6 smart steps for a super career change

career changer

Those eyeing a new career for the new year aren't alone. The vast majority — 86 percent — of job-hunters who are employed are looking outside their current occupations, according to Fortune.com. Changing careers isn't as easy as it looks, the experts say, but it can be done — and done well. Here's how to make a career leap without going broke.

Step 1: Ask why

The first step to making a successful career transition is questioning why you want to, says Tony Beshara, president of the Dallas-based recruiting firm Babich & Associates and author of four career development books.

"Sometimes people want to change careers because they think it's like changing addresses. 'Wouldn't it be fun to do?,'" Beshara says. But making a career change can be tough, especially for those who have worked their way up the ladder in one field and have dependents who rely on their salary.

Before getting out of your industry, Beshara recommends considering if it's possible to instead make a lateral move within the same field. If not, remember that big moves entail big changes. "You're going to have to take two or three or four steps back," he says. "You're going to make a whole lot less money than you ever made before and you're basically going to have to start all over. Be ready for that."

Step 2: Check your finances

For employees with significant work experience, making a successful career transition may require up to three years of preparation, says Kerry Hannon, author of "What's Next?: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond." A vital part of that is making sure that you're financially prepared for the lower salary that can come with changing industries.

"That means paying down your debt, paying off some of those big credit cards," Hannon explains. "Depending on your age, you might be able to downsize your living situation or refinance your home."

Whether you're looking for a business career or something in STEM, remember that some changes might also require a return to school, for an undergraduate or advanced degree, or even a certification. If that's so, be sure to plan for student loans, reduced work hours and the tuition bills that might come with your move.

Step 3: Evaluate yourself

It also pays to know what you can offer employers outside of your immediate field, says Debra Benton, author of "The CEO Difference: How to Climb, Crawl, and Leap Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career." Think over your career thus far and write down what you've accomplished, obstacles encountered, how you overcame them, where you'd like to go with your career, what's holding you back, and what you need to get there.

"From that, you can pick out what you've done that applies to what you want to do or the next job you're applying to," Benton says. "If you don't have it in one place, you so easily forget something and you undersell yourself."

Looking for jobs outside your industry that suit your personality and skills can also offer up unexpected opportunities.

Step 4: Research the field

"Sometimes something that sounds like it will be really romantic and dreamy. … When you actually are doing it as your job, it's not so much that way," says Kerry Hannon.

That's why you've GOT to thoroughly research your new field. In addition to investigating what new degrees, certifications or licenses you may need, also get the inside scoop from as many people currently working in the field as possible, says Tony Beshara.

"You've got to find a mentor," he says. "Find somebody that's willing to teach you."

If you can test drive the field by completing an internship, apprenticeship or freelance work, those can give you a glimpse into how the field operates and save you stress down the road if it isn't a good fit, Hannon adds.

Step 5: Prepare to apply

Armed with research, savings and an evaluation of your own skills, it's time to prepare your resume.

"Too many times [career changers] put the company and their title and they increased sales or met this objective … but that's hoping someone can see how the person's past skills can translate to the new organization," Debra Benton says. "… You have to be the bridge from what you've done to what you can do. Spell it out and make it clear."

According to research from The Ladders, recruiters spend an average of just six seconds looking over an individual resume, which means that they don't have time to connect the dots on their own. Defining how your past experience can be applied to a new field is crucial. You should also be ready to address those questions in a job interview, Benton says.

"If there is a question about anything about your background, the rule of thumb is you bring it up first," she explains. "…'If you're curious why I'm applying for a job at your company but have not done this kind of job before, I'd like to explain what I have been doing which prepares me.'"

Be ready to back it up, Tony Beshara says. Whether you're arguing that your work ethic, new education credential, killer customer service ratings or ability to break company records is what prepares you for a new field, you'll need previous employers who can verify that.

Step 6: Rinse and repeat

Once you've got a new job, remember that you probably won't stay there too long. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salaried worker changes jobs every four and a half years. While you're getting up to speed in your new gig, keep an eye out for the skills you'll need to jump to the next level, Benton suggests.

"If you don't, you will languish and be left behind because others are jumping around developing new and diverse skills," she says.


  1. "Most employed job-seekers want to change careers," Anne Fisher, Fortune.com, Aug. 5, 2014, http://fortune.com/2014/08/05/job-search-career-change/
  2. Dr. Tony Beshara, Ph.D., President of Babich & Associates, Interviewed by the author on Nov 26, 2014
  3. Kerry Hannon, Author of "What's Next?: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond," Interviewed by the author on Nov 26, 2014
  4. Debra Benton, Author of "The CEO Difference: How to Climb, Crawl, and Leap Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career," Interviewed by the author on Nov 26, 2014
  5. "Keeping an Eye on Recruiter Behavior," The Ladders, March 21, 2012,
  6. "Employee Tenure Summary in 2014," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Sept. 18, 2014,
career changer