How to make a successful career change

Considering a career change but don’t know where to start? Colleen Paulson, Career Coach and Certified Professional Resume Writer, reveals how to switch careers and offers tips to help you on your journey.

In short

Why do people go for a career change?

Before looking into how to change careers, it’s important to look at why people want to change their career paths in the first place. As an expert in career transitions, Colleen gives us her insights. “I’ve seen career changes at all sorts of different points and it seems like it’s really both ‘Am I interested in pursuing this field anymore?’ and it’s also, ‘Does this really fit with my lifestyle?’” she explains. (01:53)

When students are looking to choose a master’s degree, they often get choice paralysis, feeling that they will be locked into their path forever. However, now more than ever, this traditional mentality does not always apply. As a result, if you lose interest in your chosen field, there is no obligation to plow through out of a sense of duty. 

At the same time, lifestyle tops the list of reasons career changers cite, according to a study by FlexJobs. Whether it’s being able to work from home, having a flexible working schedule, or looking for something more fulfilling, there is an abundance of lifestyle reasons that job seekers give precedence to.

What challenges are involved in career changes?

Part of the difficulty when considering how to switch careers is joining the dots between your past experience and where you want to go. As Colleen says, “It’s showing that [with] the skills that you have, that you can succeed in another industry or another role and so making that case is probably the biggest thing.” (02:47)

However, with a few examples to get you started, you can shed light on the links between your past and your future. For example, the problem-solving skills involved in engineering can be directed towards financial analysis – a switch that Colleen herself made.

If you’re looking to switch industry, rather than role, the pathway can be rather easier. For example, someone involved in project management can bring their strategy and work practices to a new industry. It is, however, important to learn about your new sector and company to make your transition as smooth as possible. 

How can a master’s degree help you make a career change?

One popular reason for choosing a master’s degree is to pursue a different professional path. More specialist than an MBA, you can delve deep into a subject and get an impressive array of hard skills that prepare you for that change. Your degree certificate is proof of what you’ve learned and gives you a major boost in your job search.

However, it is using skills learned through a master’s in combination with your previous experience that really improves your chances. “Getting a master’s can be a great way to switch careers, but it’s also understanding that you’re going to have to use at least something that you’ve done in the past,” she tells us. (04:02)

With a mix of experience and postgraduate-level hard skills, you can expect to make an impact from early in your new career, rather than having to learn on the job. 

Do multiple career changes look bad to future employers?

Best practices from the 20th century recommended staying loyal to one employer to show your commitment. However, times have changed since then – 21% of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year. Furthermore, six in every ten are open to new work opportunities. 

In this new climate, career shifts are normal and companies are less likely to negatively view multiple changes. What’s more, with many workers leaving the rat race in favor of better living conditions, organizations are on the back foot, rehashing their company culture to accommodate new trends. Therefore, it has never been a better time to focus on finding a job that is a good fit without worrying about changes in your employment history.

Colleen supports the assertion that companies are becoming increasingly understanding of diversity in work experience. “Any employer that you want to work for will understand that you’ve made changes for real reasons and you have the skills to back yourself up,” she states. “So I don’t think the career change thing is really as big as it was maybe even 10 years ago.” (07:00)

What career change tips would Colleen suggest?

With her background as a Career Coach and Certified Professional Resume Writer, there are few people better placed to offer career change tips than Colleen Paulson. 

One of the overarching themes of her experience is to be realistic in the career options you look at. For example, she recommends staying relatively close to your current role or industry, rather than doing a 180 and jumping into the deep end. “Sometimes folks would try to switch industry and career. So often, you can make one of those work. You can switch roles, you can switch industries, but it’s really hard to do both,” she says. (04:21)

This is not to say that radical change is impossible. By combining transferable skills and putting an action plan in place, you can convince future employers of your potential worth. 

As Colleen affirms, “Use the experience that you have in the past to your advantage but know that you can still make that switch. You’re just going to have to draw on some of that experience and show how you’re going to use that to succeed in your next role.” (04:40)

For real-life advice from career changers who have completed a master’s, head to our Ambassador’s Page.

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