How to Successfully Shift Careers

Have you been considering a career change? Maybe you’ve been a mom for the past decade, raising your kids, and you are ready to jump back into the workforce. Maybe the pandemic or other events of the past year have made you reconsider your career. Maybe you are bored at your current job or want to you have always dreamt about.

Whatever the reason, shifting careers is a critical decision to make, and it’s not always easy. There’s the possibility of leaving behind a highly lucrative job for a career that pays less or being rejected because you don’t have the right qualifications for your preferred position. Apart from that, you also find yourself starting from scratch, which is often difficult.

Changing careers can bring a sense of achievement if you do it right, and it’s never too late to chart a different path. Here are a few simple tips that can help you in your transition.

A woman sits at her computer with a pen in hand and notebooks on her desk, considering how to shift her career.

Know your reasons

Changing careers without proper planning can lead to feelings of regret. For all you know, your new career may not be as fulfilling as your previous one. It’s important to clarify your reasons for wanting a change. You can assess how satisfied you are with your current job.

My cousin changed jobs this summer. She said, “It took a catalyst, but once the thought of leaving my current workplace and finding something new had been planted in my mind, I realized I really was in need of a new career path. I had attended conferences in the past and always felt a little jealous of others working in different areas of the wide field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). While I enjoyed my work, and my coworkers, I realized I didn’t want to keep doing this same thing forever… It was time to broaden my experience.”

She adds, “I had worked for 14 years in the same small company, so it wasn’t just new GIS experience I was interested in, but also in learning from other management styles. I was moving into management in my work, which should have been a positive career move, but I was concerned I didn’t really have enough experience of different management styles to be a good manager myself. I wasn’t ready for that step yet.”

Moreover, you can also ponder whether your skills and interests fit right in. Most people regret having a job where they feel out of place or don’t feel like they are growing and learning. There are other reasons to consider, but at the end of the day, your decision to change careers should reflect your personal needs.

When my cousin began job-hunting, she says, “An early opportunity I found had me getting super excited reading the job description. That was when it all really clicked, as to how much I really wanted to gain new experience in different areas of my field. I saw the opportunity to learn new skills, while still being able to use and build upon my existing skillset. While I wasn’t successful in that first job application, it was a good spur to get me out of the comfortable rut I was in! And, after having some time off from my previous job, I realized that while I missed the people, I didn’t really miss the work. I felt that I had been pretty stressed out without realizing it, which meant that I wasn’t able to to do the best job I could. My decisions were very stress-based, I was losing patience more easily (although all my coworkers would likely say I am really patient!).”

Assess your transferable skills

Shifting careers or returning to the workforce after years as a mom can be daunting. While you’ve likely acquired many skills specific to your job (whether that job is driving the kids to and from activities or planning the programs at a rec centre), you also have many skills that are applicable for any job. Take the time to sit down and assess your transferable skills and make sure these are highlighted on your resume or cover letter.

For example, some transferable skills you likely have as a mom include time management, planning and prioritization, crisis management, problem solving, financial management, and more. Once you’ve identified these skills, you need to learn how to sell your skills on a resume. The two main points to consider are how important is this skill to the job? and how much has your ability to use this skill shaped your career?

If you have done any volunteer work, remember that this can also feature on your resume and add to your transferable skills. For example, my volunteer editing work during high school and university lead to my first job as an editor after university. Whether you’ve volunteered to plan the annual office Christmas party or to organize the school book fair, include these skills on your resume and as examples of your qualifications in a job interview.

Think ahead

Once you have a compelling reason to take up a new role in your professional life, you need to chart the direction you are heading early on. In other words, you need to set goals for your new career. You will need to decide whether to stay at your current job while you are job hunting and / or retraining, or whether to hand in your resignation to give yourself more time to pursue your next career.

If you are a mom, thinking ahead may include mapping out what your kids are doing in the next few years. Will they all be in school? Will you require childcare?

Create a blueprint for how you are going to develop your skills, pay the bills, and get the right amount of experience in preparation for your new career.

Get the necessary training

No matter how long you have been in your current career, you are never too late nor too old to train for a new one. However, the amount of time you spend learning new skills will depend on the career you want to transition into.

If you are facing a career change because of layoffs, there may be government programs available to help you with your resume and retraining. When my ex-husband was laid off a few years ago, WorkBC helped him assess his skills, rewrite his resume and consider his career goals. They also offered him a skills assessment to help him consider other career options. If you want to make a career shift but aren’t sure where to go, such an assessment may give you new ideas to consider. Look up what career resources are available from your state, province, or local colleges.

If you want to pivot into an entirely new career, it may be a good idea to apply for a degree program that doesn’t require experience in your new field. For instance, if you want to pursue a career in nursing, you may consider a Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing, which doesn’t require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. You also have the option of taking up short courses, workshops, and e-learning programs that can equip you with the right skills.

Since the start of the pandemic, many universities have transitioned to online courses, opening up options for retraining without having to attend in-person classes. This could offer you more options to retrain while working your current job, or to take courses at night after your kids go to bed.

Keep on growing

As you settle into a new job, the future remains uncertain. How long will you stay on this new path? How do you know it will satisfy you in the long run? Setting goals is crucial, but you still need to apply yourself in ways you weren’t able to before. After all, a new career comes with a new perspective for your professional future.

One way to keep growing and developing your skills is to volunteer. Is there a professional organization within your new career where you can offer your talents or skills? My ex-husband was involved with Toastmasters for a time, as public speaking is a skill that is valuable for many careers. This was something he could do outside of work that built on his skills and employability.

Are you planning to shift careers anytime soon? With these tips in mind, transitioning won’t be as scary as you thought it to be.

Have you ever chosen to shift careers? What helped you make the change and how do you feel about it now?

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