to get ready. No matter what type of change, I do the same thing.
So if you feel overwhelmed by making a change and don’t know where to begin, don’t worry. You can fix that easily.
Maybe you want to move into a completely new field. Or you want to change the type of work you do. Or you need to decrease your hours. Or you want to get more formal education.
Maybe you have no idea what you want to do.
These are all the types of career changes that people make everyday.
Our personal lives constantly change. Doesn’t it make sense that our professional lives would too?
Changing careers can seem like an unmanageable task– super scary and intimidating.
But there is a formula to help you get started. If you follow these simple steps, you can prepare yourself for a BIG career change in just weeks!
When I decided to make my first huge professional change, I was so frustrated. There was all this advice online about following your “passion.” I knew that I wanted to be a creative person in science.
But there wasn’t a blueprint on how to actually follow and fulfill my passion.
I could identify it. I could research it.
But not many people gave practical advice on the actual steps to take to get there.
Having a step-by-step guide is especially helpful for smart people who overthink EVERYTHING.
There is something to be said about researching things online but often we spend 20 hours online, buy 2 books, and still haven’t taken the first step.
Planning it out can make or break your success. Sure, plenty of people get lucky and are in the right place at the right time. But you probably aren’t big on luck, right?
Let’s work through the steps.
How to prepare for a total career change- a step-by-step guide!
Step 1: Accept your decision
The first thing you will think is what if changing your career is the wrong move? How can you learn to trust your gut. Like really trust it.
There is something you need to do that is powerful and can help you accept your decision.
You need to acknowledge that you might make a mistake. And that it will be okay even if you do.
When I was considering getting my PhD, I knew that I would take a huge hit financially. And that really made me uncomfortable. So I thought of the absolute worst-case scenario if I entered a graduate program. Then I thought about what the worst case would be if I didn’t get a PhD.
I decided the worst thing that could happen if I got my PhD would be unemployment. And if I didn’t get the degree, the worst thing would also be unemployment.
So I decided that I’d rather be unemployed with the degree. Because I would come out with new confidence, skills, and pride in myself.
Unfortunately, you can never really know if it’s a mistake until you try. The best you can do is plan for the worst and weigh your options.
But you can get more comfortable with your decision!
This will only happen if you process all the positives and negatives.
An exercise to help with decision acceptance
Grab a pen and paper and go into a quiet room for 30 minutes. Answer the prompts below. It’s important that you actually write these down and that you are completely honest, without judgement. Even if your answers seem shallow or too ambitious, write them down anyway.
1. Make a list of the pros and cons of your decision.
Write down at least ten of each. Make sure that they are detailed.
2. Explain how this move will align with your values.
If one of your values is independence, will this move you closer to it?
3. Write out (in detail) the worst case scenario.
Be sure to explain why this is the worst and how it would make you feel.
4. If the worst happens, what skills or lessons will you still learn?
List all of the technical and personal skills that you can take away from it.
Put your answers away overnight. The next day, read your answers out loud and really listen to your words. Trust me—you are your best mentor in this type of decision.
Step 2: Hold informational interviews
Once you have truly embraced your decision, you are ready to move forward. Now is the time to really begin your research! This is the fun part.
Maybe you are familiar with your new career but you want to know what a typical day is like. Or maybe you know nothing about that career or anyone in it. That’s where an informational interview can help.
An informational interview will give you in-depth information about your new field that you cannot get from anything online. These interviews are very popular and really common in most fields.
Informational interviews are simply a way for you to talk to someone about their career. If you haven’t done one before it may seem really strange, but people generally love to talk about themselves.
Reach out to someone and let them know that you are interested into breaking into their career field. Then ask them if they would mind talking to you about their job and how they got there.
Tips for a successful informational interview
Make sure you block out enough time in a quiet, private space if it’s a phone interview. Put away all other work and anything else that can distract you.
Here are five tips on how to get the most out of the interview.
1. Have some questions prepared.
Ask about their typical day and how they chose their career. It’s a good idea to have more questions than you think you need.
2. Take copious notes.
You are getting expertise from these people for FREE!! Don’t waste your freebie.
3. Respect their time.
Make sure you ask them how much time they have and respect it. Be gracious.
4. Do NOT ask them for a job.
No matter how tempting it is, don’t do it. Not only is it poor form, but it’s not the way you want to be remembered.
5. Thank them.
Make sure you thank them for their time at the beginning and again at the end of the call. And follow up with a thank you email.
Try to interview as many people as possible. Not only will you get the information that you want, but it’s a great way to build your network. People will always remember you because your first contact with them was one of genuine interest.
Step 3: Get financially prepared
I’m going to guess that one of the (big) reasons you are reluctant to make a career move is money. Almost all changes in life result in a change in finances, right?
You have to consider if you will have enough money to support you if your plan doesn’t work out for some reason. Plus, many times when you are making a career switch it isn’t a lateral move. You may earn less at first because of your lack of experience.
But you will catch up if you plan accordingly.
I took a full year to get financially ready to go to graduate school. I listed all of the things I needed to do in order to feel comfortable and crossed them off my list. One by one.
When you make your list, make sure you choose deadlines for each item. And stick to them.
The three main things I did to prepare financially
I journaled about all of my fears and worries. I realized that I was most concerned about being unhappy and struggling. After I figured out what was most important to me, I focused on three goals.
1. Save money.
I knew I would need money for books and other expenses that I didn’t even know about. I didn’t want to be surprised by any extra expenses so I saved as much money as I could.
In order to feel more financially secure, I reduced my overhead dramatically. I wanted to make sure that I could afford my new lifestyle as comfortably as possble. I sold some things and moved into a smaller place.
3. Get healthy.
Besides food, health is usually peoples’ biggest expense. I made sure I had all of my checkups current. I finally went to the dermatologist. I really just started to improve my overall health.
Preparing financially is crucial- do not skip this step!
If you have the confidence that you are okay with money, you can focus on your new career. If not, you will be distracted all the time with worry.
Step 4: Make a transition plan
Now that you have made the proper preparations, it’s time to make a practical and actionable strategy. You need a transition plan into your new job. One that is detailed but flexible enough to change as you go.
Making this transition plan will help you understand what you need to do and what you can leave out. You will gain the confidence you need to leave your comfort zone. Which can be pretty difficult.
How to make a solid, detailed transition plan.
Again give yourself at least thirty minutes in a quiet, private room. Set a timer if you need to.
Write down your answers to the following prompts with as much detail as you can. If you have multiple answers, write them all down.
1. List 3 ways to transition into your new career
Do you need more education? Is an entry level position feasible? Who do you know that you can email or pass a resume to?
2. Write down 3 ways to exit your current career.
Do you have to leave entirely or can you reduce to part time? How much time do you need to stay until you can transition?
3. Decide on a reasonable deadline
What is a realistic timeline to do all of this? How long would you feel comfortable with the process taking?
Put your answers aside for at least a day. Then read them again and make a detailed outline of how to change your career.
Now that you have a game plan, it’s important that you stay with it. Make weekly action items and stick to them. Hold yourself accountable to the deadlines and stay focused!
Hopefully reading this guide will give you the inspiration to make the big leap into the career you have been dreaming about!