A guide to switching your career

The traditional concept of choosing one career path and sticking to it from graduation to retirement is over. 

Indeed, by the age of 31, many employees are experiencing the ‘ten year career itch’, with this being the peak age for a job switch, according to Page Group’s recent Page Pulse survey. 

The research revealed 26% of workers are considering a career change in the not-too-distant-future, while 44% have already made the leap to something new, with healthcare, education, and IT being the most popular sectors to switch into. 

Why are workers so keen to change their career path? 1 in 3 said they wanted to pursue a career which offered better opportunities to increase their earnings, while 32% said they wanted a role they felt more passionate about. For 19% of career changers, the key motivation was a better work-life balance, while 15% took the chance to change things up after a redundancy. 

And what’s holding employees back from taking the leap? A significant hurdle for 23% was a lack of confidence, while 20% are unsure if they already have the skills to facilitate the move.

It’s true that changing your professional route can seem extremely daunting, especially after investing so much in your current sector, but take it one step at a time and you could land your dream job.

10 steps to a successful career change

1. Review what level of work life balance you want

Start off with a period of reflection to determine what it is you really want from your work life. 

Consider what you have enjoyed about your studies, your current role and any previous jobs, and what you’d like to change. Where have you experienced success and enjoyment so far in your professional life, and what are your weaker spots? Reviewing your experience will help you to identify your strengths, your interests, and what fulfils you. 

What are your motivations for switching careers? Do you want a higher salary or a sturdier benefits package? More opportunities? Maybe you need increased flexibility or to improve your work-life balance? Prioritising what you need in terms of salary, benefits, culture, and progression will help you to identify which sectors could work for you and which simply won’t meet your criteria. 

2. Identify the sector and job function you want to move into

Perhaps you’ve known what sector you’d like to move into for a long time. Or maybe you just know it’s time for a change. 

If you’re not sure which direction to move in, try:

  • Contacting recruitment consultants
  • Speaking to a career coach
  • Taking online career quizzes to identify which sectors you’d thrive in 
  • Speak to family and friends who know you well
  • Research different industries 

3. Talk to people within your chosen industry

Once you’ve settled on a new sector, you need to confirm it’s the right choice for you. Short of actually working in the industry, the best way to discover its pros and cons is to consult experienced professionals working on the front line.

You may know people who already work in the sector, or have friends of friends you can contact. If not, LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for reaching out to the right people with your questions. 

4. Research the jobs market 

Before taking the plunge and investing time and money into training, it’s worth scoping out the jobs market. Research vacancies on jobs websites to get an idea of the quantity of opportunities out there, what level of compensation employers are offering, and the criteria for candidates. 

Not only will this underline whether your career move is realistic, but it will also help you to identify which skills or experience gaps you will need to plug before applying.

5. Conduct a skills audit

Now you know which sector and job function you’re aiming for, use a skills audit to see how close you are to being interview ready. This helps you to identify which types of training you may need to undergo before applying, and how to sell yourself to potential employers.

Begin by writing down all your qualifications and skills, including hard skills such as coding or speaking a second language, and soft skills such as communication and teamwork

Now highlight any and all skills on your list that could be transferable to your dream job - you’ll likely find you have more than you expected. These are the skills that must be prominent on your new CV.

For 13% of those surveyed in Michael Page’s ‘Career Changes’ report, the skills and experience they already had were transferable to their new sector or job function.

It is then vital to consider the skills and qualifications employers in your desired sector commonly demand from candidates - and to match this up with your own list. Identify the areas in which you will need to upskill, whether that means returning to education or securing work experience. 

6. Acquire any necessary qualifications

Some sectors don’t require any qualifications for entry whatsoever. In others, hiring managers will favour candidates with a bachelor’s degree or higher - but don’t specify a certain area of study. But for highly-specialised roles, such as in healthcare, science, or education, specific qualifications are essential. 

According to our report, the most popular educational route to a sector switch was through online courses (25%), while 14% returned to university.

Of those who went through further training, 42% self-funded their studies, 27% received government funding, and 21% had their training funded through their employer.

Thanks to the advent of flexible working and study online programmes, it is often possible to fit studies around even a full time position, helping career changers to stay afloat financially while they work towards a better future.

Find out which qualifications you need for your career move, and you may be able to work towards them while also holding down your current role, or gaining work experience that will be useful for securing your dream job. 

7. Consider freelancing and temping to gain relevant experience and/or build a portfolio

One of the major obstacles to a career change is that you may need industry experience to secure your dream job. But remember - a full time role or unpaid internships are not the only way to acquire this vital experience. 

Indeed, our survey found 54% of those surveyed would either consider or have already taken on a temporary role to support their switching process. 41% see an interim role as a chance to have greater flexibility, while 27% believe temp and contracting opportunities can build broad experience in different industries.

Freelancing is an incredibly useful option, particularly in creative industries where you need to present an impressive portfolio at the interview stage. If you’re not ready to take the plunge into full-time freelancing, you can freelance on the side of your current job, taking on one client at a time and starting small. This enables you to gain industry experience and build your portfolio without needing to be hired first. 

In other industries, securing a temp job can help you get your foot in the door. Hiring managers are much more likely to take a risk on a temp candidate than a full-time one, as there are fewer of the costs and legal risks associated with temp hiring. 

Even if the temp role isn’t your dream job, it could help you to gain invaluable experience, bolster your CV, and network with decision makers at companies in the sector. And if you impress your manager, it could even turn into a permanent role. 

8. Rebrand yourself 

On the path to a career move, a professional rebrand is a must. Once you’ve identified your transferable skills, gained the necessary qualifications, and acquired some experience, you need to make it clear you are a professional in your chosen sector - not your old one. 

Your CV, cover letter, and portfolio - where applicable - will need to be completely re-written to add in your transferable skills, new qualifications, and work experience. Tailor your new CV and cover letter to emphasise the elements a hiring manager in your new profession will want to see.

Next - the public re-brand. LinkedIn is an extremely useful tool for job hunting and networking, so be sure to update your details, connect with and follow major players in your new sector, and join groups related to it. 

If you use any other social media or blogging platforms for work purposes, remember to change your bio. Don’t forget to Google your name to check the results are aligned with your new career path - hiring managers will likely search for you ahead of an interview.

9. Network

As the old adage goes - it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Networking is essential when you’re attempting to break into a new industry. 

If possible, attend industry events and join related groups to meet new people. Follow industry decision makers on LinkedIn, introduce yourself via direct messages, and engage with their content. 

Impress a professional in your desired industry, and they should introduce you to other key players, ensuring your CV is top of the pile when it comes to job applications. 

10. Seek out roles in your new industry

After all the preparation, it’s finally time to contact a recruitment consultancy and make your career move. 

Michael Page can help. We place talented professionals across a wide range of sectors, from technology and marketing to healthcare and education.

Submit your CV today to start your career journey

If you’re looking to make a career move, it’s important to have all the resources you need to ace the job search and land your dream role. That’s why we’ve created our Job Applicant Toolkit that will help you through every stage of your job search, from updating your CV to negotiating your salary. 

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