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5 Things to Do If You're Thinking of Switching Careers

Determine what your strongest skills are and find resources to help with the change

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Forty percent of workers age 54 and older have considered changing jobs because of the opportunities available right now, according to a survey from Resume Builder. If you decide to make a career shift, you will likely need to devote time, effort and resources to seeing it through, says career coach Andy Hillig. But, depending on the changes you want to make, the process may not be as daunting as it appears. Streamline your plan with these five steps.

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Assess your skills and values

The first thing you should do is an honest, objective assessment, Hillig advises. He says that means asking yourself, Why do I want to make the change? “Is it something that is more aligned with your personal values? Is it something that's more aligned with your strengths or preferences in terms of what you like to do?”

Once you have found the motivation for the switch, look at the skills and experience you have. Are some of the skills from your current job transferrable? For instance, if you work in human resources in one industry and want to move into the same role in another industry, that's a different level of preparation than if you wanted to become a medical practitioner. “See what kind of alignment there is,” he advises.

Get the help, training and resources you need

Once you have an idea of the skills you're going to need, start planning how you'll get the training and experience necessary to make your move, says Dawn Graham, author of Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success. Graham is also director of career management for the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Management's executive MBA program. A good place to start is with your professional network. Find people who work in the area in which you want to work, and gather information on what you'll need to learn to make the leap.

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"Anyone who's hiring wants to know that you're hungry, that you've committed to this career path,” Graham says. For a manager to take a chance on you, you'll likely need to show that you've invested in yourself. “You may need to spend six months to a year really diving into the new industry or function, and that might mean doing a project at work. That might mean getting additional education, that might mean doing some volunteer work or creating a side hustle where you gain this experience."

Decide whether to ease in or make the leap

When it's time to get on the path to your new career, Graham says, you often have two options: ease in part-time or with a side hustle, or go full-time right away. Choosing to work part-time or start a business on the side may ease the financial sacrifices you may have to make to change your career.

Another option Graham recommends is a “portfolio career” — meaning, you have an anchor career but also periodically do work in a different field. “Maybe it's part-time or a couple days a week, or maybe it's seasonal,” she says. “Maybe you're an artist, or maybe you're a landscaper, and so you do certain things in the summer or part-time on the side.”

Give yourself a “financial runway"

Just as you need a practical plan to get the essential skills and resources, you need a financial plan. This is especially true if you're going to take a pay cut or launch a new business that might not make much money at first, Graham says. Review your budget and determine the income or savings you'll need to get by, then create a plan to manage the financial aspect of your career shift.

Put your plan into action

Once you've determined what you want to do — and why — and how you can gain the skills necessary to change careers without creating financial hardships, you've got a good road map for what you need to do, Hillig says. Create a timeline to help you maintain momentum, and soon, you may be well on your way to a brand-new career.

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Editor’s note: This article originally was published on March 19, 2021. It has been updated with more recent information.

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