Want to change careers? Do these 5 things first

Megan Vaites worked in product information and design roles at the same company for 20 years. But a desire lingered to follow in her mother's and grandmother's footsteps and go into nursing.

She considered changing careers. But with a steady job and children at home, going back to school always seemed unimaginable, she says.

"Two years ago, I was on the phone with my grandmother and she said, 'Megan, you're a good mom, but those kids are going to go, and then you'll need something you feel fulfilled at,'" says Vaites, a Pittsburgh-area resident. "I started taking classes at a local community college not long after that."

You may have identified your next career, but giving up the security of the current one will take energy, money and time. Before you quit your current gig, take these five expert-recommended steps to be sure you're making the right decision.


Evaluate your current work life and why you want to switch careers.

"They might dislike their boss or that particular work environment, but a lot of times it's not really the career specifically they need to change - it's the dynamic in their current workplace," says Juliet Murphy, chief executive officer of Juliet Career Development in Tustin, Calif.

Or it may indeed be the career itself. Emily Shortell of Long Beach, New York, determined her problem was her design career after finding the same unhappiness while working in multiple environments, including a handbag company, a marketing company and a guitar string manufacturer. Now, she's pursuing a career in the veterinary field.

Identify the source of your dissatisfaction by making a list of what you dislike in your job. Disliking multiple things related to the fundamental function of your role may signal it's time for a change.


Explore what it takes to enter your desired field and the likely places of employment. Shortell, for example, didn't quit her design job until she'd looked into state licensing laws and found an accredited veterinary technician program.

Start with the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook . It offers details on different jobs and median salaries, the projected outlook for opportunities, and education and training requirements.


Find people in the sort of role you aspire to and ask to pick their brain about the job market and local outlook. LinkedIn is one resource, but also make connections through friends and family referrals, industry conferences, alumni groups, local professional groups or meetups and business journals.

Ask questions that test your assumptions about your desired career, such as what the day-to-day duties are and how the majority of time is spent, suggests Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant, professional speaker and author in New York City.

"Those are the most important questions because you may have a hyper-glamorized view about television news, for example, but if mostly you're spending your time working phones and doing logistics for catering for guests then that might not be the thing you want to spend your time doing," Clark says.


Evaluate your skills, on your own or by consulting a certified career counselor, to see which are transferrable to your new career and what you need to improve upon. You may have to take a certificate program or enroll in online courses, or go back to school altogether if your desired new career requires a different college degree.

To fill gaps in specific skills, take on additional responsibilities at your job or consider volunteering.

"Say you've never done project management and that's a skill you need," says Teri Coyne, senior executive and career coach with the Five O'Clock Club, a human resource counseling firm in New York City. "You could do volunteer work in a local community organization and manage a project. Now you're building skills to add to your resume to fill in those gaps."


A job posting in your desired field will list the skills and responsibilities required; use them to tailor your resume. Include only those achievements and strengths that relate to the new career.

"Let's say you want to transition into being an event manager. If you've only done data analysis, you're not going to pepper your resume with your data analysis accomplishments," Coyne says. Emphasize instead how you also worked with budgets, for instance, or coordinated a conference.

"Your resume is just a story about how you can fit the opportunity," she says.


This article originally appeared on the personal finance website NerdWallet. Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski


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Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook