Blog Alumni, Career & Leadership Development

Plan Your Career Change in 6 Steps

By April Stensgard & Ali O’Reilly on Tuesday, February 14, 2017


What comes to mind when you think of making a career change? Are you flooded with fear, excitement, apprehension, adventure, insecurity, anticipation or other emotions? Career transitions are not always easy to navigate. However, if you follow some basic steps you will not only avoid some common pitfalls, you will be set up for success!

Step 1: Assess Yourself

Self-assessment is crucial in guiding your career change, whether it is brought about by your own choice or not. Assess, not only your situation but yourself. No doubt, you have grown both personally and professionally up to this point, so utilize this window of opportunity to evaluate your values, passions, strengths, and goals. 

Approach self-assessment holistically. Of course, there are a number of great assessment tools like the Gallup StrenghtsFinder and Myers-Briggs personality test. Insight can also come from prayer, individual reflection, and counsel from trusted friends and family. Meeting with a career coach can provide a neutral, third-party perspective that is very valuable. 

Step 2: Do Your Research

Think of research as career exploration and discovery. You can learn a lot by utilizing a variety of methods in person and online.

  • Set up informational interviews.
  • Job shadow people in roles that interest you.
  • Visit industry specific professional network meetings.
  • Read various job descriptions.
  • Connect with others on LinkedIn.
  • Explore career information on Onetonline.org.

If you approach research as career exploration and discovery, your options will expand and new possibilities may emerge.

Step 3: Identify Your Goals

Once you have identified and narrowed your job search based on your assessment and research, you are ready to set goals. Goals can be hard to determine. Consider setting S.M.A.R.T. goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, maybe one of your goals is to call 3 professionals currently working in the career you’re exploring, this week. This is specific. It is measurable and achievable. It is relevant to your exploration and sets a deadline.

Step 4: Evaluate Your Gaps

Identify what additional education or skill set you may need for the career you are exploring. Do you need additional degrees or certifications? Are there any related workshops, classes, or training you can take to enhance your knowledge? It is wise to demonstrate this type of initiative in your personal and professional development.

It is just as important to evaluate your experience. Many career changers make the mistake of focusing only on their paid work experience. Do not sell yourself short! Your experience with volunteer work, leadership roles, internships, freelance work, and more can demonstrate transferable skills. Employers look for talent that can lead, communicate and work on teams. Skills gained from personal life experience are also considered by future employers.

Step 5: Clarify Your Personal Brand

Most people think of companies when they think of branding, marketing, and promotion. However, when it comes to job seeking it is important to know how to articulate your “personal brand.” What makes you unique? How are you going to set yourself apart from the other candidates? The three main roadblocks to personal branding are usually fear, insecurities (or misplaced sense of humility), and lack of self-awareness. 

One idea for developing your personal brand is to Google your name or check your social media to make sure your online presence reflects who you are and what you have to offer. You can also ask trusted friends and loved ones to share a list of traits they see in you. Then look for related themes and words that resonate with you.

Once you clarify your personal brand, get creative in how you communicate that in your online profiles, resume, cover letters, applications, and conversations. It is important that you update or create your resume and cover letter before you start your search. You will save hours of your time by saving drafts and customizing each based on the particular job description.

Step 6: Start Your Search

Job searching is all about “who you know”. In fact, more than 80% of all employees are hired based on personal referrals. Make sure you access and expand your personal network by reaching out to former co-workers, friends, family, associates, alumni, networking groups, church, and online connections. Most people are more than willing to help you make connections and refer you to their contacts. 

The main online resource you should use when seeking to expand your network or look for a job is LinkedIn. It is the most widespread professional network to connect with people you know and those they know. Create or update your profile to reflect your personal brand.

Stay organized. Create electronic folders to organize your contacts, companies you’ve applied to, job descriptions, resumes and cover letters, dates of postings, follow up information, and any other information you feel is important to track. 

These six steps are practical ways to move your career forward but remember that your mindset is just as important. If you focus your thoughts on truth, and trust that God is guiding your path, you will experience more of his peace in the process!